Farm Subsidies

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: 

It's OK, Tom. We all struggle to do our jobs with lunch on the brain.

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.

NEXT: In Shocking Development, Patients React Rationally to ObamaCare's New Rules

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. And just HOW does this distinguish him from most Members of the Administration or Congress?

    1. And just HOW does this distinguish him from most Members of the Administration or Congress?

      It doesn’t, but the outfit is part of the new dress code for members from Oregon, so we at least know where he’s from.

      1. “This is what it looks like when alien babies rip through Pooh Bear’s stomach”

        1. What movie was that from?

          1. I found it here. You do have access to the internet, right?

            I keed. I keed.

            1. That’s the storyboard for Alien 5, right?

        2. It’s Christopher Robin all growns up and ready to attend his first furries convention.

        3. +1

  2. Caption contest:

    “The full-body condom has numerous optional accessories.”

    1. “I could really boink a piglet about now.”

      1. “Oh bother. How do I get this honey pot off of my cock?”

  3. [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.

    I don’t see how this is offensive. Out of context yes. The debate as to weather the cities subsidize the country or the county subsidizes cities is a debate that the market should figure out….not the government.

    Anyway it is funny stuff that Ezra Klein is making this case.

    If only because the Ag Secretary is using the same left wing statist garbage Klien would use as arguments on different issues.

  4. Yeah, I made this case over at Marginal Revolutions, but just to repeat it here:

    1. I broadly agree with Klein that cities are awesome and lead to good things.

    2. Specifically, agricultural subsidies are terrible.

    3. However, let’s not pretend that Ezra Klein of all people has a philosophical objections to subsidies.

    4. Let’s also not pretend that Klein has an objection to propping up an otherwise unsustainable economic sector/portion of society/way of life through subsidies.

    5. It’s also not true that Klein’s original post was primarily about subsidies, and it very much wasn’t principally about agricultural subsidies — when he talks about “subsidies for rural living,” he’s talking to a great deal about tax credits for home ownership and government-paid-for roads.

    6. The reason why Klein doesn’t like these particular subsidies is that he doesn’t like conservatives, full stop.

    1. Basically correct.

      If, for example, we were discussing subsidies for rooftop gardening in San Francisco, I have little doubt that Ezra Klein would be entirely in favor it.

      Just as I’m sure he’s in favor of subsidies for urban living such as light rail.

      It’s got nothing to do with any philosophyical objection to subsidizing anything. He just doesn’t like whose getting the money.

    2. Any time that Ezra Klein seems to be correct about something, it’s also worthwhile to remember that he believes that the supply of health care is infinite.

      http://ezraklein.typepad.com/b…..ugman.html

      1. That guy is such a fucking dooshcanoe.

  5. I forget, or at least I’m confused – what’s the alleged goal of agriculture subsidies? To raise food prices or lower them?

    Way I learnt it, ag subsidies restrict ouput and raise prices overall, as a sop to the cornhole/potatofucker/turdfarming states, and food stamps lower prices for the poor, as a sop to urban liberals. Everyone wins!

  6. Why do we have a Secretary of Agriculture again?

    1. To oversee our collective farms, federal farmland, and state farmland of course.

      1. Of course. Here I was thinking I didn’t live in an economy with massive state intervention. Oh well, back to shoveling subsidized corn into my gaping maw and wondering just how that darn obesity epidemic came about.

  7. FWIW, there was an interesting interview of Glaeser by Stephen Dubner a few weeks ago.

    It’s good that he’s putting some empirical footing behind the idea, but most of his observations, like that residents of cities consume fewer resources, should be almost self-evident. When I lived in SF I didn’t need a car, and here in Tokyo I don’t have one. It says a lot that not only does the DOA guy disagree, but he disagreed enough so to send an angry email.

    For a bonus, he beats up on environmentalists a bit, from those in SF pushing people out of the city to areas where they have to commute and use more A/C, to Thoreau for setting 300 acres of Walden Woods on fire.

    I can’t believe I actually read through Ezra Klein’s interview and never disagreed with him once. Maybe it’s because his opponent said shit like this:

    We need a renewable fuel industry that’s more than corn-based.

    I read to the bottom expecting Vilsack to recite the Fresh Prince theme song and hang up. My hopes were dashed.

    1. The enviro-bashing would be by Glaeser, btw.

    2. If you’re interested in that interview of Glaeser, you might like this one of Glaeser by Matthew Shaffer in NRO.

  8. I don’t understand why they feel the need to give the subsidies. They’re already buying horsepower at absurdly inflated rates so farmers will buy new gear they don’t need. At the same time, they’re hamstringing farmers on the west side by cutting off their water supply, forcing them to farm cotton and plow under orchards that aren’t even 5 years old. They’re about to enact some new subsidies for the dairymen who were all making fortunes just a few years ago but cry poor now. They’re about to legislate new equipment emission standards causing farmers to turn over their fleet every 10 years (on equipment that’s designed and tested to last 30).

    Our government thinks the only way farmers can stay upright is if they pull his left arm with subsidies and pull his right arm with regulations. I’ve got news for you, Uncle Sam. They can stand on their own two feet just fine.

    1. on equipment that’s designed and tested to last 30

      My father bought a new tractor when I was 16, the first he had purchased since he was 16.

  9. In a couple of decades the Ogallala Aquifer will run out and it won’t matter.

    1. You mean that part of the country that produces a fraction of what the central valley produces is gonna run dry?

      1. Speaking of places that are running out of water…

      2. You mean the central valley that would be mediterranean scrub land absent all the water they steal from the western states?

        1. From what I understand, if they don’t repair the aqueduct system soon, they’ll be using brackish water. Most plants do not respond well to brackish water.

    2. Let them use bottled water.

      1. I’m pretty sure the Department of Agriculture is leaning towards Brawndo(TM) because it’s got what plants crave…

        1. ^^”I’m President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho, and I approve this here shit.”^^

    3. They have been saying the aquifer will run out since the 70s. When we were in drought, it was getting low, it’s starting to refill now that we have had a couple of winters with heavy snow and a lot of rain. I suspect, like many climatic things, it is cyclical.

  10. Nutsack’s…err Vilsack’s quote is pure gibberish. There was no need to read the whole article.

    Regardless of his rhetoric, the real reason is because it gives him a job.

    1. Interestingly, Vilsack seems aware that he shouldn’t have a job:

      I grew up in a city. My parents would think there was something wrong with America if they knew I was secretary of agriculture.

  11. When I saw this guy’s name and DOA, I almost got an erection thinking they found Ezra fucking his corpse.

    Alas, no.

  12. Oh, and more transparency from the Most Transparent Administration In History. Looks like they don’t want the public to know the results of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission study on the suitability of Yucca Mountain (NV) as a nuclear waste storage site:

    One of the documents was a key 700-page volume in which [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] scientists set out to evaluate the controversial question of whether tunnels carved in the mountain might safely hold radioactive particles from decaying nuclear fuel for up to a million years.

    While they could have been politically explosive, the staff’s findings and conclusions were whited-out in that volume and in an accompanying 655-page volume.

    “The documents are long, heavy and technically detailed. They are heavily censored,” said Jack Spencer, a Heritage Foundation research fellow. “There are no conclusions, and the executive summary is gone. I don’t think this is going to very useful in the near term for a public policy debate.”

    Critics have charged that NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko, a former adviser to the leading Yucca foe, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., was rushing the agency to close its books before the project might be revived.

    1. This Most Transparent Administration ever should really be turned into a running SNL skit. I mean, really. There’s at least one ridiculous story per week that needs to be parodied to show the level of paranoia and secretive nature of this admin.

      Oh, nevermind. Their political humor is reserved for rehashing old Palin soundbites that weren’t really her and lampooning tea partiers. No room to make fun of the annointed one.

      1. I guess my question is, who was the poor soul at the DOE who had to go through 1395 pages of technical reports with a white-out brush? Now THAT’S someone who needs collective bargaining rights.

        1. I can see the signs now when their CBA rights get cut:

          “You know who else hated White-out?”

          “First they came for the redactors, and I did nothing”

          “Liquid Paper=Satun”

          1. Q: How do you know the Obama administration produced an NRC document in response to a FOIA request?

            A: There’s white-out on every page.

            Q: How do you know it was reviewed by a senior administration official before being sent to Congress?

            A: There’s writing on the white-out.

            Q: How do you know that official was Joe Biden?

            A: The writing is crayon.

            1. “Q: How do you know that official was Joe Biden?
              A: The writing is crayon.”

              Q: How do you know a it’s a lefty griping about it?
              A: They’d claim Palin couldn’t find the crayon.

  13. A-men, Brother Josh. Extra points for finding my fave Vilsack photo.

    1. Someone’s an Eeyore.

  14. [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.

    And of course it costs President Obama nothing to support it, because there was approximately zero chance in hell that Ezra Klein would ever support “I’d veto the bill because the subsidies are unnecessary” John McCain over “we need to stand up to the special interests, bring Republicans and Democrats together, and pass the Farm Bill immediately” Barack Obama.

  15. 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.

    You forgot to mention reason number one to end farm subsidies: saving the taxpayers and the country the money we spend on them.

    The dubious benefits of farm subsidies, for all involved, do come at a significant cost.

  16. I think it’s a complicated discussion and it does start with the fact that these are good, hardworking people who feel underappreciated.

    Oh for pete’s sake… now it’s public sector workers and farmers? Is there anyone with a fucking hand out that doesn’t feel underappreciated?

    1. Is there anyone with a fucking hand out that doesn’t feel underappreciated?

      Lonely masturbators?

    2. You monster! Haven’t you seen The River?

  17. I am not found of Reason.com bashing one set of subsidies by using the arguments fostered by a lover of his own damn subsidies.

    Wonder Boy Ezra Klein has no desire to bring down overall subsidsies, he just wants them moved to his Progressive pile.

    Four Legged Subsidies Baaad!

    Two Legged Subsidies Good!

  18. “fond”

  19. It’s over in Madison — the state senate broke off the collective bargaining portion of the budget and passed it separately. Since it doesn’t involve spending money it didn’t require a quorum.

    1. Ah you beat me! But yeah that’s great. What were the fiscal matters? If they were cuts I hope they get passed later.

      1. The article I linked to didn’t mention them, but iirc there was a sticking point over whether stopping state collection of union dues constituted a revenue matter, requiring a quorum. I suspect (hope) they left that out of the split-off bill.

    2. Good. Let this be the first of many states.

    3. “In 30 minutes, 18 state Senators undid 50 years of civil rights in Wisconsin. Their disrespect for the people of Wisconsin and their rights is an outrage that will never be forgotten,” said Democratic Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller. “Tonight, 18 Senate Republicans conspired to take government away from the people. Tomorrow we will join the people of Wisconsin in taking back their government.”

      The stupidity is strong in this quote my brain cells have fled the state and I can’t snark.

      1. Here’s another “stupid” approach for you. I’m a (voluntary: long story) member of a union that’s heavily involved in the public sector. Needless to say, we’ve been getting breathless daily updates on the raping of civil rights in WI & how the same thing is happening in our state. Then, at the end of one e-mail, the union secretary assured us they were not over-reacting. The very next e-mail informed us that PBS was running a special on the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire & we should watch it because it would help in arguments about the CURRENT debate on collective bargaining. Um, yes, because several hundred women burning to death or leaping from a building is the same as pension benefits. And, no, we’re not overreacting.

        1. Sorry, I’m not allowed to listen to Flacco fans.

          1. I heard someone try to make an argument for Flacco to be in the consideration for this year’s MVP. Even if we excluded Brady for it, thinking Flacco’s season was worth discussion is almost as bad as arguing for Farve.

        2. Now that their collective bargaining rights have been curtailed, it’s only a matter of time until hundreds of child-laborer schoolteachers perish in a massive fire at the end of their sixteen hour workday at a school-cum-sweatshop somewhere in Wisconsin.

          You heartless bastard, how could you not see what’s at stake here?

          1. “Now that their collective bargaining rights have been curtailed, it’s only a matter of time until hundreds of child-laborer schoolteachers perish in a massive fire at the end of their sixteen hour workday at a school-cum-sweatshop somewhere in Wisconsin.”

            Ah, hell, we’ll eat ’em. But make sure they’re not beyond “rare”.

    4. I hope the Republicans pass as much stuff as they can before the Democrats get back.

      1. Oh, that’ll be great for uncertainty when the Dems take everything back in 2014…

        1. I’m not really thinking long term there, especially since I have no plans on visiting, let alone living in, Wisconsin. I’m more thinking of how sweet the Dem tears would be.

    5. Get out your Official Hypocrite Lists.

      This week we’ll be searching for the common Parliamentary Procedure Panderer in the wilds of the Blogosphere and the mire of the Syndication Fen.

      The sure sign of this wiley critter will be easily spotted by the stark contrast between their reaction to sneaky and underhanded way this foul deed was accomplished and that to the stately majesty of the process used to pass Obamacare.

      Or did I get those mixed up?

      Oh well, it’s the contrast that matters.

    6. Metafilter vomits up a predictable/reliable stream of mushy liberal outrage.

      1. Didn’t even have to sift for these:

        Collective bargaining is only as offensive a civil right as the right to vote in a democracy, in that both function in similar manner and are offensive to a Right-wing political movement that aims to dismantle both rights.

        Requiring an employer to bargain collectively is as important as the right vote? Seriously?

        Sucks and all, but what an awesome display of getting things done.

        Underhanded bullshit might get things done, but there’s nothing awesome about it.

        Not sure what was ‘underhanded’ about this?

        I hope there is a general strike, it is certainly a defining fight about the future of public service. In fact, there’s not many actions against it I wouldn’t back right now.

        1) What actions are more intense than a strike, unless they’re violent?

        2) Think they’d fire them if they started to strike?

        Christ, what assholes.

        See this Democrats? THIS is what the Republicans do when they gain power. THIS is the reason that you look like sniveling cowards when you allow them to frame every debate and begin every negotiation with the premise that you’re going to need to meet them halfway to crazytown.

        Didn’t this happen because the Democrats fled the state and ended up with no say in the bill?

        Unfuckingbelievable. It’s well past time for a revolution.

        Not going to argue against the idea that we’re past due for a revolution, but because the unions have been under attack for so long?

        1. And someone tries to argue its unconstitutional because the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says “Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”

          I better stop trying to get the good ones or I’ll be spamming worse than HERC.

          1. So I’ll refrain from posting any more comments, but rest assured they assume accusing someone of union busting to be some or sort of smear. There is much talk of recall elections and the KOCHTOPUS, as well as ignorance of what the word right means. As a bonus, there is even someone who thinks that Obama can’t get away with this type of stuff because the media is tough on him on account of their racist ways.

            1. As a bonus, there is even someone who thinks that Obama can’t get away with this type of stuff because the media is tough on him on account of their racist ways.

              Which is where your Hypocrite Checklist comes in handy…

              // Don’t know which is worse, when they don’t realize they are doing or when they do. On the flip side, continued uncritical infatuation with Obama at this point is actually kinda cute in a terrifying sort of way.

        2. If this vote is underhanded, isn’t illegally fleeing the state to prevent a quorum pretty underhanded too?

          1. See below: “up” = “down”.

            1. Do you mean above?

              1. Uh, see sevo comment 10:50. I think that’s below, unless you’re offering a pretty clever pun.

                1. I’m 99% sure it was a joke.

    7. Tulpa|3.9.11 @ 8:27PM|#
      “It’s over in Madison — the state senate broke off the collective bargaining portion of the budget and passed it separately. Since it doesn’t involve spending money it didn’t require a quorum.”

      What’s particularly sweet about the link is the YAHOO! at the top.

  20. From Tulpa’s link:
    “You are cowards!” spectators in the Senate gallery screamed as lawmakers voted.”

    Yep, those who voted were “cowards” as opposed to those who’ve gone into hiding for the last couple of weeks.
    Regressive Dictionary: “up” = “down”.

  21. It’s not that he doesn’t understand: he’s from Iowa, he understands fine…where the money comes from.

  22. WTF does Klein mean by subsidies sustaining rural living? Most of the farm subsidies go to big ag rice,cotton and corn. It’s giving millions to millionares. That’s where the fight is.

    Otherwise, the degenerate reefer-mad Willie Nelson wouldn’t have to spread Farm AID across the heartland’s small family farms.

    Both the Secretary of Ag and Klein should resign immediately. Step.

    1. You leave Willie alone! *sob*

      1. You’re right. Mellencamp, Young and Dave Matthews are the bad ones. Sorry, Nelson.

    2. One thing to keep in mind about the USDA budget is that more than 2/3 of those dollars go to welfare programs like food stamps. Not defending the subsidized farmers but just a reminder where the bulk of the money goes.

      1. Just checked:
        http://www.obpa.usda.gov/budsum/FY12budsum.pdf

        74% of the USDA budget is “Nutrition Assistance.” 13% is farm programs, 7% is forestry, and 6% is other.
        Total budget is $145 Billion.

        1. A great deal of the farm program money isn’t direct expenditures, but quotas and tariffs and other things that force consumers to pay higher prices directly instead of out of taxes.

          Taxes are bad, but so are the burdens of regulation, even when they don’t show up in the accounting.

  23. The thing is, even in very rural areas only a small proportion of the populations farms. If you ad in the people who make a living indirectly from farming…it’s still small.

  24. Subsidies keep bad farmers in business, which hurts good farmers and discourages competition. (Farmer speaking.)

  25. Well color me surprised a politician doesn’t understand the economics of subsidies.

    No really, I’m totally shocked. Maybe a little awed too.

  26. I’m a small farmer. I don’t take agricultural subsidies, but I believe Ezra was also speaking of subsidies to our electrical grid out here in the country.
    That’s one subsidy I support. We need power available to us. We are so few and far between, that we have a rural electrical coop and a rural water coop – and both are subsidized. Even with that, our power bills are quite a bit higher per power unit than when we lived in the city.
    I know that libertarians are against those subsidies, but believe me, without them, rural areas would be like rural Mexico – third world countries with no power and no good water. And then, what would happen to the food supply?

  27. the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says “Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”

    Two reactions:

    (1) Sexist. “His” interests?

    (2) I’ve got no problem. Sounds like a subclass of freedom of association and freedom of contract, to me.

    Of course, those same freedoms give the employer the “universal human right” not to do business with a union if they don’t want to. Is that in there, anywhere?

  28. Tom Vilsack may be spending only 6-7% on groceries but our family (which I think is solidly middle class) is spending more like 15-18% on groceries and that doesn’t count the occasional pizza, burger, or sub.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.