Politics & Policy

Kill the King

End cotton subsidies.

“Trade, not aid” is something of a cliché in the world of development economics. It sounds like a win-win proposition: If we reduce barriers to poor countries’ exports, we can help them without costing ourselves a dime — while making ourselves better off, even. And that’s true. But putting “trade, not aid” into practice is harder than it sounds. While there are many people who don’t look kindly on foreign aid, no powerful lobbies oppose it. Freeing up trade, on the other hand, arouses the intense opposition of well-organized and well-funded industries.

Take cotton subsidies, which the Senate is considering reforming this week. They’re a drain on American taxpayers. They exacerbate water shortages in parts of the country. But they also hurt other nations. According to a recent Oxfam study, 10 million people in west Africa depend on cotton sales as a major source of income. By encouraging excess production, our cotton subsidies depress prices by 6 to 14 percent. The study estimated that these cotton farmers would be able to capture about half of the higher price if we didn’t have the subsidy. “The added income,” it concluded, “could feed one to two children per household for an entire year.” In recent years, cotton subsidies seem to have affected world prices — and thus distorted markets more — than any of our other commodity support programs.

Senators Dick Lugar and Frank Lautenberg have introduced legislation that would preserve, and in some ways enhance, the safety net for farmers while also ending some of the most damaging components of our farm programs. Most of the money saved in crop subsidies would be redirected to conservation, nutrition programs, and other causes. Taxpayers would, however, save $3 billion over five years.

The bill goes after all of the major commodity support programs, not just corn. Liberals and conservatives — the Club for Growth and Bread for the World — support it. But they’re probably going to lose this week: Such is the power of the farm lobby. The good news is that the stronger the vote for the bill, the better the chance we have of enacting reform in some future year. And perhaps after voting on the bill the senators will take the opportunity to go after cotton subsidies, in particular.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

Most Popular

Searching for a Sign

I’ve been waiting for almost six months to see a Biden-Harris yard sign in my neighborhood. Finally one -- just one -- appeared about two weeks ago. It is large and proud. The homeowners even equipped it with a spotlight, so that it is visible at night. I’m surprised, because liberal political yard signs ... Read More

Searching for a Sign

I’ve been waiting for almost six months to see a Biden-Harris yard sign in my neighborhood. Finally one -- just one -- appeared about two weeks ago. It is large and proud. The homeowners even equipped it with a spotlight, so that it is visible at night. I’m surprised, because liberal political yard signs ... Read More
White House

Hell, Yes

Editor’s Note: If you would like to read more pros and cons on voting for President Trump, further essays on the subject, each from a different perspective, can be found here, here, here, here, and here. These articles, and the one below, reflect the views of the individual authors, not of the National ... Read More
White House

Hell, Yes

Editor’s Note: If you would like to read more pros and cons on voting for President Trump, further essays on the subject, each from a different perspective, can be found here, here, here, here, and here. These articles, and the one below, reflect the views of the individual authors, not of the National ... Read More
Media

About That ‘Uncoverable’ Biden Story

Journalists claim they can’t cover the New York Post’s Hunter Biden email scoop because the underlying evidence has yet to been verified. Also, they won’t look for any verifying evidence because there isn’t enough evidence. It’s quite the conundrum. Because other than the now-corroborated emails, ... Read More
Media

About That ‘Uncoverable’ Biden Story

Journalists claim they can’t cover the New York Post’s Hunter Biden email scoop because the underlying evidence has yet to been verified. Also, they won’t look for any verifying evidence because there isn’t enough evidence. It’s quite the conundrum. Because other than the now-corroborated emails, ... Read More

Another Pollster Sees a Trump Win

The Trafalgar Group’s Robert Cahaly is an outlier among pollsters in that he thinks President Trump will carry Michigan, Pennsylvania, or both, and hence be reelected with roughly 280 electoral votes. (I explained his thinking here.) Last week another pollster, Jim Lee of Susquehanna Polling and Research, ... Read More

Another Pollster Sees a Trump Win

The Trafalgar Group’s Robert Cahaly is an outlier among pollsters in that he thinks President Trump will carry Michigan, Pennsylvania, or both, and hence be reelected with roughly 280 electoral votes. (I explained his thinking here.) Last week another pollster, Jim Lee of Susquehanna Polling and Research, ... Read More
Economics

Dire Rates: The Biden Tax Plan

Despite the whopping 33.1 percent increase in third-quarter GDP, the economy is on extremely thin ice. GDP is currently about 3.5 percent below where it started in January, a drop that, if it happened all of a sudden, would signal the terrifying start of a deep recession. To be sure, policymakers should be ... Read More
Economics

Dire Rates: The Biden Tax Plan

Despite the whopping 33.1 percent increase in third-quarter GDP, the economy is on extremely thin ice. GDP is currently about 3.5 percent below where it started in January, a drop that, if it happened all of a sudden, would signal the terrifying start of a deep recession. To be sure, policymakers should be ... Read More