Crumb Trail
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Wednesday, September 10, 2003

If you ever had any suspicions that Ron Bailey, and by association Reason Magazine, were a bit confused his report from the WTO meeting in Cancun might confirm them.

Freeing up global agricultural trade is vital because the majority of people living in the poorest countries are still farmers. Bringing these poor farmers into the world trading system will enable them to take the first steps up the ladder of economic development. Of the 2 billion or so of the world's people who live on less than $2 per day, most live in rural communities.

It's true that there are a lot of poor farmers in rural communities in poor countries, but what does that have to do with global agricultural trade? They can't grow enough food to feed themselves reliably, that's why there are so many of them. They use traditional, low yield methods on very small plots of land and produce little if anything beyond their own needs. Their main source of productive energy comes from muscles not tractors, and while this is very efficient in terms H. T. Odum might appreciate it isn't the basis for participation in world agricultural trade except for high value luxury crops such as cocoa, coffee and cocaine.

If poor countries develop their agricultural sectors, something which will require significant investment and time, it will be large organizations using industrial methods that will produce for global world trade and the poor farmers will still be poor. Many won't even be farmers, they'll be squatters in the favelas of large cities since labor needs go down as productivity goes up in agriculture due to automation. But life goes on, young women are beautiful and young men notice so there will be more and more of them as is customary. They will still need food and in many cases will have the collective political power to get some from those shiny new industrial farms.

Actually, Bailey is simply parroting the brain dead ideas circulating in certain economically and agronomically illiterate backwaters with a small amount of additional journalistic sexing up. It's his job, he gets paid to do this, and he gets to go to Cancun for the big party. What turns this comedy of radical but uninformed free-traders besieging the WTO meeting into a farce is that they are joined at the barricades by even more radical no-traders who want to keep those poor but noble farmers just as they are. Hyper-globalizers and anti-globalizers neutering one another with fervor. Meditate on that image for a moment.

Bailey isn't concerned about poor farmers. Neither are the anti-globalizers. They are all using poor farmers as a wedge issue to advance their political agendas. Bailey is an anti-statist who wishes to eliminate subsidies as part of a broad program to limit state power. Anti-globalizers wish to enhance state power by reducing the influence of markets.

But I'm just doing laps here. Scroll down if you're interested to read other posts which critique the documents Bailey references, and for alternative development ideas that would actually work, actually help less developed countries become more developed countries - practical ideas that actually consider the interests of those poor farmers.

posted by back40 | 9/10/2003 08:43:00 PM


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