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Journal of Political Ecology:
Case Studies in History and Society
VOLUME 8 (2001)
The Rise of the
Agricultural Welfare State, Adam D. Sheingate. Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press (2001), xii, 279 pp.
Reviewed by Andrew D. McNitt, Department of Political Science; Eastern Illinois University
As strange as it may seem, agricultural
policy has long been a topic of concern to students of interest group
politics. Adam Sheingates book, The Rise of the Agricultural Welfare
State, is one of the latest and most complete efforts in this area. Professor
Sheingate examines the development of agricultural policy in the United
States, Japan and France (the Common Markets leading agricultural
producer). He focuses on the development of government programs designed
to support farm income through a combination of restrictions on production,
marketing agreements and subsidies, which he calls the "agricultural
Sheingate argues that differences
in the political and governmental systems of these countries influenced
the extent to which the agricultural welfare state has become a permanent
feature of public policy. Specifically, in Japan and France a single dominant
agricultural interest group was able to monopolize the relationship between
farmers and their respective agricultural ministries.
The consequences of these national
differences in the agricultural policymaking, according to Sheingate,
was that when it became economically beneficial for the larger community
to cut agricultural subsidies in these there countries in the 1990s, that
it was the US which was the most successful in reducing the size of the
agricultural welfare state. The US was more successful because the very
permeability of the policymaking system, which had earlier allowed agricultural
interests to successfully petition for subsidies, also allowed urban,
environmental and consumer interests to involve themselves in agricultural
policy making to a greater extent than was possible in either Japan or
of agricultural policy stands in sharp contrast to that of earlier authors
(e.g., McConnell 1966, and Lowi 1979), who viewed agricultural politics
as a prime example of private interests colonizing a public agency and
dominating policymaking. This difference, however, may be more apparent
than real. Scholarly generalizations are all effected by the sample of
reality upon which they are based. Those scholars who saw agricultural
policy as colonized by private interests in general were looking at an
earlier point of time, while Sheingate had the advantage of writing after
the passage of the 1996 Farm Bill, which implemented a number of program
reductions. The 1996 Farm Bill, however, has not been a success. Agricultural
prices declined at just the point subsidies were supposed to fade out
and Congress responded with "emergency aid." While Sheingate
is aware of this problem, its continuation leaves the extent to which
the US is able to reduce agricultural subsidies open to question. The
lack of a deficit and the unusually close partisan divisions in both houses
of Congress raise important questions about the extent to which urban
interests will be either able or willing to resist calls for a return
to the agricultural welfare state.
The Decline of the Agricultural
Welfare State is an excellent book for students of agricultural policy.
It is valuable because it covers an unusually long period of time, from
the nineteenth century through the end of the twentieth century. In addition,
the comparative perspective is extremely useful for those who are trying
to understand policy making in a field where international trade so extremely
important. Nonetheless, there are some limitations.
First, the author focuses upon the
relationship between agricultural producers and the government, when the
interests of processors, traders and suppliers are increasingly important.
While Sheingate is aware of this change, he along with most of the other
students of this area, have not examined the political influence of this
now numerically larger segment of the food system. The problem is one
of perspective, students of political parties and interest groups usually
do not examine the political activities of corporations when the corporations
act independently. While an understandable form of academic specialization,
this perspective limits our understanding of the entire political process.
More attention needs to be paid to the role of actors such as Cargill,
Archer Daniels Midland and Monsanto.
The author also does not consider
the impact of American trade embargoes upon the agricultural policy making.
The Nixon and Carter embargoes, although imposed for different reasons,
had important implications. At the domestic level, they provide very clear
examples of the willingness of the American government to intervene in
the free market in a manner that reduced farm income. As such they are
examples of the ability of urban interests to triumph over agricultural
interests in ways that supports Sheingates thesis, but are inconsistent
with the moral implications that are included in the notion of an agricultural
Lowi, Theodore J.