Category: Politics

“The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” Takes on Food Aid

Last Tuesday, my Cornell colleague, coauthor, and former advisor Chris Barrett was on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart discussing food aid. The video segment in which he appeared managed to make a very serious point — the effectiveness of the Food for Peace program is greatly undermined by the shipping lobby — while remaining highly satirical, and you can watch it here:

According to an interview Chris gave to the Cornell Daily Sun, the taping of his part of the segment took about four hours.

For those of you who are not familiar with his work, Chris has worked on just about every aspect of food security, and I’d be hard pressed to pinpoint what he is most famous for. The above video, however, is about his work on food aid, the culmination of which has been his 2005 book with Dan Maxwell, Food Aid After Fifty Years.

For a more popular treatment of the weaknesses of US food aid because of the political economy landscape, I suggest reading Kilman and Thurow’s Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty.

Development Bloat

I can’t even have a road built without including a nutrition component as part of the project. A nutrition component–as part of a road construction project!

That’s how a former student who works for one of the biggest development organizations in the world expressed his frustrations with development and aid work these days when I had dinner with him in Washington, DC last summer. In my student’s view, “development” had become too many things.

I was initially skeptical of his claim. After all, one of the first things I teach the students in my development seminar is that there are no silver bullets; the causes of underdevelopment are many, and tackling just one problem is unlikely to lift an entire country out of poverty.

But the more I think about it, the more I remember often having had a “That is development?” reaction when reading articles about development in academic journals, specialized magazines, and newspapers. For example, here is a list of things that are considered by many to be part of the process of development: Continue reading

On Farm Subsidies and Quinoa: Yours Truly in the Washington Post

This raises a question: Why are lawmakers so willing to vote for farm subsidies — even lawmakers who usually oppose government spending? …

One theory is that money explains it all. Wealthy agribusinesses are somehow paying off Republicans to vote their way. …

Not everyone’s convinced by this, though. In a recent working paper (pdf), Duke University economist Marc Bellemare and political scientist Nicholas Carnes came up with a better reason for Congress’s ag-subsidy love. Farmers and farm owners have disproportionate political sway in key districts. …

Bellemare tells me that he expected agribusiness lobbying to have the biggest impact on various farm votes before they did the study. But that wasn’t the case. Pressure at the polls turned out to be the key factor.

That’s Brad Plumer on the Washington Post‘s WonkBlog in a post about why Congress supports agriculture. Continue reading

The Political Economy of Agricultural Policy

Hot on the heels of Monday’s post, in which I discussed my latest working paper “Why Do Members of Congress Support Agricultural Protection?,” here is the abstract of a very nice new article (a link to an ungated working paper version can be found here) by Kym Anderson, Gordon Rausser, and Jo Swinnen in the latest issue of the Journal of Economic Literature:

The agricultural and food sector is an ideal case for investigating the political economy of public policies. Many of the policy developments in this sector since the 1950s have been sudden and transformational, while others have been gradual but persistent. This article reviews and synthesizes the literature on trends and fluctuations in market distortions and the political-economy explanations that have been advanced. Based on a rich global data set covering a half-century of evidence on commodities, countries, and policy instruments, we identify hypotheses that have been explored in the literature on the extent of market distortions and the conditions under which reform may be feasible.

New Working Paper: Why Do Members of Congress Support Agricultural Protection?

That’s the title of my latest working paper (here and there), written with my Duke colleague Nick Carnes. Just in time for the latest farm bill debacle, here is the abstract:

It seems paradoxical that developed countries continue subsidizing agriculture even though their agricultural sectors have been declining in relative importance since the middle of the 20th century. What drives support for agricultural protection in developed countries? We answer this question by testing three competing hypotheses about what drives support for agricultural protection in the US: (i) legislator preferences, (ii) electoral incentives, or (iii) lobbying. Using data on the roll call votes of the members of the 106th through the 110th Congresses (1999-2009) and the scores given to each legislator by the Farm Bureau, our findings suggest electoral incentives explain a great deal of the variation in support for agricultural protection, but that legislator preferences and lobbying play a role, too. Moreover, legislator preferences and electoral incentives appear to be substitutes for one another. Why does Congress support agricultural protection? Because many members have electoral incentives to — and because many of those who do not still have other personal or strategic interests at stake. Continue reading