Get Ready to Get Screwed

I usually try to avoid making too many public statements about trade issues. There aren't many topics more inflammatory and more contentious than WTO and the Doha Round, and no matter what you say you're guaranteed to make somebody angry. Now that's all well and good when you're ticking off the corporate ag interests, but with trade you're just as likely to tick off your friends as you are your enemies. But I had to comment on this, because I think it holds a lesson for all of those who care about farm and rural issues. From the LA Times:

"Chief executives of the biggest Wall Street firms Tuesday urged President Bush to make greater access to overseas markets for U.S. financial services a higher priority than it is now.

Such a shift could come at the expense of manufacturers and farmers, groups that also are lobbying the White House on trade...

The forum's letter was signed by the group's 20 members, including Charles Prince of Citigroup Inc., Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Richard Fuld of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., Stanley O'Neal of Merrill Lynch & Co. and John Mack of Morgan Stanley.

The letter says the U.S. financial services industry is much larger than the American farm sector and almost as large as the U.S. manufacturing industry."

Now, I know that Doha and the issues surrounding it are complex. The only point I'm going to try to make here is this: Farm groups, while powerful, are mere ticks on the rear of the big dogs of the financial services industry. When Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup and a bunch of other Wall Street titans sit down to eat your lunch in a trade debate, you had better watch out.

More broadly, this is the same dynamic we are going to have with the farm bill, now and in the future. Every year, there are fewer farmers. Every year, more people leave rural America. At some point, programs that serve those constituencies will lose the political support necessary to sustain their funding. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but it is inevitable. That day is fast approaching, and when it comes, you had better be able to justify your programs as worthy investments. If you can't, somebody is going to take your money away.

And I'll tell you what you can't justify- subsidizing consolidation and concentration in agriculture through essentially unlimited farm program payments. This is yet another reason why we need payment limits now, so we can take the savings and put them into programs that work for rural America. When the urban legislators come to take those giant subsidy checks away for their pet projects, that opportunity will be lost for good.

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