The Rise of the Agricultural Welfare State: Institutions and Interest Group Power in the United States, France, and Japan

The Rise of the Agricultural Welfare State: Institutions and Interest Group Power in the United States, France, and Japan

The Rise of the Agricultural Welfare State: Institutions and Interest Group Power in the United States, France, and Japan

The Rise of the Agricultural Welfare State: Institutions and Interest Group Power in the United States, France, and Japan

Synopsis

A long-dominant reading of American politics holds that public policy in the United States is easily captured by special interest groups. Countering this view, Adam Sheingate traces the development of government intervention in agriculture from its nineteenth-century origins to contemporary struggles over farm subsidies. His considered conclusion is that American institutions have not given agricultural interest groups any particular advantages in the policy process, in part because opposing lobbies also enjoy access to policymakers. In fact, the high degree of conflict and pluralism maintained by American institutions made possible substantial retrenchment of the agricultural welfare state during the 1980s and 1990s. In Japan and France--two countries with markedly different institutional characters than the United States--powerful agricultural interests and a historically close relationship between farmers, bureaucrats, and politicians continue to preclude a roll-back of farm subsidies.

This well-crafted study not only puts a new spin on agricultural policy, but also makes a strong case for the broader claim that the relatively de

Excerpt

I am often asked why I chose to study agricultural policy. To the disappointment of most who ask, I did not grow up on a farm, nor did any of my family. the initial choice was motivated more by necessity than by any particular attraction to the subject matter. Faced with the task of finding a dissertation topic, I looked for an empirical case study with which to test propositions derived from the literature in historical institutionalism and American political development. a prominent theme in the field at the time was that the federal government of the United States was institutionally weak. Generally, this weakness manifested itself in two ways. First, institutional fragmentation supposedly diminished government capacity for certain types of policies, such as encouraging the economic development of a particular sector. a second consequence of this fragmentation was that interest groups dictated the terms of public policy.

Agriculture, it occurred to me, did not fit either proposition particularly well. the argument about policy capacity did not stand up to historical scrutiny. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, the federal government created a nationwide system of research institutions—land-grant agricultural colleges, experiment stations, and the Extension Service—that promoted the development and dissemination of agricultural technology. Federal grants encouraged railroad construction and other transportation links that completed the interior market for agricultural products and made export markets accessible for domestic producers. U.S. institutions did not impede government promotion of commercial agriculture.

The argument about interest group power did not stand up to comparative scrutiny. Agricultural interest groups in France and Japan—countries usually placed on the opposite end of the institutional spectrum from the United States—routinely make life difficult for politicians and policy makers responsible for subsidy programs or engaged in multilateral trade negotiations. in the United States, agricultural interest groups certainly enjoy access to policy, but they must compete for attention with a variety of other interests whose concerns are often contrary to their own, such as consumer or business groups. Although far from powerless, agricultural interests in the United States do not dictate the terms of farm policy to the same degree as their counterparts in France or Japan.

These two observations form the core argument and methodology of this book. By adopting a historical approach to the study of policy and institutions, I argue that government capacity in agriculture varied over time, according to the tasks policy makers undertook. At times, institu-

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