The Americanization of Rural France American Trade Policy Is an Assault on France's Rural Way of Life, Which French Taxpayers Willingly Support

Article excerpt

THE storming of Paris by farmers enraged by their government's bending to American demands that certain French agricultural subsidies be eliminated is not so much about "a few million tons of oilseed" as it is about preserving a culture and a way of life.

In the United States, where traces of the "rural ideal" can still be found in remaindered coffee-table art books collecting the works of Norman Rockwell, Grant Wood, and Andrew Wyeth, there are 30 percent fewer farmers, as an average of the total population, than in France. While roughly 25 percent of all Americans and Frenchmen live in rural areas, almost all the rural French are in agricultural work as compared with only 2 percent of rural Americans.

A semirural lifestyle is within commuting distance of most middle-class Americans fleeing ravaged cities, and their nostalgia for the countryside provides a marketing bonanza to 19 country lifestyle magazines circulated to more than 8 million Americans and read by three times as many. This yearning for the land is the cultural cue for real estate developers to pressure county planning boards to rezone rural acreage for large-lot developments that gobble up farmland and strain limited ground water resources.

Inefficient pocket development inevitably drives up taxes as communities are logistically stymied by the far-flung need for services such as schools, sewers, police, fire, ambulance, and garbage. Where resistance to rezoning rural land is high, rural "blockbusting" in the form of seemingly innocuous golf courses creates a landscaped environment more compatible with luxury housing than contour farming.

The anti-agrarian agenda in the US over the past decade was set in corporate and bank board rooms, where credit-squeezed farmers were left to the mercies of agribusiness and real estate speculators. Between 1980 and 1990, more than 51 million acres of US farmland were taken out of production, adding up to a loss of 294,000 farms, 12 percent of the total. The average size of the remaining farms increased from 426 acres to 461.

By contrast, the average size of a French farm is 72 acres, less than one-sixth the size of an American farmhold. While the size of French farms has more than doubled since 1970, French farmers still cluster in charmingly preserved villages in order to conserve valuable agricultural land. There are few suburban zones surrounding French towns, which puts an urban Frenchman much closer to his rural roots than the American suburbanite who must look wistfully each month at a Vermont wall calendar.

American trade policy is a direct assault on France's rural way of life, which is willingly supported by French taxpayers with a $25 billion annual subsidy to French farmers. …