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What The Media Tell Americans About Free Enterprise

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November 1998


Ignoring Fast Track and Farmers

Reporters are usually quick to report on ways that increasing government power might solve problems, but they rarely think to point out that in many cases governments giving up power could solve the same problems.

Take the plight of American farmers. With prices low, many farmers are hurting financially. Stories on this problem have tended to focus on how bringing back expensive federal farm programs could help farmers. Not only have these stories not reported what a boon low prices are for consumers, they’ve also ignored how freer world trade could help farmers.

For instance, a September 4 Los Angeles Times report states that faced with the "economic disaster" of low prices, Senate Democrats proposed "more than $3 billion in aid for them." According to the report, "Farmer income was forecast to plunge twelve percent this year," and the Democrats wanted "more generous harvest-time loans to farmers." On September 18, Washington Post staff writer William Claiborne reported on "nearly $4 billion in emergency aid" Congress would give farmers "to offset losses stemming from this year’s plunge in crop prices and crop failures resulting from bad weather and disease."

Many reporters also noted that farmers had backed increased funding for the International Monetary Fund, hoping that it would bail out foreign economies and spur demand. But then last month, when Congress rejected giving President Clinton "fast-track" authority to negotiate trade agreements, few reporters noted what a blow this would be for farmers.

But according to some economists, increasing trade is the surest way to help struggling farmers. "American farmers are more reliant on foreign agriculture markets than the workers in any other sector of the U.S. economy," writes John Sweeney in a Heritage Foundation report. "One out of every three acres of cultivated farmland in the United States is dedicated to exports, but trade in U.S. agricultural exports has grown at a considerably slower pace than has trade in U.S. merchandise goods exports overall." Sweeney further notes that internationally, "the average non-farm tariff is four percent, but the average tariff on farm products is about 50 percent — and sometimes more than 100 percent."

According to Sweeney, "The United States has missed numerous opportunities to expand free trade since 1994 without fast-track negotiating authority, which hobbled U.S. trade policy and eroded the international leadership role of the United States. If Congress wants to help struggling farmers, it should assist them by working to open foreign markets to their products."

Reporters should ask why government, before jumping in to solve problems, doesn’t first do no harm itself.

Rich Noyes


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