Results of lavishing subsidies on politically important special interests—entirely predictable

A recent Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute report links US farm subsidies to increased deforestation in the Amazon rainforest:

The US is the world's leading producer of soy, but many American soy farmers are shifting to corn to qualify for the [$11,000,000,000/year] government subsidies. Since 2006, US corn production rose 19% while soy farming fell by 15%.

The drop-off in US soy has helped to drive a major increase in global soy prices, which have nearly doubled in the last 14 months. In Brazil, the world's second-largest soy producer, high soy prices are having a serious impact on the Amazon rainforest and tropical savannas.


High soy prices affect the Amazon in several ways. Some forests are cleared for soy farms. Farmers also buy and convert many cattle ranches into soy farms, effectively pushing the ranchers further into the Amazonian frontier. Finally, wealthy soy farmers are lobbying for major new Amazon highways to transport their soybeans to market, and this is increasing access to forests for loggers and land speculators.

Laurance emphasized that he was not the first person to suggest that US corn subsidies could indirectly harm the Amazon. "But now we're seeing that these predictions-first made last summer-are being borne out. The evidence of a corn connection to the Amazon is circumstantial, but it's about as close as you ever get to a smoking gun."

I agree that this is entirely predictable.

I spent the better part of two years (1992-94) living in the Amazon (~3 months in Rondonia, ~13 months in Amazonas, and ~6 months in Acre). I've witnessed people struggling to eke out an existance. If families and communities in the region can earn more (and become more prosperous) by stepping in to help fill the soy-gap created by our Congress's ill-conceived policies, what right do we have to be shocked or dismayed at the results?

Congress's misguided farm subsidies are also contributing to rising meat prices domestically and food prices globally, pricing tortillas out of the reach of the poor in Mexico, and leading to more (illegal) immigration.

I can't help but wonder—paraphrasing Rep. Jeff Flake—what business is it of the Federal Government to pick winners and losers in the economy, to decide we ought to be promoting white & yellow corn production (with earmarks and subsidies) instead of blue corn or above any other vegetable out there?

—Michael A. Cleverly


  1. Russ wrote (at Mon, 14 Jan 2008, 14:10):

"[The socialists declare] that the state owes subsistence, well-being, and education to all its citizens; that it should be generous, charitable, involved in everything, devoted to everybody; ...that it should intervene directly to relieve all suffering, satisfy and anticipate all wants, furnish capital to all enterprises, enlightenment to all minds, balm for all wounds, asylums for all the unfortunate, and even aid to the point of shedding French blood, for all oppressed people on the face of the earth. Who would not like to see all these benefits flow forth upon the world from the law, as from an inexhaustible source? ...But is it possible? ...Whence does [the state] draw those resources that it is urged to dispense by way of benefits to individuals? Is it not from the individuals themselves? How, then, can these resources be increased by passing through the hands of a parasitical and voracious intermediary? ...Finally...we shall see the entire people transformed into petitioners. Landed property, agriculture, industry, commerce, shipping, industrial companies, all will bestir themselves to claim favors from the state. The public treasury will be literally pillaged. Everyone will have good reasons to prove that legal fraternity should be interpreted in this sense: "Let me have the benefits, and let others pay the costs." Everyone's effort will be directed toward snatching a scrap of fraternal privilege from the legislature. The suffering classes, although having the greatest claim, will not always have the greatest success." — Bastiat; from Journal des Economistes

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