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Public Opinion and Farm Subsidies

By Matthew Yglesias  

"Public Opinion and Farm Subsidies"

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By Matthew Yglesias

Tom Laskaway revisits a little discussion we had a while back (me, him, me) about public opinion and agricultural subsidies, with help from a more detailed survey from World Public Opinion. Turns out that Americans have communitarian ideas about this that aren’t well reflected in current policy. Voters say subsidies for large agribusiness firms (basically the only kind we give out) should go:

farmsubs_apr09_graph2

But they strongly support the idea of subsidies for small farmers:

farmsubs_apr09_graph1

For what it’s worth, in my role as someone who likes tasty food I’m certainly not averse to heading down to the farmer’s market to buy some tasty items from a local small-scale farm. But when it comes to the public policy issues, I’m pretty dubious that all the different virtues come together so tightly. If we’re talking about redirecting farm subsidies, I think it’s much more important to focus on what activities we’re subsidizing than on what scale of enterprises we’re subsidizing. The important thing would be to try to make subsidies promote public health and environmental goals. But if someone finds a business model that involves doing that on a very large scale, I don’t see a compelling reason to discourage him.

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