January 3, 2013
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An Ecological Analogy for Economics
In the ecology of farming, the idea is to follow the designs of nature as much as possible, to work with, not against nature. To undertake a farming operation that ignores the realities of nature, of ecology, is to court peril. This view of the ecology of farming makes a great analogy for understanding the economics of the Farm Bill, such as the role of farm subsidies.
the view that is widely held in the Food Movement, that Farm Bill spending is the key to Farm Bill economics. The basic goal is to remove subsidies (spending) from what is not desired, and pour them in to what is desired.1 Thus we see that corn and soybeans, for example, receive a lot of subsidies, but people will be healthier if they eat more fruits and vegetables, so why not transfer this money to fruits and vegetables?
In light of the analogy of ecology, such a strategy is completely arbitrary. It’s like ignoring nature. It fails to take into account the underlying economy of agricultural production and marketing. To follow such a strategy, then, is to court peril.
What is most fundamentally needed in the Farm Bill is economic management, not elaborate schemes for writing out massive checks and spending huge sums of scarce money in arbitrary ways. Save the spending for more minor, more highly valued purposes, as a way to make up for past mistakes.