The Electric Forest

Agriculture and Trade

The US government spends upwards of $20 billion annually on domestic agricultural support programs, but with over 20 percent of farm products exported, these programs interact with trade policies that have fluctuated in the last century between protectionism and liberalization.

Investigating the origins of US agricultural trade policy, a 1989 article by JUDITH GOLDSTEIN looks to the New Deal to locate where a “divergence” emerged between policies for the agricultural and manufacturing sector.

From the article:

“Until the mid-1930s, both agriculture and manufactures were treated essentially alike: when either suffered economic decline, the usual state response was to increase trade barriers. The great economic decline of the 1930s undermined existing economic policy. [By the mid-1940s], a two-pronged strategy to address sectoral problems was enacted. The government was to help manufacturers gain access to foreign markets through a program of reciprocal tariff reductions. Agriculture was also to benefit from some tariff reductions, but largely it would be protected through a system of internal price supports and land-use policies. By the time the United States entered into negotiations over the workings of the trade regime, a decade of legislation had already established a policy of trade liberalization for industrial projects and trade protectionism to maintain farm incomes for agricultural products. A hegemonic position in the world economy did not ensure a consistent trade policy within the Unites States.

In this article, I trace this divergence in industrial and farm policies. I argue that the key difference in the two policies turned not only on political interests but also on the beliefs of policymakers. Agricultural trade had run deficits consistently since the mid-1920s. When considering a range of possible remedies, policymakers dismissed liberalization as an option for farm products while embracing that “idea” for manufactures. And although agricultural has had surpluses since the war and manufacturing has had deficits since the early 1970s, the decision of the 1930s continue to structure current policy.”

Link to the text.

  • “To varying degrees, most OECD states subscribed to a developmental or state-assisted paradigm by the end of the Second World War. This paradigm placed particular value on agriculture as a sector which was seen to be contributing to an important national goal: providing a secure and safe supply of food.” William Coleman’s 1998 article compares policy shifts in the agricultural sector in France, Germany, and the US. Link.
  • “Institutional capacities converged with a changing balance of class forces… to produce the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, which, in turn, strengthened the conservative Farm Bureau and threatened the survival of many sharecroppers in the South.” In a 1991 article, Jess Gilbert and Carolyn Howe examine class divides and New Deal agricultural policy. Link.
  • “From a North-South battle, WTO negotiations on agricultural subsidies are now primarily centered on a conflict between the US and China.” Kristen Hopewell on US-China conflict and a shift in agricultural trade governance. Link. And a recent Congressional Research Service report notes a 53% decline in agricultural exports to China in 2018. Link.


Ford Foundation in India

A 2020 article by PhD Candidate in History at NYU GAURAV GARG examines the relationship between the newly-independent Indian government and the Ford Foundation in the 1950s.

From the paper:

“This article shows that prior to 1954, despite considerable complementarities between India’s development needs and the Foundation’s objectives and capacity to deliver, there was nothing to suggest that the Government of India saw the Ford Foundation as anything but a part of the larger American developmental apparatus. But from the mid 1950s, it began emphasising that its relationship with the Ford Foundation stood ‘on a separate footing’ from its ties with the US government and its agencies. I show that this move was motivated by the increasingly assertive and abrasive foreign policy regime helmed by US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, especially between 1953 and 1956, which made the Government of India believe that its right to remain non-aligned was under threat. This resulted in the government exploring ways to reduce its dependence on official US policy. The Government of India chose to rely on the Ford Foundation for its objective of reducing dependence on official US aid because, as I show through a study of the Southern Languages Book Trust (SLBT), the government exercised considerable administrative leverage over the Ford Foundation’s operations in the country. This met with its policy of exerting as much managerial control as possible over foreign-funded development projects. The government’s influence on the Ford Foundation in turn was predicated on India’s centrality in the Ford Foundation’s international outreach.”

Link to the paper.

Each week we highlight research from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Send us recommendations:

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  • Two on semiconductors, global competition, and securing supply chains: a report by the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and a macro view from Skanda Amarnath and Alex Williams in Employ America. Link, link.
  • “We show with a variety of microdata that opposition to free trade predicts shifts towards Republican party identification.” Jiwon Choi, Ilyana Kuziemko, Ebonya Washington, and Gavin Wright on NAFTA, employment losses, and political preferences. Link.
  • “In the absence of government milk, private market prices would be 3% higher.” Diego Jiménez-Hernández and Enrique Seira investigate a national welfare program of government-sold milk in Mexico. Link.
  • “Secular change in both the production and composition of investment goods has weakened private investment’s role in the transmission of monetary policy to labor earnings and consumption.” By Justin Bloesch and Jacob Weber. Link.
  • New research by James Galbraith and Jahee Choi on state-level economic inequality and Presidential elections in the US. Link.
  • Home rule protection and municipal takeovers in New Jersey and Michigan. By Ashley Nickels. Link.
  • “The representation of traditional, always-sending, feeder high schools on the flagship campuses continued to dwarf the population of students from other high schools.” Kalena Cortes and Daniel Klasik on Texas’s Top 10% Plan for college admissions. Link.
  • Simone Gasperin examines the case of the state-holding company Istituto per la Ricostruzione Industriale in Italy in the 1930s. Link.
  • “We argue that the main results of scientific papers may appropriately be published even if they are false, unjustified, and not believed to be true or justified by their author.” By Liam Kofi Bright and Haixin Dang. Link.
  • “Major epidemics of plague in Germany and France in the early eighteenth century and in Moscow in the 1770s brought an end to a series of epidemic disasters in Europe which had started with the Black Death. The article examines what they had in common, and seeks to understand why they should have ended when they did. It shows that European governors were unanimous in insisting on rigid quarantine and other measures for containing the disease developed over previous centuries, despite their ignorance of plague’s precise causes. It shows also that physicians across Europe were more deeply divided than they had ever been on the issue of contagion, and now engaged in an international dispute about whether the acknowledged cruelties inflicted by compulsory quarantines were wholly counterproductive, or a price worth paying for the prevention of still worse disasters. The article concludes by drawing on recent work on plague in the Ottoman Empire, and on research into the ancient DNA of the second pandemic, in order to set the epidemic history of western Europe in a wider comparative context.” By Paul Slack. Link.

Each week we highlight research from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Send us recommendations:

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