Can Subsidies Save the Farmer?

Can Subsidies Save the Farmer?

For the past eighty years the basic economic cause of agrarian movements in the U. S., as well as of government efforts to subsidize agriculture, has been the difference between prices received and prices paid by the farmer. None of the great issues which have in the past contributed to revolutions in Europe and which are still posed today in many parts of Asia has ever seriously affected American agriculture. The very term “farmer” implies both freely transferable ownership of land unencumbered by traditional landlord-tenant obligations, and involvement in the impersonal market economy, indebtedness to an impersonal banking system.

The problem of American agriculture has been and remains a problem of uneven social development within the framework of capitalism. Agriculture is still largely based on a multitude of family-owned and operated units, atomized, with high fixed costs, unable to curtail production yet prey to widely fluctuating prices. Industry, on the other hand, has long since been centralized; it can shift the burden of low prices to society as a whole by such moves as dismissing its workers. Moreover, given its nearly inexhaustible technological versatility, modern industry has attained a high degree of control over changing economic conditions, be they price fluctuations, raw material supplies, labor mobility or marketing. The family farm cannot possibly match this; its capital and labor resources are highly restricted and stationary; its operations are necessarily of small scope and, but for government intervention, it would have to rely on a precarious market to realize an uncertain return.

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