The Washington Post’s Robert Samuelson dissects the debate over farm subsidies:
With time, the justifications for subsidies have weakened. One is that farm incomes should be increased, because they’re lower than city incomes and the flow of labor from farm to factory should slow. But in richer countries, the flow has already occurred, and farm incomes now often exceed urban incomes. In the United States, the Agriculture Department puts average farm household income in 2005 at $83,660. Subsidies also go to the biggest farms, because they’re the biggest producers.
Another argument for subsidies is the need for food self-sufficiency. But as countries grow richer, self-sufficiency erodes. Many countries can’t produce enough feed grains to meet their citizens’ rising demand for meat. Elsewhere, including the United States, affluent shoppers want more specialized products that only imports can provide.
I would add that the United States produces far more of its subsidized crops than its citizens can consume. This is the nature of subsidies — they cause overproduction. That’s why other countries are so mad at us. We end up dumping the surplus in their markets, driving down prices.