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