It’s official; after an embarrassing flub the first time around (they forgot 34 pages… oops!), the U.S. Congress has resoundingly overridden President Bush’s veto of the Farm Bill, a protectionist omnibus measure that had broad bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. The bill covers everything from food stamps to environmental protection.
The most ironic thing about the bill is its provisions for both massive subsidies to American farmers and, a few pages later, its provisions for food aid to third world countries. There’s a brilliant, productive solution to global poverty if I’ve ever heard one: make it impossible for farmers in the third world to compete on a global market, then inefficiently deliver more expensive American food to save the day. With this sort of policy, all America (and the EU, which has strikingly similar policies) does is continue a cycle of dependency while subsidizing unprofitable enterprises within her own borders.
The sponsors of the bill, among other things, express concern about the cost of rising food prices for the poor. If the goal is lower food expenses for poor workers, then let’s stop taxing workers in cities to pay for subsidies to farmers and start importing food from the places where it can best and most economically be grown.
One good thing to come out of the bill is a small-scale trial of a new policy for foreign aid, in which $60 million worth of food aid will be bought in Africa, rather than being imported from the U.S. at a higher price. Hopefully, the semblance of intelligence represented by this experiment will take hold, and the U.S.A.’s foreign aid will at least be efficiently delivered and actually support farmers in these regions. With so much for the farm lobby to lose, however, it seems unlikely that this initiative will ever make much progress.