Scholarly Comments on Academic Economics

Agricultural Economists and the State

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Abstract

Agricultural economists, going back to the Roosevelt New Deal era, have a long legacy of supporting government intervention in the farm sector. Although policy economists have increased criticism of farm programs since World War II—particularly price support programs—there remains a substantial amount of support for government intervention in U.S. agriculture. The role of the USDA in funding policy research in agriculture tends to influence both the views of policy economists and the extent to which they express judgment in favor of liberalization of farm policies. Government farm programs provide work opportunities so that USDA-funded policy analysts have an incentive not to question the economic legitimacy of programs analyzed. State and local farm commodity interests also exert pressure on policy analysts who propose policy liberalization. In short, many policy economists today are critical of farm commodity programs but a vocal minority defends them. Even free-market agricultural policy economists, touting “positive science,” often fail to express judgment when analyzing farm commodity programs. Moreover, in analyzing “market failure” as a basis for conservation and other non-commodity farm programs, agricultural policy economists frequently implicitly support intervention by ignoring problems of “government failure.”