Politics

Asian countries sign on to vague climate pact

Leaders of 14 Asian countries, along with Australia and New Zealand, have signed onto a climate pact that says — well, nothing in particular, really. …

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown makes ambitious climate speech

In his first major speech on the environment, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has suggested that Britain could aim to cut its greenhouse-gas emissions 80 …

Revamping the current ag subsidy system

Revenue insurance is a promising option for farm aid

This is a guest post from Britt Lundgren, an Agricultural Policy Fellow at Environmental Defense. It is part of a recent conversation on agricultural policy. ----- Fixing farm policy, which has been the single largest influence on the shape of agriculture in the U.S. since the Dust Bowl, is not easy. "Not easy" will seem a drastic understatement to anyone who has followed the endless debate on the Senate floor over the past two weeks, which has produced much hand-wringing and rhetoric about our "safe and abundant food supply," but no actual Farm Bill. Tom Philpott has argued in recent posts that farm subsidies are a symptom of the problems associated with modern agriculture rather than the cause, and that efforts to end subsidies are bad policy. In his view, overproduction is the true culprit, and unless farm bill reforms include a mechanism to control supply we will continue to have problems. It's easy to blame everything on overproduction, but it is just not accurate. Prices for corn, soybeans, and many other commodity crops are higher than they've ever been right now. Prices don't rise when there's too much of a commodity, they rise when demand exceeds supply. I do agree with Mr. Philpott on one point: simply ending farm subsidies is not going to immediately end all of the environmental problems caused or aggravated by agricultural production. But farm subsidy reform advocates are not talking about ending subsidies. We don't want to pull the rug out from underneath farmers. Instead, we want to exchange the wall-to-wall shag carpet for something more modest -- a safety net for farmers that is less market-distorting and costs less than $9 billion a year. A better safety net will do far less to amplify problems caused by agricultural production than current farm policy does, and will also free up funds that can be used to address these problems.

OPEC joins Bush, Gingrich, and Lomborg in climate technology strategy

Research vs. cap-and-trade

Yes, OPEC is now "pledging $750 million for research into climate change technology" (while opposing a cap-and-trade system). [Note to President Bush, Newt Gingrich, and Bjørn Lomborg -- it ain't a good sign when your climate strategy is the same as OPEC's.] OPEC, however, seems a tad confused on just what a technology-based strategy could do for oil:

Errata

A few last bits of musing from Grist’s presidential forum on climate

A few final notes from Grist’s presidential climate forum, before (?) you get sick of me talking about it. Most memorable bits: Dennis Kucinich mentioning, …

It's economics, not agronomy

Why gutting commodity subsidies should be the focus of Farm Bill reform efforts

Thomas Dobbs is Professor Emeritus of Economics at South Dakota State University, and a W.K. Kellogg Foundation Food & Society Policy Fellow. ----- Tom Philpott wrote an article in which he challenged some of the key assumptions underlying Farm Bill reform efforts of the past year ("It's the Agronomy, Stupid"). He contended that gutting commodity subsidies would not solve the U.S.'s long-standing oversupply problems, and that we need the money currently in the "commodity" title to remain available for eventual support of conservation and other measures reformers hold dear. The following day, a guest post by Britt Lundgren appeared in Gristmill, contending that Philpott missed the real point of the Farm Bill debate. The real point, said Lundgren, is "whether or not the current suite of farm subsidies are actually an effective and productive way to support agriculture in the U.S." I find myself largely in agreement with the contents of Lundgren's post, but I want to address more directly Philpott's contention that "it's the agronomy" that matters. I disagree. "It's the economics" that matters in assessing the consequences of the U.S. farm program's heavy emphasis on commodity subsidies.

The future of the farm bill

Moving toward responsible agriculture

North Dakota senator Kent Conrad calls the farm bill a "legislative battleship that you cannot turn around quickly." As of mid-November 2007, this year's $286 billion farm bill appears to be having engine trouble. It is stalled in the Senate, and there is talk of a presidential veto. Should farmers be able to receive more than $250,000 in subsidy payments? What should the funding be for biofuels, for school lunches? Most of these arguments are about the speed of the battleship, or which flags it should fly, not the direction. For generations, that direction has been the maintenance and continued acceptability of high-input, industrialized agriculture -- "production agriculture" to its defenders. The farm bill is the legislative and financial instrument by which we attempt to turn an agriculture that is economically, socially, and ecologically unsound into something that is politically acceptable. This is getting harder and harder to do.

A litmus test for good economic policy

Pro-business vs. pro-market

Much of the debate around the big issues of our day -- from energy to healthcare -- hinges on whether one is "pro-market" or "pro-government," with Cato and the Wall Street Journal op-ed page lining up on one side and any number of PIRGs on the other. Unfortunately, neither side appears to understand the pro-market position. Herewith, my attempt to add a bit more rigor to the debate. So what does a market look like? At the most basic level, a market is defined by its characteristics. There are various definitions out there, but they all come down to the same basic tests: No barriers to entry No barriers to exit Price transparency (e.g., prices reflect costs) No participants can independently affect price Meet these tests and Adam Smith's magic starts to work, whereby the self-interest of each participant leads to social benefit for all in the form of better products and services, at lower prices. Why? Because life in a perfect market sucks! If you're running a firm in a market as defined above, you don't sleep well at night. New entrants keep cropping up. If you can't stay competitive, you're going to lose your money. Tiny changes in raw material costs have big impacts on your profits, which you are completely powerless to change. This causes you to do two things:

CNN on Grist's climate forum

Wherein I joke about John Edwards’ hair

CNN did a short segment on our presidential climate forum and the difficulty of raising the issue’s political profile. It’s actually a fairly astute piece. …