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It’s time for ‘zero for zero’ farm subsidies

(by Seton Motley) – We are approaching the DC’s sleepy season. Congress will soon adjourn for the summer. President Barack Obama will take that opportunity to jet off on his monthly vacation — this time in middle class Martha’s Vineyard. So for a time, our freedoms and our wallets will be just a little bit safer.

People (should) use downtime to rest, recharge — and reflect on next steps. On the farm bill, the next steps are — or should be — obvious.

After its first ever failure in the House, and the House’s subsequent passage of reform-free food-stamp-free subsidies, we stand in limbo and soon to be adjourned.

Agricultural markets have been global for decades now, while our policy, embodied in the farm bill, has remained myopically domestic. This navel-gazing has resulted in myriad subsidies and short-sighted policies, and a perpetual back-and-forth between America and other countries doing the exact same protectionist thing.

So we now have a global farm market where most nations have Tetris-esque barriers to entry. High protectionist walls, with new pieces falling into place and in the way each respective legislative session.

So instead of perpetuating the same fifty-plus year failed policy — or adding to it — we should work to tear down the barriers that have been built.

It’s called zero-for-zero. Where we approach the planet and say “You get rid of your trade barriers, and we’ll get rid of ours.” In other words, we have zero protectionism — and so does everyone else. Right now, it’s being proposed for sugar.

“In attempting to reform and improve sugar policy in the United States, … the zero for zero approach … holds an as yet untried avenue that could possibly break the stalemate,” writes Mark Hartley in a recent study.

“Consider that there are more than 100 sugar producing countries worldwide, and there are also basically 100 different sugar policies, each of which includes various forms of government intervention,” he continues. “[A] free market approach rewards the best and most efficient business people and not the most heavily subsidized producer,…[zero for zero] could stabilize domestic and ultimately world market sugar prices … [Getting] government out of markets creates free markets, and free markets lead to free and fair markets, and that, in the final analysis, is where world sugar needs to be.”

There’s beauty in its simplicity. Obviously it will take a bit of international cooperation to get it off the ground, but as the late, great Ronald Reagan said, “There are no easy answers — but there are simple answers.”

Then again, how has the last half century, spent trying to unilaterally restore a domestic free market in agriculture, gone?

Florida Republican Congressman Ted Yoho has put forward on zero-for-zero a “Sense of the House” resolution, ”Expressing the sense of Congress that all direct and indirect subsidies that benefit the production or export of sugar by all major sugar producing and consuming countries should be eliminated.”

Again, simple. It thus far has thirteen co-sponsors. And it is that rarest of DC occurrences — bipartisan. Eight other Republicans and five Democrats have signed on.

Their Congressional colleagues should join them in support of a modernized, free-market approach. And We the People should let them know they should.

There’s an old joke:

Patient: “Doctor, it hurts when I do this.”

Doctor: “Don’t do that.”

When it comes to the Farm Bill, we’ve been doing what hurts for fifty-plus years. Let’s not do that anymore. Let’s instead work on something that will actually work — a global free market.

(Mr. Motley is founder and president of Less Government.  This column originally appeared in the Daily Caller on July 31, 2013)