More Protectionism

by Jonah Goldberg

From a reader:

So, your solution to the cotton subsidies is for all the farmers to allow their land to turn back into forests, huh ? Well, I suppose if you don’t have your land as a source of income that might make sense to you. Personally, I think that whatever land you own should be turned back into forest without you getting any compensation for what is on it now, but I’d guess you might disagree. I deal with this issue for real in my town where I am a member of our local Planning Board. We are frequently confronted with people who think that some farm which is being looked at as a possible housing development should “remain green.” We have a joke among the board which goes “That’s an excellent idea, why don’t you buy it and do that ?” But to the farmers, this is usually their retirement plan. They’ve spent their whole life working hard for not much money (the idea that most farmers are getting rich from government subsidies is preposterous if you ask me). Their kids tend to have a “What are you kidding me ?” attitude about being a farmer. So, they sell the farm, their only asset, for development. People talk about buying the development rights from the farmers to “keep the land green” and things like that, and in some cases that is what is done. But this is a short term fix. Eventually then owners will die or no longer be able to afford to keep the farm profitable. The money will simply run out. And then we’ll have a defaulted farm which generates no taxes AND can’t be developed.

P.S. I have frequently told friends that nobody who writes for publications in the U.S. will have a problem with any lost jobs to overseas until those publications decide that their articles can be written by some guys in Viet Nam for $20 a column. So unemployment is low. So the guys who have been farming land their entire lives can do what, exactly ? Go back to school and learn to be car mechanics or medical technicians maybe (at least until the medical technician jobs are shipped overseas) ? Maybe they could learn to write really insightful articles on farming, huh ?

Me: I have no doubt these questions are difficult and messy on the ground. The government has deliberately made it as complicated as possible to untie the knot we’re in. We may not agree on what to do about the hard cases, and that’s fine. But is it really so crazy to try to agree on the easy cases? You know, like the people who live in Manhattan receiving millions in subsidy checks?

Update: And then there’s this:

Jonah:
Love your stuff and looking forward to your book, but…….

As the fourth generation family manager of crop farmland, as well as a 900 acre tree farm in southern Ohio, let me assure you that tree farming (an example of ‘doing nothing’ with farmland) doesn’t come close to paying the annual property taxes.  If it weren’t for a few thousand from nearly defunct oil wells each year, it would have to go. That land must be productive or it will ultimately be developed or taken over by the county.  Your concept of doing nothing ignores the reality that government never ‘does nothing’ with land, regardless of who owns it. 

Me again: I have no objection to this objection. My point — and I think I was very clear — wasn’t that  “nothing” is always the best or only option. Merely that it should be added to the list of possible options. 

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