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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

FEE’s Take: Government Farm Relief


The Obama administration is planning to buy $170 million in pork, lamb, chicken, and catfish in a bid to help farmers and ranchers during the drought. “Farmers, ranchers depend on a good crop season to pay the bills and put a roof over their heads. And I know things are tough right now,” Obama said in Iowa. He is also promoting a $500 billion farm disaster-assistance plan. “The best way to help these states is for the folks in Congress to pass a farm bill that not only helps farmers and ranchers respond to natural disasters,” he said, “but also makes some necessary reforms and gives farmers and ranchers some long-term certainty.”

FEE’s Take

Farmers have asked for and gotten help from the government for as long as anyone can remember. Yet it is not as though droughts, floods, and bad crops are anything new. So why won’t government let the market for agricultural products work free of privilege, subsidy, and regulation? As historian Clarence B. Carson wrote in The Freeman:

The plight of service station operators does not appear to ever have caught the public fancy. Not once in all my years as a diligent TV watcher can I recall having seen a special on the subject, or even a segment on the evening news about the disappearance of the family-operated service station. The television cameras have not focused on any sheriff’s bankruptcy sale of some service stations, with the sheriff surrounded by a bunch of surly service station operators protesting the sale. No legislatures or courts have declared a moratorium on foreclosures on service stations, to my knowledge. There are no Federal Service Station Banks to provide easy credit to go into the service station business. And, in all my years of perusing textbooks on American history, I have never encountered even a sentence about “The Service Station Problem,” much less a paragraph or a whole section of a chapter.

By contrast—and what makes the above so remarkable—I have seen reams of material over the years dealing with “The Farm Problem.” No presidential administration since that of Rutherford B. Hayes, at the latest, has managed to get by without some sort of “Farm Crisis.” . . .

It is not my point, of course, that farmers have not had and do not have problems. As far back as my information goes, farmers have always had problems of one sort or another. . . .

My point, rather, is that it is not all that clear that farmers differ that much in having problems from the rest of us who are exposed to the exigencies of the market—which is to say all of us, to greater or lesser extent.

The free market would work in agriculture if permitted. The bottom line is that farm aid is welfare, and since the bulk of this aid goes to big agribusinesses, not family farms, it is corporate welfare. It would have no place in a freed economy.


  • Sheldon Richman is the former editor of The Freeman and a contributor to The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. He is the author of Separating School and State: How to Liberate America's Families and thousands of articles.