Challenging the Agricultural Economics Paradigm

Farm Foundation has published the book, Agricultural Policy for the 21st Century, edited by Luther Tweeten and Stanley R. Thompson (Ames, IA: Iowa State Press, 2002).

The chapters in this book were originally presented at a symposium, Challenging the Agricultural Economics Paradigm, at Ohio State University in September 2000. The symposium honored the career of Luther Tweeten, Anderson Professor of Agricultural Marketing, Policy and Trade at Ohio State University for 13 years. Before that, he was on the faculty of agricultural economics at Oklahoma State University for 26 years.

Some papers were invited and others were selected by a review committee from competitive submissions. Authors were encouraged to address two issues raised by Tweeten in his four decades as a professional agricultural economist: Do agricultural markets work and what is the appropriate role for government in these markets? Authors, many of the leading lights in agricultural economists, would not have consented to and were not asked to adhere to a thesis – they were asked to be as critical or supportive as their own individual special insights led them.

Thus, topics range from farm policy, resource economics, international trade, and welfare economics to food security -topics Tweeten frequently addressed in his career. The insights and indepth analysis offered by the authors are intended for all students of farm policy, including professors, classroom students, informed laypersons, and others grappling with the important economic issues of contemporary agriculture.

Although no central thesis pervades this book, the chapters cannot be read without awareness that U.S. farm commodity programs have lost their way. They cannot be defended on economic equity grounds – income per farm household set successively higher all-time records in each of the five years from 1996 through 2000 and is well above income per nonfarm household. Income and wealth of commercial farmers and landlords – the ultimate beneficciaries of commodity programs – are even more favorable. Commodity programs also fail economic efficiency tests. By distorting savings and investment decisions of taxpayers and encouraging excessive resource use and commodity production by farmers, commodity programs reduce not only farm crop and livestock receipts but also national income.

This book makes the case that commodity programs do not effectively address very real problems of family farm loss, risk, and environmental degadation. What accounts for the disarray in current public policy and difficulties in formulating agricultural policy for the twenty-first century? Authors of this book blame a partisan political bidding war, strategic alliances, and, most important, a disengaged public. A better-informed public will be essential in pressuring members of Congress to address effectively serious problems at far less cost to taxpayers than incurred in the 1990s. These essays are intended to boost that effort.

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