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Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Monday, November 11, 2002



This Only Looks Complicated From A Special Perspective

The NY Times takes us to an odd Twilight Zone with a front-page story about a Federal irrigation project to help Arkansas rice farmers. The Army Corps of Engineers has information; taxpayer groups and conservation groups oppose the project.

Rice, as you may remember, is a subsidized crop in this country. We are not alone in our puzzlement:

"Mr. Carruth, the critic of the plan, said a better approach would be to retire some farmland and to spend federal money on technology to enable farmers to use water more efficiently. That approach, he says, eases overpumping of the aquifer without the costly river diversion.

"Why should we subsidize a pump that will sell subsidized water to grow a subsidized crop?" he asked, noting that federal price guarantees mean that rice farmers receive $3.10 a bushel for their crop, more than twice the current $1.40 market price."


And, of course, water is a "free resource" in this area - no property rights, pump all you want, yahoo! And rather than attempt any sort of market based allocation scheme, we are being taken in this direction.

But what about the "Twilight Zone" aspect to this? The Times story seems to have been written in a world in which all politicians have disappeared - there are no comments from the Arkansas Senators, the Governor, Congressmen, or the White House. The closest we get to an acknowledgement of a political issue here are a few hints like this:

"Congress has allocated $45 million for the project, and farmers and the State of Arkansas have spent an additional $11 million. The Bush administration has not included the plan in its budgets. Although withholding a final decision, the Office of Management and Budget has limited how the corps can spend money already allocated for the plan, restricting it to conservation purposes.

Here is a guest editorial in another newspaper by Dale Bumpers, former Senator from Arkansas, containing a bit of timeless, priceless logic:

"The question of subsidies is a political argument worthy of debate. But it is a separate issue from that of how we are going to save our underground water supplies from being depleted."

Separate but equal, maybe? If we quit subsidizing rice, and the farmers quit growing it, I am guessing the water problem would be solved.

So, what are the politics of this project? A Republican boondoggle? Arkansas Dems helping their farmers? A bi-partisan fleecing of the taxpayer? At whom should we direct our ire? Surely the Times must be curious. Or is this just a puzzling bit of front-page filler?

UPDATE: Well, at least the editors read the Times. They have a follow-up editorial on Tuesday in which they oppose this project. Highlight:

...Wisely, however, President Bush's Office of Management and Budget, which has grown increasingly skeptical of the Corps's projections, has so far refused to spend $45 million that Congress has allocated. It should keep on refusing.

OK, I remember the word "impoundment". When Nixon did it, refusing to spend money allocated by Congress, it was an outrage. Times change, even at the Times.






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