The Politics of Food Supply

The Politics of Food Supply: U.S. Agricultural Policy in the World Economy

Bill Winders
Foreword by James C. Scott
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    The Politics of Food Supply
    Book Description:

    This book deals with an important and timely issue: the political and economic forces that have shaped agricultural policies in the United States during the past eighty years. It explores the complex interactions of class, market, and state as they have affected the formulation and application of agricultural policy decisions since the New Deal, showing how divisions and coalitions within Southern, Corn Belt, and Wheat Belt agriculture were central to the ebb and flow of price supports and production controls. In addition, the book highlights the roles played by the world economy, the civil rights movement, and existing national policy to provide an invaluable analysis of past and recent trends in supply management policy.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15623-2
    Subjects: Political Science, Business, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. ii-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    James C. Scott

    The task Bill Winders sets himself is sharply etched but, at the same time, dauntingly ambitious. How can one account for the demise of the trinity of production controls, price supports, and export subsidies that guided agricultural policy in the United States for more than a half century from the New Deal to the mid-1990s? The bookends of this enterprise are Franklin Roosevelt’s Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA, 1933), which instituted supply management, and the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act (FAIR Act, 1996), which abandoned it. Explaining this convincingly, as Winders does, requires a high order of interdisciplinary skills, including...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  6. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xxiii-xxiv)
  7. CHAPTER 1 Introduction: Agriculture between State and Market
    (pp. 1-28)

    Throughout most of the twentieth century, agricultural policy in the United States veered sharply from free market principles by emphasizingsupply management. Beginning with the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) in 1933 as a response to the Great Depression, supply management policy rested on two programs:price supportsandproduction controls. Price supports provided artificially high prices for certain field crops—most notably wheat, corn, and cotton. To receive these higher prices, however, farmers had to adhere to production controls, which restricted the production of these same commodities. To be eligible for cotton price supports, for example, a southern farmer might...

  8. PART I Creating State Intervention
    • CHAPTER 2 The Early Battles Lost: Reaching for Regulation, 1920–1932
      (pp. 31-50)

      From about 1900 through the 1920s, U.S. agricultural policy focused primarily on educating farmers, supporting agricultural research, creating periodic tariffs, and implementing government regulation of some agribusinesses, such as grain elevators. Agricultural policy exerted little direct influence on commodity prices or production decisions, which were both largely shaped by market mechanisms. Exploring this period can help to advance our understanding of the life of supply management policy. Despite the lack of extensive government intervention into agricultural prices or production, the political and economic context of the 1920s would seem to have been conducive to the creation of supply management policy:...

    • CHAPTER 3 Winning Supply Management: A New Deal for Agriculture, 1933–1945
      (pp. 51-74)

      Although farmers, farm organizations, and politicians could not forge supply management policy in the 1920s, they finally won their battle during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The U.S. economy was devastated: between 1926 and 1933, the country’s gross domestic product fell by about 25 percent, manufacturing wages fell by about 27 percent, farm income fell by about 47 percent, and the unemployment rate rose from about 2 percent to above 20 percent.¹ Poverty rose dramatically, in both urban and rural areas. Widespread hunger was seen in the dramatic expansion of soup lines; increasing homelessness was visible in the curbside...

  9. PART II The Politics of Retrenchment
    • CHAPTER 4 Shifting Agricultural Coalitions: Sliding Back toward the Free Market, 1945–1975
      (pp. 77-104)

      Supply management policy entered a period of gradual retrenchment after emerging in the New Deal and expanding during the Second World War. One final expansion of this policy occurred in 1954 with the creation of export subsidies. Nonetheless, a series of legislative changes in the 1950s through the 1970s lowered price supports, weakened production controls, and reduced export subsidies. Although supply management policy did not disappear during this period, the federal government became far less involved with agricultural prices, production, and trade. As a result, government support to farmers declined, as did market prices—although farm income did not fall....

    • CHAPTER 5 The Decline of the South: Changing Power within U.S. Agriculture, 1945–1975
      (pp. 105-128)

      Changes in agricultural coalitions help to explain the gradual retrenchment of supply management, but changes in political power are likewise important. By focusing on the shrinking farm population, the weakening of farm organizations, or the reduction in the number of farm representatives in Congress, most scholars overlook the most important shift in power: the decline of southern planters. The political economy of the South changed as the plantation system gradually disappeared, altering the class position and political power of large southern landowners. The declining political power of the planters is embodied in the disintegration of the “solid (Democratic) South” and...

    • CHAPTER 6 Agriculture and the Changing World Economy: The U.S. Food Regime, 1945–1990
      (pp. 129-158)

      Up to now, we have focused primarily on political and economic dynamics in the United States, but the market economy is really a world economy that binds nations and classes closely together. Furthermore, the world economy has a social organization, or structure, to it. At a basic level, rules govern the production, consumption, and trade of commodities, including agricultural commodities. These rules can have profound effects for individuals, households, classes, and nations as a whole. So what factors shape the structure of the world economy? Where do these rules come from? And how great of an effect can the organization...

    • CHAPTER 7 The 1996 FAIR Act: Changing U.S. Agricultural Policy
      (pp. 159-193)

      In 1996, the FAIR Act ended price supports and production controls. After about six decades of trying, opponents of supply management policy finally won a decisive victory: the federal government no longer directly influenced either production decisions or market prices. This legislation aimed for the market to be a greater influence in agriculture. But why did supply management policy end at this historical moment? What was so unique about the 1990s that would permit such a momentous policy shift? These questions often elicit a particular response: partisan politics and market prices. This is certainly a central part of most scholarly...

  10. Epilogue. After FAIR: A New Departure?
    (pp. 194-206)

    Policy trajectories are not generally straight lines; instead, policies experience periods of expansion, stagnation, and retrenchment. Trajectories can be long or short, and the patterns can be cyclical. What happened after the historic retrenchment seen in the FAIR Act? Did agricultural policy continue on the same trajectory set forth by FAIR? In brief, agricultural policy expanded again, but supply management policy did not return in its pre-1996 form. The Farm Security and Rural Investment (FSRI) Act of 2002 reintroduced a version of price supports, called countercyclical payments. Yet production controls, such as the ARP and allotments tied to price supports,...

  11. Appendix. Notes on Methods and Data
    (pp. 207-212)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 213-248)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 249-264)
  14. Index
    (pp. 265-274)