Farm bill is backward on food production

by Joe Bialek, Daily reader


With so much talk over certain amendments of the Constitution — such as the Second Amendment — perhaps an additional amendment should guarantee each citizen of the United States the right to food, clothing, shelter and medical care. Poverty is defined as the condition of being poor or lacking the necessary means of support to live or meet needs. Today we read of enormous corporate tax breaks, outsourcing of jobs overseas and outrageous salaries “earned” by athletes and entertainers. More recently, the revelation has come of the billions of dollars spent by the U.S. on two wars. In the meantime, the number of those in poverty continues to increase.  The Old Testament of the Bible often makes references to the “promised land,” flowing with milk and honey. All one has to do in this country is take a trip to the grocery store or department store and bear witness to the fact that if anywhere was close to exhibiting the characteristics of “the promised land,” this country is one such place. Yet somehow we are still unable to meet the basic needs every citizen has. Some would argue that this proposal is an extension of socialist or communist principles. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Socialism is a political or economic theory in which community members own all property, resources and the means of production and also control the distribution of goods. No one is suggesting the replacement of capitalism — an economic system in which the means of production and distribution are privately owned and prices are chiefly determined by open competition in a free market. What is being suggested is that in this land of surplus “milk and honey,” there is absolutely no reason why the basic needs of every U.S. citizen cannot be met. Some would argue that food stamps, thrift stores, public housing and Medicaid already meet these needs, but in the words of former President John F. Kennedy, “this country is divided between those who have never had it so good and those who know we can do better.” I think we can do better.

It should be the right of every U.S. citizen — in order to further guarantee the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — to receive food, clothing, shelter and medical care that are adequate to meet their basic needs.

However, access to food is in jeopardy with the U.S. farm bill currently being considered by Congress ,which is a multibillion dollar farm subsidy bill renewed every five years.

The bill comes as an extension of legislation first passed in 1933  as a means of preventing farmers from taking a loss on their annual production of crops — corn, wheat, cotton, rice and soybeans. The government paid farmers the difference between what they sold and what it cost to produce. At the time, it was a brilliant means of “priming the pump” so that farmers could be temporarily shielded from the effects of the Great Depression on their industry.

Today’s farm bill is a clear example of a government program being continued way beyond its original intention. Essentially, the government now pays farmers to under-produce crops in order to charge higher prices. Adding to the controversy is that it gives two-thirds of the subsidy to the top 10 percent of farmers. As with most government programs, bureaucratic self-perpetuation has allowed this subsidy to become corrupted.

Not surprisingly, the government has it backward. Why not let the farmers produce as many crops as possible, sell what they can on the world market and give their surplus to the poor? Whatever they don’t sell, the government

should pay them for and distribute it among those in poverty. In a world facing a food crisis never before seen in the history of humankind, we should never halt the production of food under any circumstances.