David – You write:
There are also better uses for that land than growing a crop that cannot compete in the international market — other crops, golf courses, office parks, housing developments, etc. As for having a diversified economy, we could also subsidize a factory that makes horse-drawn buggies, but I doubt we’d benefit from that kind of diversity.
You left out an important alternative use for some farmland: Nothing at all. Nobody has ever accused me of being a robust environmentalist, but it’s worth noting that for many people some farmland — particularly farmland that is unproductive and environmentally degrading — would be better left to turn back into forests or grasslands. I am one of them. We keep hearing how we need to protect our existing wilderness. Well getting rid of many subsidies would not only make our current wildernesses healthier, they would help in the effort to expand them. Sugar farms do terrible damage to the environment and we simply don’t need to grow our own sugar here any more than Canada needs to grow it’s own peaches. Other crops use up terrible amounts of water, flush fertilizers into lakes, rivers and oceans. Indeed, the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is already the size of New Jersey or something like that.
I am not arguing that environmentalism is the only concern here. By all means, let’s have golf courses, or houses or other crops if the market can afford it. But conservatives shouldn’t shirk from pointing out that protectionism can be bad for our environment and that the free market can be good for it. I would love to see more coalition-building on these sorts of issues. There should be room for conservation in conservatism.