Surprise! The Secretary of Agriculture Doesn't Understand Farm Subsidy Effects


After Ezra Klein of The Washington Post shared his thoughts on the case for cities, he received an indignant e-mail from the Department of Agriculture. Klein followed up by interviewing Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who made the silliest arguments possible for continuing farm subsidies: 

There is a value system that's important to support. If there's not economic opportunity, we can't utilize the resources of rural America. I think it's a complicated discussion and it does start with the fact that these are good, hardworking people who feel underappreciated. When you spend 6 or 7 percent of your paycheck for groceries and people in other countries spend 20 percent, that's partly because of these farmers.

The whole interview's worth reading, but Vilsack also trots out some nonsense on immigration and an argument for supporting agricultural subsidization because rural areas boast a disproportionate number of men and women in the armed services, which is naturally due to internalization of "farm values." In the original post, Klein does make one point that could cause defensiveness among rural apologists:

[I]t would of course be political suicide for President Obama to say that part of winning the future is ending the raft of subsidies we devote to sustaining rural living.

Sustaining subsidies or cutting them off is not a debate over the merits of keeping people in the Great Plains or abandoning Tornado Alley to the buffalo. If there are resources worth harvesting, people will be there too. Ending farm subsides means lower food costs for families, better environmental management, and a fair shot for those growing unaided crops. Subsidies are a bipartisan boondoggle that impoverish poor country farmers while increasing barriers to entry by encouraging higher land prices and corporate consolidation of farmland. 

Watch Reason.TV on corporate welfare for farmers:

More from Reason on farm subsidies here.