TEXT OF COMMENTARY
Lisa Napoli: The farm bill has gone to the Senate. When the Agriculture Committee takes a closer look at it, among the big issues up for debate will be direct payments to farmers — a safety net in the form of a revenue protection plan.
For years now, policy experts, activists, and politicians have been debating farm subsidies. Commentator Robert Reich says it’s time for legislators to put politics aside.
Robert Reich: I’ve got a way to reduce global poverty, decrease the number of workers crossing our borders illegally, save American taxpayers money, and cut your supermarket bills all in one swoop.
How? Get rid of U.S. farm subsidies and tariffs.
They were supposed to be a temporary remedy for small farmers during the Depression. But renewed every five years regardless of which party controls Congress, farm subsidies keep going and going. Today, they cost Americans some $11 billion a year.
Now, it’s fine to insure small farmers agsinst risk. But these subsidies go mostly to big agribusinesses that hardly need them, not small farmers.
Fewer than 2 percent of Americans even work on a farm. Yet about half the population of the developing world depends on farming for their livelihoods. But they can’t earn what the global market would otherwise pay them, because America’s subsidized farm exports keep prices artificially low.
American cotton growers, for example, export cotton for just over half what it costs them to produce it. Which means more than 10 million African cotton farmers are stymied.
If we stopped subsidizing our cotton businesses, world cotton prices would rise, increasing the incomes of African cotton farmers by some $300 million a year.
Meanwhile, the average American tariff on agricultural imports is 18 percent — much higher than the 5 percent average tariff on other imports. So not only do the world’s poor suffer, but Americans get hit with a double-whammy. We’re subsidizing U.S. agribusinesses with our tax dollars, while paying much more for our food than we’d pay if we didn’t also protect agribusinesses.
And, not surprisingly, many of the world’s poor who can’t earn enough by farming are desperate to immigrate — legally or illegally — to richer countries like America.
Message to the U.S. Senate, now considering the latest farm bill: You want to fight global poverty, illegal immigration, and budget deficits, while giving American consumers a lift? Well, there isn’t a simpler first step than to end farm subsidies and tariffs.
Napoli: Robert Reich’s latest book is called “Supercapitalism.” In Los Angeles, I’m Lisa Napoli. Enjoy your day.
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