A Nationalist Feeding Trough

(An extension of Rotten Cotton)

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While my full review of Bill Emmott’s book 20:21 Vision: Twentieth Century Lessons for the Twenty-First Century is still forthcoming, I’ve been pleasantly suprised by some of his positions. As the editor of The Economist, Emmott espouses an interesting brand of economic libertarianism. He is no pure laissez-faire economist. Instead, he recognizes that in many areas government intervention is necessary in order to allow the market to function optimally. Key areas are in reasonable environmental regulation, responsible control of the money supply, and the restriction of monopolies.

So Emmott’s economic libertarianism seems to be driven more by practicality than ideological devotion to smaller government as necessary for the preservation of freedom. This is important because, in my view, government intervention is often necessary to protect individual’s freedom (and to promote justice) from those who are more powerful- be they individuals or corporations. Faith that the unregulated market would be the best of all possible worlds is akin to religous belief for some, but falls shorts of tests of pragmatism.

Similar to Stiglitz’s critique of farm subsidies in general, here’s Emmott’s pounding of the European Union’s farm subsidies:

“Despite being planned at a supranational level, the Common Agricultural Policy [of the European Union] has become a nationalist feeding trough. It is a case study of how a system of subsidies is almost impossible to dismantle once it has been created, for farmers in every country lobby their politicians to maintain subsidies, quotas and rules that favor them. It is also highly protectionist and throttles poor countries’ farm exports….”

I also just found this interest, sometimes productive discussion of Jeffrey Sach’s poverty-elimination scheme over here.

Elimination of farm subsidies by the U.S. and E.U seem to be a necessity for African farmers to really develop successful business models that could yield exports, and thus a more productive economic base then mere subsistence. The only serious issue remaining, in my estimation, is what incentives to offer developed-world farmers for them to abandon their subsidies. At the very least, fat pensions and re-education programs to help them find new careers would be required. But after that, my mind’s a blank.

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2 Responses to A Nationalist Feeding Trough

  1. I can only return the compliment, you’ve got a really interesting blog.

    On the CAP and agricultural subsidies, I think everyone inside the EU understands that this is unsustainable, but chaning the status quo is virtually impossible. Part of the solution – I think – might be to initiate a process of internal specialisation, slowly allowing certain agricultural sub-sectors to die out, while engineering a shift towards high-quality, highly-specialised local products. The agricultural quality policy with its preferential treatment of some traditional products is a step in the right direction.

    The other problem is whether a liberalization of the agricultural sector would really benefit those poor farmers in Ghana, and not the large multinational companies like Del Monte that have the technical and financial capacity to take advantage of such a change. In truth, the kind of capital required to access foreign markets would prevent most farmers in the developing world from reaping the benefits of an end to the CAP, so perhaps we need to think more strategically, for example lowering the barriers only for products that are fair-traded.

  2. HTML doen’s seem to work in the comments section, so here’s the link I had encrypted:

    http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/foodqual/quali1_en.htm

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