Stiglitz on Farm Policy

The Nobel Prize winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz, weighs in on recent farm bill debates in the New York Times.  Here are a few excerpts

American food policy has long been rife with head-scratching illogic. We spend billions every year on farm subsidies, many of which help wealthy commercial operations to plant more crops than we need. The glut depresses world crop prices, harming farmers in developing countries. Meanwhile, millions of Americans live tenuously close to hunger, which is barely kept at bay by a food stamp program that gives most beneficiaries just a little more than $4 a day.


FARM subsidies were much more sensible when they began eight decades ago, in 1933, at a time when more than 40 percent of Americans lived in rural areas. Farm incomes had fallen by about a half in the first three years of the Great Depression. In that context, the subsidies were an anti-poverty program.

Now, though, the farm subsidies serve a quite different purpose. From 1995 to 2012, 1 percent of farms received about $1.5 million each, which is more than a quarter of all subsidies, according to the Environmental Working Group. Some three-quarters of the subsidies went to just 10 percent of farms. These farms received an average of more than $30,000 a year — about 20 times the amount received by the average individual beneficiary last year from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program, or SNAP, commonly called food stamps.

Unlike Stiglitz, I do not believe that the food stamps program is a sacred right that should be protected at all costs (I'm sure that's not his precise view but that's the way this piece reads), but he is right on the optics of the farm bill which, as he says, is

 taking from the poor to subsidize the rich.

Those are the optics but I'm not even sure that those are right.  It is not as though the poor are paying the farm subsidies.  Most of the taxes are paid by the rich.  So, farm policies are taking from the less-well organized rich to subsidize the better organized rich.