Farm subsidies and fighting poverty
Regarding the Oct. 16 Opinion "Subsidies keep poor nations poor": Robert Reich is right that we should end unfair farm subsidies in the US. But this superficial leveling of the playing field is unlikely, by itself, to address the problems of the poor in developing nations. Large farmers in developing nations - with their relatively big land holdings, government support, access to technologies, and large monocultures of cash crops - are in the best position to benefit from any openness in the agricultural markets of rich countries. But how can small farmers - who make up the bulk of the agricultural sector in poor nations but who are quite powerless - survive a global competition with large agribusinesses?
Globalization favors large-scale operations that are centralized, highly automated, and dependent on long-distance transport. Small farmers' scale of operation is incompatible with the competitive demands of global trade. Global trade has its legitimate place, but it is a mistake to think that it is a panacea for the world's economic problems.
Government farm subsidies are vital to the economy and to the future of the United States. Without subsidies, many American farmers would go bankrupt. Mr. Reich refers to farmers as less than 3 percent of the US workforce. But if our farmers were to go out of business, they would take a large number of people with them. Thousands are employed in industries that directly support farmers, such as food packaging and processing, equipment manufacturing, and even banking. Also, without farming, some states would quickly slide into poverty.
Another reason farms are subsidized is to control how food is being produced. In today's age of mad cow disease and bioterrorism, do we really want our food produced and processed out of government's control?
Our security depends on farming for another reason. If we force our farmers out of business by withholding subsidies, our economy would be held captive to the import of foreign food. The last thing our country needs is for foreign nations to be able to manipulate our food supply. The havoc that could be caused by an OPEC-like food organization could cripple our economy.
Farming subsidies are a large part of our budget, but, when one considers the consequences of outsourcing our food production, the cost is well worth it. Control of our food supply is too important to risk.
Regarding your Oct. 17 article "The promise and perils of Denver's immigrant boom": There is a fundamental and widespread misperception of what this means to the political body. Fear and demagoguery lead people to believe that Latinos will vote and act as a bloc to further some amorphous common interest.
Recently, the competent but misguided Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, who is Latino, made every effort to capture the Latino bloc vote. The surprise was that a large percentage of the Latino "community" vote went to other candidates. Gray Davis was recalled, in large part, by votes from Latino voters he thought he'd bought by signing legislation to legalize driver's licenses for illegal aliens. Several years ago, Latino votes were cast with the majority to end the failed practice of trying to educate Spanish speakers as a class apart in California. Those who wish there were a bloc use the community for their own ends. But Latinos will continue to enrich and diversify our landscape through unstereotypical ambition and independent thinking.
Charles S. Cohn
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