Notes on Agriculture
and the State
Raymond F. Hopkins
State intervention in agriculture has a long tradition. Lindert presents evidence in Chapter z for a changing pattern of agricultural policies in the course of economic growth. In early modern European and contemporary developing countries, the state taxes agriculture; in modern industrial states, the government subsidizes agriculture. This pattern does not arise from economic rationality (usually) but from political economic forces ascendent at a particular time in a nation's history.
Political economy does help explain this evolution of agricultural policy. The dynamics are more complex, however, than those usually elaborated by economists. The purposes and consequences of state action are often divergent. Consequences are frequently unintended and sometimes perverse. Moreover, the very evolution of the state is closely linked to the development of agriculture and the effects that agricultural policies have upon it.
Anthropologists have closely linked the expansion of governing institutions—from minimalist governing systems to complex, modern state systems—with changes in agricultural production. The need to regulate market activity and resolve land disputes for settled agriculturalists, for instance, is postulated as the basis for the rise of African feudal-type systems (Fortes and Evans-Pritchard, 1940; Mair, 1962, pp. 29-31). Likewise, the centralization of state power and national policies in the modern era is linked to changes in agriculture (Barraclough, 1976; Cochrane, 1979). State financing for agricultural