Triple Cotton Subsidy

The Senate has once more made an empty gesture to the invalid of the American economy, the family farmer.

The Triple Subsidy for cotton, recently passed, calls for annual expenditures in excess of six hundred million dollars to accomplish these general purposes: support the price of raw cotton to bolster the income of cotton farmers; subsidize the export of U.S. cotton by paying a fixed sum per pound to American exporters so they can match the much-lower world price; subsidize U.S. textile mills by paying them enough so they can afford to buy the price-supported, export-subsidized domestic stuff.

While supporting cotton prices under existing legislation, the Government has also tried for years to stifle production. This effort has been singularly unsuccessful, even as farm programs go. The carry-over of surplus cotton will reach the ridiculous total of six billion, 500 million pounds by this August.

The fact is that acreage allotments and a melange of other schemes have failed to offset the rising trend in cotton yields per acre. It is quite obvious that without stringent marketing quotas, which the Administration has not asked for, the existing price supports will simply help perpetuate a mess.

The issue, of course, is not how to make the price supports work--with other segments of the Triple Subsidy tagging along--but whether to have them at all. Here the answer must be clear: abolish them. They have kept the marginal cotton producer on his tiny, impoverished farm at a subsistence level while mainly aiding the big fellow; they have distorted the consumer's dollar in the marketplace by effectively rigging the prices of cotton goods. Here, as in most other agricultural price support programs, it is the low-income farmer and the low-income consumer who are helped the least and hurt the most. This, while they are told that everything is done in their behalf.

The tendency of the Triple Subsidy is to insulate an entire sector of the American economy from the market's competitive pressures. This is as true for the giant, but declining, cotton textile firms, hardpressed by synthetic fibers and foreign imports, as it is for the marginal farmer.

In place of the monstrous program which the Senate has passed, there should be substituted a program of direct, income-supporting payments to cotton producers. This would at least eliminate the need for the export subsidy and for offsetting doles to the textile industry.

This program would still function as a substitute for an attack on the underlying problem: how to move the marginal farmer off the land. It makes littles sense to keep him there at a subsistence level. Yet, with chronic excess unemployment in the economy at large, it is reasonable to ask, where can he go?