Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Poor Rich

The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently wrote an article about his government payment of $588 a year for not farming some land he owns in Oregon. The article is not about his small payment but about the American farm subsidy program, which is more often than not corporate welfare for agribusiness.

Ken Cook, president of Environmental Working Group, said a few months ago that, "America's farm subsidy system is broken." This has been stated before but up until recently the average person would have had difficulty gathering information on these programs. They were shrouded in mystery and unclear as to what the rationale might be for passing out taxpayer money.

Something like two-thirds of U.S. farmers do not receive any subsidy payments. Farm program benefits have been highly concentrated and have often not rewarded land stewardship and improving the environment. But now there is a web site called MULCH.

You can find out what your congressional representatives are doing in terms of approving farm subsidies and who is receiving them. It's a step in asking some basic questions like why or why not are we subsidizing certain commodities, why or why not are certain farmers (or pseudo-farmers) receive payments, and what is the "nonpolitical" reason(s) for making the decision.

At its worst the billions spent on the farm subsidy program are the kind of welfare capitalism that America increasingly can no longer afford. It's in our self-interest in knowing who is doing what and for whom, especially in terms of food and the land it is grown on.

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