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Working Paper Series

Wither, or Whither, Agricultural Crop Subsidies?


  • Lee Friedman, Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley


  • Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (July 2003)


There is and always has been virtual consensus among economists that many agricultural
crop support programs cause inefficiency. Equally true, economists also know that whenever
there is inefficiency, there is “room for a deal” that mitigates it. However, the standard
political explanations for the persistence of these inefficient programs rely on the strength of
the farm lobby relative to the diffuse and difficult-to-organize consumers that pay for them.
This is unsatisfactory because, by the logic of economics, there is an opportunity for a deal
that would benefit the farm lobby in exchange for shedding the inefficient programs. If the
farm lobby could itself benefit, then we have no explanation for the persistence of the
inefficient programs. I examine this puzzle, and conclude that increased political
sophistication on the part of agricultural economists could have a high social payoff in terms
of reduced program inefficiencies over time.

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Last updated on 06/07/2013