Driving down to my grandfather's funeral last week, I could hardly help noticing corn growing. That happens when you drive in Illinois and Iowa. It's not all a bad thing. I love corn (even grits) and corn-fed beef. It would be a poorer world without it.
And so I wondered what the actual cost of agricultural subsidies might be. The first round of costs is pretty straightforward: about $5 billion for ethanol and another $20 billion or so in direct subsidies to grain and dairy farmers. Also, a few billion dollars annually to tobacco farmers, and some more billions for food subsidies for the poor. So maybe we're up to about $50 billion annually, right?
Well, no. Let's not forget what you get when you subsidize corn, tobacco, and dairy. You get a lot of foods fried in corn and soybean oil, lots of foods made from the same (american "cheese", velveeta, etc..), meats fed in feedlots (chicken, pork, turkey, beef), cheap liquor made with corn syrup, cigarettes, and the like.
In other words, you make the raw materials for obesity, heart problems, diabetes, alcoholism and lung problems cheaper. In doing so, you also end up creating ideal situations for water pollution (fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, waste) and prevent those with good grazing lands from making a living.
The total cost? Subsidies can't take all the blame, of course, but the total costs associated with our bad diet choices, smoking, and drinking exceed one trillion dollars annually. Add to that the costs of subsidizing poverty, and we're talking about some serious money here.
Not to mention this; when you subsidize corn and dairy, you cannot use the land for other purposes. The farm my grandfather grew up on is a great example. 89 years ago, there were sheep, pigs, cattle, fruit trees, grazing land, and a garden there besides land for growing grains. Now it's just used for growing grain--and instead of barley, rye, oats, wheat, and corn, it's just corn and soybeans.
So it seems that subsidies are not only horrendously expensive, but they also make life boring. What a pity.
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