Paarlberg on Farm Policy

Yesterday, I posted on a paper I wrote critiquing some of the proposals of the food movement.  As such, its probably only fair that I share a paper sent to me by a reader.  It was written by Don Paarlberg in 1987 and takes issue with farm policy from the Depression up to that date.  I found the history fascinating; the paper is short and well worth a read.  By the way, Don was a Professor of Agricultural Economics at Purdue and was a former Assistant Secretary of Agriculture.  

Here's an excerpt that shows some of the challenges with trying to manage agricultural prices and supplies.

Some of the antics of the commodity programs are so ludicrous as to be almost unbelievable. Dairy programs are perhaps the most fantastic. The government supported the prices of dairy products with the intention of increasing dairy farm incomes. But, as every student who has taken a beginner’s course in economics knows, the result was to stimulate production, reduce consumption, and accumulate a surplus. The surplus of butter, cheese, and dried milk was then donated to those on the welfare rolls. This proved to be an inadequate outlet so then these products were donated overseas. The surplus was still growing so the government bought and slaughtered whole herds of dairy cattle. Thereupon the beef cattle producers, who are self-reliant and are not shielded by price supports or production controls, complained of this subsidized competition with their product and the government responded by purchasing beef for donation to the school lunch program. This did not adequately alleviate the complaints of the beef producers so the government exported beef from the slaughtered dairy herds, a strange action indeed since we suffer from beef shortages and import substantial amounts. Our forced exports of dairy beef disturbed other beef exporters, making an additional problem for the GATT multinational trade negotiations in Geneva. All of these questionable strategies were undertaken because the government was unwilling to follow the most simple and effective expedient: lowering the official price.

Meanwhile, those dairymen who stayed in business currently anticipate a reduced supply of milk and a better market. They are increasing their herds and laying the basis for a larger supply of milk. Like the sorcerer’s apprentice, they have heard the signal for delivering more water (in this case, milk) and have heard no credible signal for stopping. The commodity programs create surplus. They make a burden of what should be a blessing—our capability to produce food.