A Nobel Laureate (Economics) Writes on the Insanity of Our Food Policy

industrial agriculture

Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz is considered one of the top 5 economists in the world today. He is currently a professor at Columbia University in New York, and has a distinguished track record on both international and national monetary and social issues.

In a recent opinion piece in the New York Times, he blasts America’s food/farm politics:

American food policy has long been rife with head-scratching illogic. We spend billions every year on farm subsidies, many of which help wealthy commercial operations to plant more crops than we need. The glut depresses world crop prices, harming farmers in developing countries. Meanwhile, millions of Americans live tenuously close to hunger, which is barely kept at bay by a food stamp program that gives most beneficiaries just a little more than $4 a day. Read more…

Stiglitz introduces the concept of “rent seeking” which is an economic term for what wealthy groups of people do to get wealthier – seek political influence to change the rules of the game to their favor. When it comes to food policy, we see it in the Farm Bill every 5 years. Lobbies representing rich agricultural corporations buy our politicians’ vote by supporting their reelection campaigns with cash. The result is farm subsidies going mostly to rich corporate farmers for growing monoculture crops such as corn and soy. On the other hand, as part of the Farm Bill, Congress will be voting to reduce spending on SNAP programs, formerly known as food stamps, which tens of millions of Americans rely on today to feed their families. Why? Because poor people don’t have an influential lobby representing them.

Another unfortunate side effect of subsidies for mostly the richest farmers is an oversupply of corn and soy. It has led to the production of cheap and unhealthy foods and beverages over the last five decades. Think sodas with high fructose corn syrup, and snack aisles filled with chips fried in cheap soy oil. This junk food has created an obesity and disease crisis of historic proportions. Today it is cheaper and easier for people to buy junk food compared to healthy food. The default choice is cheap and unhealthy. This is especially impacting the folks receiving SNAP.

How about a subsidy program to encourage more healthy fruit and vegetable production? How about fresh produce that is actually cheaper than a bag of chips and a can of cola?

  • Pat

    I agreed we Americans need to eat healthy foods, which I have been doing for the past year. I especially avoid table sugar and white flour. I’m all for helping people on SNAP (the ones who really need help) and believe all people need to be educated on the best foods to eat. Too many processed foods and soda products are being consumed. It’s not that difficult to eat nutritious meals at home and avoid the fast food places. It just takes a plan, goal and will power.

  • Corky

    Yes and I can’t agree more. Here in the mid-west USA, I see it clearly as the perpetual dynasty it has become. Cornfield after cornfield as we drive west from the Chicago suburbs, you can see the signs placed roadside next to various corn and soybean fields boasting the names of these huge chemical companies. Driving in the opposite direction from rural towards the city you can see more and more food related industry the closer you get towards Chicago and the outlaying suburbs. I work in a very populated suburb of Chicago and we have all of the modern conveniences and none of the time left in our busy schedules to get things done. On occasion those drive through windows at Taco Bell or a Starbucks seem pretty tempting. I believe this is all purposeful and give a striking credence to the author’s discussion above.

  • rkaplan4

    Good article. Healthy Man agrees! http://www.healthyman.co

  • tmhalter

    Poor people have no influential lobby? What is the Democratic party? It’s their idiot leaders that keep getting because of the poor and the programs they ravage! Wake up liberal lucy and figuire out what is real!