The New York Times recently ran a delightfully informative Q&A blog about food and farm subsidies with Freakonomics author Stephen Dubner asking agricultural economist Daniel Sumner the hard hitting questions. He’s blunt but polite and eminently reasonable. Here are some particularly charming segments:
On bad rationalizations:
Q: I have heard that the reasoning behind farm subsidies is to keep farmers farming when market prices are low, so in the event of a demand shift the capacity would be there to meet the need. Do you think this supposed benefit outweighs the negative effects of market interference?
A: This rationale, or rationalization, for farm subsidies makes no sense.
I’m not sure whether to be more disturbed that an American asked this question, or happy about Dubner’s answer:
Q: What are your thoughts on passing a mandate for gardens in the United States?…
A: Do you really think “we” were ever willing to accept the backyard inspectors that would come around and check that I planted the government approved crops? Hard to picture John Adams or Ben Franklin happy about opening up their homes to the Crown or the Feds.
And the most succinct, dead-on answer of all:
Q: Are there any good arguments that support farm subsidies? If so, to what extent and in what manner may they be justified?
It’s nice to see someone telling it like it is to a pretty wide audience. In any case, check out the article; there’s much more, and Sumner explains the intricacies of just how stupid farm subsidies are much more eloquently than I could.