Farm policy

Don’t look now, but Congress is back with another farm bill — and this time there will be major change. Seriously. No, really. Promise.

Federal agricultural policy, a remnant of Depression-era liberalism, is perhaps the greatest affront to U.S. taxpayers ever created — and that’s saying something.

Costing consumers billions, and handing out billions more in taxpayer-funded welfare to wealthy conglomerates, “Agriculture policy epitomizes the mindless paternalism of modern times,” wrote James Bovard, author of the seminal 1989 work, “The Farm Fiasco.”

It has been “the biggest political intervention in the economy for more than 70 years … and the most consistent failure.”

Recall that in 1996, the GOP-controlled Congress trumpeted the Freedom to Farm Act, designed to wean farmers off the public dole. Congress lavished billions on producers to make up for upcoming subsidy cuts.

One problem: As soon as crop prices fell, Washington responded by passing emergency legislation every year to override Freedom to Farm and provide additional handouts to farmers.

They got to have their cake and eat it, too!

But now, with record prices for corn and other crops, Congress is preparing to enact real reform. Right?

“It’s a different dynamic, there’s no doubt about it,” said Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns last week.

That would be funny, if it weren’t such a joke on taxpayers. The notion that agricultural subsidies help small family farms survive runs contrary to the facts — most of the payments go to major corporations and rich landowners. The only way to restore sanity to federal farm policy is to blow it up altogether and replace it with a system that relies on markets, rewards entrepreneurs and punishes failure.

Fat chance. Instead, the best hope seems to be a proposal by Reps. Ron Kind, D-Wis, and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., that would replace subsidies with savings accounts that farmers could tap during down times. Farm state lawmakers, though, aren’t jumping with joy over the plan. And environmentalists have now entered the fray, seeking more taxpayer handouts for farm “conservation” programs.

Better Kind-Flake, though, than the status quo. But whatever emerges, the fate of Kind-Flake will telegraph whether there is any hope for ever restoring sanity to American farm policy.

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