Friday, May 23, 2008

The Evil of Agriculture Subsidies

Publius at Obsidian Wings hits on something that I've been meaning to post on for a couple of weeks:

Instead, farm bill opponents should have spent more time arguing that it’s a substantively bad bill — more precisely, it’s a bill that jeopardizes health and
increases hunger. For one, the subsidies of corn, sugar, and meat play a huge
role in our nation’s obesity problem (not to mention in the broader lack of nutrition). Ezra Klein in particular has been criticizing the meat subsidies lately (see here and here). Second, the ethanol subsidies are, quite literally, about the worst policy you could imagine. They not only actually harm the environment (mostly through land use changes/deforestation), they are quite literally starving people across the globe.... In fact, you could easily imagine a progressive-evangelical political coalition forming around this issue.

I believe that this issue is one that provides the blogosphere an actual opportunity to have an effect on the real world. Although I lack the time, prestige, or influence to lead such an effort, I am hereby proposing an organized blogosphere campaign against agriculture subsidies, especially Demon Ethanol. As I wrote in a comment to Publius' post:

I've been meaning to write about this myself for about a week now. The estimates I have seen have attributed at least 25% of the increase in food prices to ethanol; the other factors are largely out of anyone's control. I read last fall that the food crisis could cause literally hundreds of millions of deaths over the next decade worldwide. Even using the low end of that estimate, it's likely that 25% of that number would still be in the tens of millions. Which means that ending ethanol subsidies (and Western agriculture subsidies more generally) could save tens of millions of lives.

Frankly, if ever there was an issue where the blogosphere actually could have a positive impact on a policy, it would be this. The interests causing the subsidies are small in number; they are successful only because: 1. (Most importantly) Almost no one cares about the farm bill other than the people who seek to benefit from it, meaning that there is no political risk in supporting the farm bill; 2. They are well organized; and 3. The size of the subsidies makes it rational for them to spend an unbelievable amount of money lobbying on the issue and making campaign donations. Without those factors, it would be irrational for politicians to support the subsidies, especially considering how tiny in number the subsidy advocates are. An organized internet campaign against subsidies would actually have a chance of success in a way that other organized internet campaigns can only dream of, because the main reason these subsidies exist is that there is no political risk in supporting them. An organized internet campaign would change that equation substantially by raising awareness of the issue. This is not like other issues where there is or would be a vocal and sizable constituency on both sides no matter what you do, thereby making an organized campaign highly unlikely to succeed.

Moreover, this is an issue that ought to have appeal to just about every part of the blogosphere: Liberals ought to be motivated by it because it is an actual opportunity to strike a blow against corporate interests. Conservatives ought to be motivated by it because it is such an egregious example of government waste. Libertarians ought to be motivated by it because it is the epitome of everything we view as being wrong with government. And most importantly all sides ought to be motivated by the fact that it has such devastating effects on people all over the world.

One more thing- for those seeking an apolitical contribution to helping the world's hungry, Dyre Portents is conducting an internet blogosphere food drive that I highly recommend.