November 10, 2003

The Fabric of Their Lives: U.S. cotton subsidies make the poor poorer

Jacob Sullum explains how cotton subsidies hurt poor farmers in less developed countries:

This arrangment, known as Step 2 of the "cotton competitiveness program," has cost taxpayers $1.7 billion during the last eight years. The payments have included $107 million to the Allenberg Cotton Co. of Cordova, Tennessee; $102 million to Dunavent Enterprises of Fresno, California, and Memphis, Tennessee; and $87 million to Cargill Cotton of Cordova, Tennessee.

You begin to see how Tennessee gets back $1.26 in spending for every dollar it sends to Washington. And these textile companies already benefit from trade barriers that restrict foreign competition, at the expense of American consumers and producers in other countries who do not have the same clout on Capitol Hill.

Speaking of foreign competition, the cotton subsidies are shameful not only because U.S. farmers should have to play by the rules of the market but because this welfare program for the well-to-do has a ruinous impact on poor farmers in other countries who do not enjoy such largess. By artificially boosting the cotton supply, subsidies depress world prices, driving farmers in countries such as Mali, Benin, and Burkina Faso out of business. Oxfam estimates that U.S. subsidies cost cotton-growing African countries $300 million a year.