20th Century U.S. Agricultural Policy

Abstract

This case is concerned with U.S. agriculture during the past 150 years. A brief review of the history of U.S. tariff legislation and farm subsidy policies indicate that the agricultural industry is supported, through its lobbyists, by a form of rent-seeking. In general, agriculture is a competitive market, and farming innovations have been driven by the market. However, potentially misplaced romanticism about the importance of farms has led to legislation that stifles competition and props up certain kinds of farmers, particularly by benefitting large farmers over small farmers. Myths about farming as the backbone of our country inspire the U.S. population to feel sympathetic to farmers. This case study shows that agricultural policy is shaped not by solid economic arguments, but by historical and cultural understandings about the importance of independent U.S. farms.

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