How does government-provided economic support affect U.S. agriculture? Agricultural economists have for decades deemed farm programs as wasteful and inequitable. In his 1995 book Plowing Ground in Washington, Delworth Gardner asks, “Given that farm price support programs are both wasteful and inequitable, why do these policies exist and, perhaps even more of a puzzle, why do they persist?”  At the same time, agriculture is the sixth most productive industry in the U.S., behind computer manufacturing and ahead of both telecommunications and software publishing.

Bar graph ranking industries by contribution to productivity growth.
Farm-sector contribution to U.S. productivity growth is among the highest.

U.S. agriculture accounted for fifteen percent of U.S. productivity growth between 1960-2007. How do we reconcile such productivity growth with “wasteful” farm programs? Could it be possible that farm programs somehow have contributed to the productivity growth and are not as “wasteful and inequitable” as supposed?