Category: Self-Promotion

Jennifer Aniston and I, Together at Last…

… in a Bloomberg article on quinoa:

Bolivian farmer Rafael Garcia is living larger thanks to one of Jennifer Aniston’s favorite salad ingredients.

“We sleep in good beds. We eat good food,” said Garcia, who heads an alliance of 37 producers of a crop called quinoa in the western Oruro region. “We now have bikes and motorcycles while we used to go everywhere by foot.”

Thousands of miles from celebrities and chefs who tout the health benefits of quinoa — a seed packed with protein and fiber — sales are lifting the fortunes of Andean farmers who’ve grown it for centuries mostly for subsistence. Governments of Peru and Bolivia, which still dominate the $123 million export market, are hoping the trend can last as prices that have doubled to about $3,000 a metric ton since 2007 attract better capitalized competitors.

I am quoted further in the article, when discussing how the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has declared 2013 to be the International Year of Quinoa:

Those attributes will help distinguish Bolivian quinoa from the competition, said Paola Mejia, the manager of the Bolivian Chamber of Royal Quinoa and Organic Products Exporters, which is seeking international certification for the seed grown by the country’s 12,000 farmers.

“There are different sorts of quinoa and the world is going to ask for different quality types,” she said in a phone interview.

It’s not clear the world will keep asking, according to Bellemare. “To say, ‘Let’s make this the next big thing,’ maybe Madison Avenue would be able to do that. I honestly doubt the FAO has the marketing firepower,” he said.

In Industrialized America, Why Do Members of Congress Favor Farm Subsidies?

That’s the title of my first Key Findings Brief (link opens a .pdf document) as a member of the Scholars Strategy Network (SSN), which I finally joined last week after putting off submitting my application materials for months and after being encouraged to do so by my coauthor Nick Carnes, who is himself co-director of the Research Triangle SSN regional network.

As per its mission statement, the SSN 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

Yours Truly in the Pacific Standard

Nobody likes America’s agricultural policy. Not conservatives, not liberals, and not policy experts, who frequently use terms like “astonishingly irrational” to describe our system of federal subsidies for farming. So why is everyone so angry and shocked that last week’s laden farm bill—comprised of addendums to the same legislative package that Congress has been tagging since 1938—failed in the House of Representatives? Some reports describe a Farm Lobby Goliath smited by a tiny contingent of conservative House GOPers who are hellbent on shrinking the size of government no matter the objections of their fellow Republicans from farm country. But according to a new working paper by Duke economic policy researchers Marc Bellemare and Nick Carnes, it might not have been the all-powerful farm lobby that the House GOP subverted so much as a small contingent of American voters.

From an article by Michael Fitzgerald discussing my most recent working paper in the Pacific Standard, formerly known as Miller-McCune Magazine.

That said, although we find that electoral incentives seem to be the most consistent driver of congressional voting behavior on matters of agricultural protection, we still find evidence that lobbying (via the amount of contributions members of Congress receive from agricultural political action committees) and legislator preferences (via how much of their pre-Congress career the same members of Congress have spent working in agriculture) matter.

The Impacts of Commodity Price Volatility in Ethiopia

How does commodity price volatility affect the welfare of rural households in developing countries, for whom hedging and consumption smoothing are often difficult? And when governments choose to intervene in order to stabilize commodity prices, as they often do, who gains the most? This article develops an analytical framework and an empirical strategy to answer those questions, along with illustrative empirical results based on panel data from rural Ethiopian households. Contrary to conventional wisdom, we find that the welfare gains from eliminating price volatility are increasing in household income, making food price stabilization a distributionally regressive policy in this context.

That’s the abstract of an article Chris Barrett, David Just, and I have been working on since 2007, and which has just been accepted for publication by the American Journal of Agricultural Economics.

In this article, we ask the question: What is the effect on rural households of increasing the uncertainty (i.e., volatility) surrounding the prices of the staple crops they produce and consume, holding the levels of those same prices constant? In other words, we isolate the impact of an increase in the variance of a price distribution holding the mean of that price distribution constant, and we look at the effects of the covariance between each pair of prices, since a price never varies alone.

To answer those questions, we use publicly available survey data from rural Ethiopia and study the welfare impacts of volatility in the prices of coffee, maize, beans, barley, wheat, teff, and sorghum.

This article, I think, is my best piece of research so far, and it is not without reason that I used it as my job-market paper this year. It really has everything one wants one’s research articles to have: Continue reading