Friday, December 14, 2007

Jimmy Carter does not feel your pain

He is a pain.

I will admit it. When I was young and foolish I voted for Jimmy Carter for president. (Yes, that's how old I am.) I even read his campaign autobiography, Why Not the Best?. It's revealing that why not the best translated into Jimmy knows best, as in his inability to delegate even the setting White House tennis court schedule.

Recently, Carter had an op-ed in the Washington Post on the plight of African farmers. FreeXchange says it better than I would:
Mr Carter rails against the way American farm subsidies can harm poorer countries, pointing out a few interesting facts along the way:

A 2002 report by Oxfam International estimates that in 2001 sub-Saharan Africa lost $302 million as a direct result of U.S. cotton subsidies, with two-thirds of the loss sustained in eight countries -- Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Central African Republic, Chad and Togo. Compared with American humanitarian assistance, the subsidies to U.S. cotton farmers amount to more than the U.S. Agency for International Development's total annual budget for all of sub-Saharan Africa.
So we should scrap American protections, right? No no no. Not at all! Displaying a terrifying sort of logic, Mr Carter in his concluding paragraph argues:
Cotton production costs 73 cents per pound in the United States and only 21 cents per pound in West Africa, so American farmers do need protection in the international marketplace.
With that ratio I suppose I would put something else after that "so". For example: "it makes no sense for Americans to produce cotton." Cato Institute trade analyst Dan Ikenson would make a lousy cotton farmer, but he's got his economics straight:
If cotton production is so much cheaper in West Africa than in the United States, then more production should happen there and less should happen here. If Carter is really interested in the well-being of West African farmers, “whose scant livelihood depends on cotton production,” he should advocate free trade in cotton. Why instead does he advocate that U.S. farmers be protected in the international market place? West African incomes will continue to suffer if U.S. subsidy programs are replaced by U.S. tariffs, which is what Carter seems to be advocating. How does it help Malian farmers lift themselves out of poverty if they can’t effectively compete on their advantages? Higher U.S. tariffs would only drive down the world price (as subsidies do) and likely compel other importer nations to raise tariffs to protect their own producers, shrinking the market further for Malian farmers.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mali is a pretty dry country. Just imagine if all the trade barriers were thrown down: the cultivation of the cash crop would increase, the amount of water available for food crops and city dwellers would decline, and pretty soon Mali becomes a basket case dependent upon foreign aid, save for a handful of very rich cotton farmers who exist because of the world's largesse.

7:59 PM  

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