Another Look At Ending Farm Subsidies

In the Guardian Unlimited, Crooked Timber’s Daniel Davies on farm subsidies.

You would not think, in the normal course of events, that a sensitive and intelligent person would go to Ghana, spend a few days walking round and talking to locals, have in-depth briefings on the local economy and come away with the following policy prescription:

“What a great country! You know what they really need though? More expensive food!”

You would not think this, but the fact is that this is basically what Bob Geldof said a year ago, it is the official position of the Make Poverty History campaign and it figured in three of the four articles CiF published yesterday about the collapse of the Doha Round of trade talks. It is perhaps the silliest and certainly the most tenacious commonplace of the development world; the view that farm subsidies are intrinsically evil.

The trouble is that the truth is a little bit too simple to be credible. Farm subsidies in the EU and USA mean that we sell some kinds of foodstuffs (mainly grains, milk products and sugar) to Africa and other countries cheap. So cheap, in fact, that the Africans etc can buy our imported goods cheaper than they can produce them for themselves. This is good news.

No, stop, yes it is. If you can buy something for cheap, then that is good news. Food being cheap is good news for Africa. It isn’t bad news. I promise you it is as simple as that.