Sallie James, at the Cato Institute, provides a perfect example of the unhelpful rhetoric surrounding agricultural subsidies. Commenting on my post about progressive farm subsidies, Ms. James spins my argument as “farm subsidies flowing to the biggest farms is [sic] a sign of progressivity.” Ms. James, who has a Ph.D. in agricultural economics, probably knows the distinction between “tax/subsidy progressivity” and the less-precisely defined “progressive society”-type of progressivity. Yet she ignores the precise definition, which economists are well-equipped to discuss and critique. Instead she claims that “the fact [subsidies] are not [progressive] is, I think, one of the valid critiques of U.S. farm policy.” The evidence provided is an article from the Washington Post that relies on the subject of my criticism: large farms receive a disproportionate share of total subsidies–hardly evidence of subsidy progressivity.
Ms. James ultimately wants to talk about the income distribution between farmers and the rest of the population. I will post more on that idea later, but for now, let’s be sure to use the right tool for the job.