Agricultural Policy for the 21st Century

By Wade, Mark A. | NACTA Journal, June 2003 | Go to article overview

Agricultural Policy for the 21st Century


Wade, Mark A., NACTA Journal


Agricultural Policy for the 21st Century Edited by Luther Tweeten and Stanley R. Thompson, Iowa State Press, 2002, 309 pp., hardcover $72.99

Agricultural Policy for the 21st Century provides a straightforward, no-holds-barred look at agricultural policy, primarily with respect to the FAIR Act of 1996. The text is comprised of 15 chapters, each having been initially presented at a symposium, "Challenging the Agricultural Economics Paradigm." This collection of writers provides the reader with a multitude of opinions and perspectives that cannot be gained from a single author.

Upon initial review, the text appears appropriate for a graduate level course in agricultural policy. However, upon further examination, the text could also be appropriate for an upper division undergraduate policy course, honors course or agricultural economics capstone course. This flexibility is a result of outstanding writing and editing that distinguishes the book. Agricultural Policy for the 21st Century could be used as a foundation text, but is probably more appropriate as supplemental reading.

The text begins strongly with an outstanding forward by D. Gale Johnson. Johnson notes that while the reader may not share all of the authors' ideas, he promises to educate and challenge your firmly held beliefs. The forward, along with a well written preface, sets the stage for what is a truly thought provoking text; one that provides unique perspectives and attitudes on U.S. agricultural policy in the 21st century.

The first chapter, appropriately on farm commodity programs, is written by Luther Tweeten. Tweeten argues that congress has ignored the new agricultural paradigm; that farm commodity markets are efficient and that farm households have higher income and wealth than nonfarm households. Tweeten contends that this represents government failure and that the most effective antidote for government failure lies not in political science but in economic education. According to the author, if the consuming public were more aware of economic policy they would not stand for the inefficient agricultural policies that exist today.

This is a common argument in farm policy prior to the 1996 Farm Bill; profitability in the agricultural sector, combined with tax payer awareness, would limit future farm support programs. His comments are also an indictment of the lack of importance placed on economic aspects of U.S. agricultural policy and more placed on the political advantages that can be gained from supporting farm organizations.

In chapter 2, Bruce Gardner conducts an analysis of pre- and post-FAIR Act agricultural policy. His analysis examines the dead weight losses imposed on the nation's tax system. Gardner concludes that economy-wide costs common to pre- and post- 1996 programs constitute a good reason for economists to question farm programs generally. The author argues that farm programs create too much dead weigh loss on society at the expense of tax payers.

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