The new farm bill is stalled in the Senate and under threat of veto from Bush. Brief details at the site for a long-running Australian radio program and Wikipedia. And here’s a rather uncritical CNN story (just look at how they frame the issue with the headline — “those poor farmers!”).
Proponents of subsidies argue that farming is a risky business. But many industries are risky and do just fine. So it seems to me like the comfortable beliefs of (rationally) incautious voters are enabling unjustified handouts to a small group.
One argument in favor of subsidies might be that the existence of agriculture in the US creates a positive externality, in that many people seem to be sentimental about farming. However, it’s difficult to know just how much people value the existence of domestic farms, and it’s also unclear whether it matters if there a few farms here and there or a big industry like we have now. Perhaps the warm fuzzies could still be had if a few historic farms were spruced up and turned into parks. Plus, the alternative to no subsidies might not be (realistically) whatever ideal government program we can dream up but rather something more distortionary like what we have now.