Tuesday, August 19, 2003

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The blogosphere and the Guardian take on agricultural subsidies

The Guardian has set up what it calls a "campaign blog" to Kick All Agricultural Subsidies, or KickAAS (link via OxBlog).

This is from their first real post:

Everyone gains. Abolition would save Western governments over $300 billion a year (equivalent to a cashback of over $200 for everyone) while giving a huge boost to agriculture in developing countries. Poor countries could sell products – like sugar, cereals and skimmed milk – they are much better suited to produce. At the moment they are being undercut even in their own domestic markets by subsidised Western produce. Sometimes trade is better than aid. And it costs nothing.

The present system doesn't even do what it claims to do. According to the OECD less than half of the $300 billion handouts get through even to the most efficient farmers. Even farmers would gain from abolition – by kicking subsidies that have become a dependency habit.

Abolishing agricultural subsidies is one of the very few campaigns that unites right, left and centre.

Well, not everyone. I also have no doubt that either Pat Buchanan or Lori Wallach could come up with a reason to oppose this. Still, you get the idea.

Go check out the site, which contains some useful links.

Just as interesting as the battle to end agricultultural subsidies is the fact that the Guardian, in setting up the site, thinks that the blogosphere can affect political change. I've expressed my doubts on this score in the past, but I also hope I'm wrong in this case.

We'll see if these kinds of campaign blogs are more interesting than the ones that Maureen Dowd ripped to shreds last week.


UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias is pessimistic that anything of substance will be accomplished with this campaign, because of the limited reach of English-language blogs and the concentration of interests within the agricultural sector of the U.S.

I share his sense of pessimism but not its depth. First, as KICKAAS itself observes, the key actors to influence are the United States and the European Union. The blogosphere's power in the U.S. is much debated, but it occasionally demonstrates some pull.

As for the EU, I hear they speak some English on the continent. Indeed, given the elite nature of EU policymaking, a blog sponsored by a major media outlet might actually significant attention in the corridors of Brussels.

As for the U.S., the concentration of interests is acute, but it's worth remembering that U.S. agriculture is not a monolithic bloc. In some sectors (sugar) the United States is not competitive; in others (wheat, I believe) it is. So, some of these concentrated interests stand to gain from liberalization in agriculture.

So, to sum up: still generally pessimistic, but not as dour as Yglesias.

posted by Dan on 08.19.03 at 04:55 PM


Some parts of the Green movement also oppose free trade in food because they want to go back to a more locialized pattern of food production and distribution. They may not want to use subsidies, but they probably would favor controls, which would have some similar effects.

posted by: Jim Miller on 08.19.03 at 04:55 PM [permalink]

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