Class war and the Farm Bill

The rich are different from you and me: They get subsidies.

Published October 15, 2007 8:23PM (EDT)

Another sign that growing income inequality in the United States is a political hot-button whose time has come. A television ad campaign currently running in Minnesota, New Hampshire and Washington, D.C., is attacking the Farm Bill on the grounds that it subsidizes layabout millionaires instead of good old bedrock family farmers. (Thanks to Trade Diversion for the link.)

This is flat-out class warfare: On one side, your down-to-earth tiller of the soil, dressed in plaid, jeans and scuffed up work boots, a bemused frown spreading across his face. On the other, a smirking, slick upper-class leech, nattily dressed right down to the tip of his gleaming patent-leather shoes. All he's missing is a top hat and a monocle.

The campaign, produced by Oxfam America, is predicated on one critical statistic: 10 percent of farmers collect 73 percent of all subsidies. Although a revised version of the Farm Bill that has already passed the House would prohibit individual farmers who make more than $1 million a year from receiving subsidies represents an improvement from the current cap of $2.5 million, Oxfam America and other groups endorsing the campaign say that it's still too easy for businesses and partnerships to evade any limits.

The goal of the ad campaign's creators is obviously to keep it simple. No mention of how removing subsidies altogether would help farmers in the developing world, who can't compete with the low prices for commodity goods that result from subsidized American overproduction. No mention of the challenge of figuring out what crops and agricultural practices should be encouraged by the Farm Bill, in place of the current system, which, for example, provides huge incentives for King Corn monoculture. No mention of the Farm Bill's huge influence on the American diet,

Just the simple equation: The Farm Bill disproportionately caters to the greedy rich. Not that there's anything wrong with pointing that out. Without a doubt, one won't get very far in Minnesota attacking corn, or arguing for trade liberalization of agricultural goods for the benefit of Mexican campesinos. But when the winds of economic inequality start blowing harder, going populist is always a good bet. Keep your eyes peeled: The politics of class warfare may be coming soon to a television near you.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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