Talking rubbish about DDT

by Daniel on October 15, 2005

Tim Lambert has done very good work over the years keeping people honest on the John Lott “More Guns, Less Crime” thesis and on the Lancet study. However, his work on the strange subculture of DDT loons also deserves a bit of publicity.

Basically, there are lots of people out there, mainly the same sort of people who are fans of Stephen Milloy’s “”, who believe that “liberals and environmentalists” are responsible for the deaths of over 50 million people in the third world from malaria because they banned DDT in the 1970s, because they read the book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. This charge is rubbish from start to finish … as in, DDT wasn’t banned in the 1970s, and using DDT is usually not the best way to prevent malaria. Tim’s DDT archive has the whole damn story.

Why are people so keen on DDT? Don’t know. There’s no compelling economic interest in treating the stuff as if it were a panacea; it’s a commodity chemical which is banned as an agricultural pesticide (in order to avoid creating resistant mosquitoes and compromising its use as an antimalarial) and which has only a niche demand as an antimalarial (because pyrethroid-treated mosquito nets are usually a more cost-effective prevention method). All I can think of is that claiming that environmentalists are responsible for millions of deaths in the third world is a handy way of slagging off environmentalists. One has to say, looking at the calibre of human being pushing the DDT argument in Tim’s archive, for them to cry crocodile tears over the genuine problems of the third world while doing nothing to ameliorate them, simply to fight a domestic political battle, would not exactly be out of character. Nice one Tim for exposing this vile, pernicious rubbish.



rilkefan 10.15.05 at 9:55 pm

I take it they consider themselves to be doing something to ameliorate the genuine problems of the third world – by increasing the possible measures against malaria. I rather doubt that proponents of farm subsidies in the first world take that position to increase poverty and starvation in the third world or to win domestic political battles. Being wrong doesn’t speak to motive.


dcubed 10.15.05 at 9:59 pm

“to cry crocodile tears over the genuine problems of the third world while doing nothing to ameliorate them, simply to fight a domestic political battle”: Crooked Timber itself summed up in one neat phrase. Congratulations on taking your first step towards self-awareness.


rilkefan 10.16.05 at 1:02 am

Having read the (typically) devastating Lambert posts, let me rephrase my last sentence above:
Being stupidly or irresponsibly ignorantly wrong doesn’t speak to motive.


Kenny Easwaran 10.16.05 at 3:10 am

I’m so glad that someone here pointed me to his stuff on DDT several months ago – before then I had thought there was some truth to this claim. I’m sure there are some labor and environmental policies that are causing some harm to people in the third world by making some cheap and easy means of development slightly less cheap and easy. But nothing so serious as this. And of course, nothing so serious as the farm subsidies in Europe and the US.


Javier 10.16.05 at 3:10 am

I don’t pretend to be knowledgable about this topic. However, could it be that there is a real issue here, even if some people have exaggerated one side of it? Consider the following narrative that Sebastian Mallaby brings up:

Ugandans also know the record in South Africa, where the cessation of DDT spraying in 1996 allowed the number of malaria cases to multiply tenfold and where the resumption of spraying in 2000 helped to bring the caseload down by almost 80 percent.

Can someone point me to a real study that debunks this example? If misquitoes are so resistant, why did it work in Uganda? Mallaby also says:

But in February the European Union waved an anti-scientific flag at them. The Europeans said Uganda might need to institute a new food monitoring program to assuage the health concerns of their consumers, even though hundreds of millions have been exposed to DDT without generating any solid evidence that the chemical harms people. The E.U. proposal might constitute an impossible administrative burden on a poor country. Anti-malaria campaigners say that other African governments are wary of even considering DDT, having seen what Uganda has gone through.

To this Tim Lambert responds

All the EU is asking is for Uganda to test its export crops to make sure that they don’t contain DDT. Mallaby calls this an “absurd proposal” because it “might constitute an impossible administrative burden on a poor country.”, but surely testing a few samples from export crops would be simple and insignificant compared to the cost of the spraying program.

However, he doesn’t provide any evidence that all the EU would require is a “testing a few samples from export crops.” Perhaps the EU’s requests were much more onerous. Or maybe not. That’s the point: I haven’t seen much evidence on either side. Perhaps DDT-spraying is inadequate to fight Malaria, but perhaps on top of other anti-malaria programs it could be effective.


Mike Huben 10.16.05 at 6:50 am


The “lessons” of this story are:
(a) Government regulation harms people.
(b) Chemicals only have beneficial effects.
(c) Environmentalists would rather people died, so their ideas are repugnant.
(d) Chemical manufacturers are heroes.
(e) Free markets solve all problems.

These lessons are presented in an easily repeated story form, like urban legends, which is how a great portion of the populace gets its information. Remember how successful “welfare queens driving cadillacs” was?

I’d bet that if you follow the money, you’d find the usual suspects who profit from “Better living through chemistry” and general pro-corporation, anti-government sentiments. The story probably originated in a less directed form, and through retelling has evolved into something that the right-wing echo chamber has appropriated and disseminated with funding from the usual suspects.


Mike Huben 10.16.05 at 6:57 am

Oh: I left out another important “lesson” of the story.

(f) Worldwide regulations are evil.

International corporations owe a great deal of their wealth and power to the fact that there are essentially no international regulations to curb their abuses. Because they cannot be regulated accross all nations, they can exploit nation’s competing interests. Don’t like environmental regulations in one country? Manufacture in another. Etc.


Brendan 10.16.05 at 8:02 am

Some sociologist of science should really have a look at the American Right’s attitude towards science. Specifically, they should look at why seemingly religious/fundamentalist people should continually bang on about how they love science, technology etc., but at the same time seem to have little or no grasp of the scientific method, and seem to feel they can ‘pick and choose’ facts as and when they feel fit. They are all guilty of this, it seems to me. Even Christopher Hitchens, an atheist, a secularist, and a defender of the Englightenment project, attacks the Lancet study (despite having no training in statistics, despite having never carried out a study of this sort, despite never having, apparently, even read the Kaplan article he claims to be quoting). There is no mystery why. Most of the Right seem to have persuaded themselves (to all intents and purposes) that ‘nothing is true, everything is permitted’, and that things should only be stated to be true if they support the ideology of George Bush and that anything that might undermine (for example) the Iraq war is by definition false.

(What are Hitchen’s views on global warming? One wonders).

After all, as the Bible says “All things are lawful to me, but not all things are expedient”.

However it also seems to me that we can go further. Glenn Reynonlds for example, who is perfectly happy to dish the dirt on global warming and DDT, nevertheless would be the first to proclaim his love of science and has even gone into print praising the loonbat Kurzweill, and the battier ideas of Eric Drexler.

I think the solution here is in Arthur C. Clarke’s dictum that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. The dictum is silly (it depends on who is doing the distinguishing) but I think many on the Right (who are almost all media academics, students of political science, journalists etc. and not actually scientists) seem to think that science (or rather technology) really is a kind of magic. Note especially that Kurzweil’s theories in particular have a sort of mystical/religious tinge similar to those of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: again this seems to indicate a cross over between ‘scientific’ (or technological) views and those of religion.

In the same way, given that the Right seems to view ‘science’ (technology) as merely a modern version of magic carpets and genies in lamps, scientific discoveries that speak to us of limits or things we CAN’T do, must literally seem unscientific to them. Any attempt to regulate, or even ban things discovered by ‘science’ must seem to them to be little less than blasphemy.

In the 14th century who would have argued for the banning of magic carpets as a risk to the public (or to birds)? Not Glenn Reynolds, that’s for sure.

Moreover the key point about science: that if a study holds up you just HAVE TO accept it’s true, whether you like it or not, is alien to their worldview.

I think as well that their worship of ‘science’ (really technology) is bound up with an incredibly crude “Right Hegelian” notion of progress, with an equally crude hatred and fear of anything that strikes them as being ‘reactionary’ (or barbaric, or backward or…..).

For example note (again in Hitchens) the extravagant praise of dumb smart bombs, and the equally vicious attacks on the fuzzie wuzzies’ insurgents’ use of beheading as a method of execution. By the way the pro-warriors bang on about this, you would think it was the method of execution and not the actual execution itself that was the problem.

I also think that the use of the internet by Bin Laden et al seems to really piss them off: it must confuse them. “But we are the civilised, technologically advanced ones! Who taught the barbarian hordes Islamists to use our invention!”


Barry 10.16.05 at 10:10 am

“Being stupidly or irresponsibly ignorantly wrong doesn’t speak to motive.”

Posted by rilkefan

Amazing how their stupidity and irresponsible ignorance matches up with their politics.


John Lederer 10.16.05 at 10:29 am

In the text linked to is the following statement:

“The graph on the left shows that malaria did skyrocket in India in the 70s. But not because they cut back on DDT spraying because of pressure from environmentalists. The graph shows that they didn’t cut back on DDT, but dramatically increased its use.”

However, at least in regard to what is printed on the graph, this is a non-sequitur. The graph does not show time, it only shows quantity of ddt versus malaria incidence. Thus the last sentence “..didn’t cut back…but dramtically increased…” simply is not inferrable from the graph to the extent it implies sequential actions. For all we know, maximum usage of ddt and incidence of cases might have been at a peak in 1969, 1974, or 1977.

Moreover, it can be foolish to view relationships between a problem and its solution. Suppose that there were an outbreak of rabies in Wisconsin. Health authortities would push to have all animals vaccinated. The result, if graphed, would be something similar to the DDT graph. As the number of cases of rabies increased, the consumption of rabies vaccine would similarly increase.

Nor does the graph provide a reliable indicator of the effects of government action on supply. If for some reason vaccine were limited to 1/2 what was desirable, the graph might appear similar because it provides no idea of what desired usage to combat the epidemic would be.


vaughan thomas 10.16.05 at 11:00 am

The thing people don’t get about DDT, is that yes, it can be a valuable tool for controllling pests, BUT because of unregulated use when it was first discovered, resistence to DDT quickly evolved and decreased its usefulness.

When it wasn’t as effective, unregulated (and thoughtless, non-evolution savvy) use casued folks to just increase the dosages. The result? More resistence, less effectiveness, and more environmental damage.

A potential wonder-chemical–DDT–was destroyed by free-market, unregulated use. This is simialr to certain antibiotics that now are useless against many bacteria.

Moderation, moderation, moderation. Of course, that involves regulation and consideration of consequences. Healthy organisms, organs, and ecosystems have feedbacks and regulatory processes–if only our society did.


Bit NOLA 10.16.05 at 11:09 am

Ah DDT, the gift that keeps on giving. Check up on endocrine disruption, if you think DDT is good. And also if you want to know what it’s done to you (all of you) and your children.

DDT, by the way, is still operative in this country, both in breakdown forms still alive and well in the soil and in its use in the manufacture of other pesticides. Boil DDT in sulfuric acid and you have a wonderful and legal pesticide that is sold her in America.

It is also on the food imported into the country. Chow down everyone, because you don’t own the rights to what the chemical industry pushes down your throat every single day.


Matt McIrvin 10.16.05 at 11:11 am

It doesn’t speak to conscious motive. But I think Mike Huben got it. People think in terms of stories, and this is a basic story template that libertarians and libertarian-leaning conservatives find easy to believe: do-gooder sentiment leads to well-intentioned regulations that backfire ironically and kill millions. They won’t necessarily look as closely at the holes in this story as at the holes in a story of, say, the unregulated market leading to tragedy that is ameliorated by intelligent stewardship.

We’re all guilty of this to some degree. But that’s why the scientific community is set up to work the way it does, and why somebody who just takes it as a source of technological miracles or cherry-picks it for ideological support is missing the point. Science is primarily a way to keep our stories from tricking us for too long.


Matt McIrvin 10.16.05 at 11:21 am

…As for why the story specifically revolves around DDT, I think that’s an easy one to answer: DDT has a high profile as a Bad Chemical because of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which really was a seminal work in the history of environmentalism. That makes it a political target.

Many people who are generally inclined toward environmentalism have a vague sort of idea that DDT used to cause a lot of harm but that all stopped because they banned it after Silent Spring. This story is oversimplified and wrong in some details, but many people don’t know it, which gives the counter-story the advantage of surprise: by poking holes in the naive pseudo-environmentalist version in just the right way, you can give the appearance that Rachel Carson had feet of clay and therefore environmentalism is founded on a lie.

Science doesn’t work by this kind of founding-figure attack, and neither should policy, but it’s a powerful kind of story. I see it the same phenomenon all the time in crackpot attacks on the theory of relativity: the cranks will go after Einstein, the 1919 eclipse and the Michelson-Morley experiment, ignoring much of what’s happened since then. Similarly, creationists and alternative-medicine advocates like to talk about mythical deathbed recantations of Darwin and Pasteur, as if that were even relevant to the science.


engels 10.16.05 at 1:41 pm

this kind of founding-figure attack

For these people science is a continuation of politics by other means and their method of choice is the smear campaign.


sara 10.16.05 at 2:33 pm

The right-wingers like to praise DDT for the same reason that they like to praise torture; both shock and horrify liberals.

Scientifically, widespread use of DDT, even were it harmless to other living organisms than mosquitoes, is not a great idea: pests and bacteria develop resistance to broadcast, indiscriminately used pesticides and antibiotics.


Rich Puchalsky 10.16.05 at 3:35 pm

It’s amazing to see the same recycled DDT questions here, even in a thread that directly points to Lambert’s demolishment of them.

Yes, these stories about how people died from the “ban” on DDT (which never existed worldwide, and which still does not exist) are supported by the chemical industry for the general reasons that Mike Huben refers to above. But there is an even more specific reason. The story of DDT is one of how agricultural spraying leads to resistence among pests and therefore the failure of the chemical for more targeted use. That story, if widely spread, would directly cut into the business of the agrichemical companies. There is no question that industry keeps this legend going.


david 10.16.05 at 3:51 pm

Not really Lambert’s area, and he has enough to do, but somebody needs to start up a regular and viscious debunking of the farm subsidies are killing all those poor people crap that passes for conventional wisdom in the U.S. Dean Baker is good on this, but he also has many other fish to fry.


abb1 10.16.05 at 5:37 pm

Good point David. And while at it, why not break down (or at least bring down a notch) that whole ‘free trade’ idol…


radek 10.16.05 at 6:22 pm

David, abb1

The whole “farm subsidies are killing poor people” claim (which personally I’m somewhat sceptical about) and the ‘free trade’ idol don’t have much to do with each other (despite some pundits claiming otherwise).

In fact, standard economic theory, the kind lends support to free trade, says that if your trading partners are subsiziding their product you should, well, let them, because you benefit. You just produce something else and take advantage of low prices. This is contra the “dumping fallacy”. So from point of view of the importing nations, free trade theory says “who cares”.

However what I think people who support the ‘subsidies=death’ claim are implicitly thinking of is terms of trade effects. So yeah it could be bad. But again, I’m generally sceptical because in most cases term of trade effects aren’t that big and because, since I’ve never seen any serious study about it.


rollo 10.16.05 at 7:05 pm

The United Nations celebrated the “Day of 6 Billion” on October 12, 1999.
Current US Census Bureau world population estimate as of Oct 16, 2005 – 6,473,069,796.
Next year sometime we’ll have net-gained a half billion people since the “Day of 6 Billion”.
Is there a shortage of human beings?
Is there possibly something else that we should be using for a metric in moral questions, other than a scoreboard of human life/death win/loss?
The Evil Ones like to take the idea of a defense of nature and shove it in the face of the starving Third World and say “See? Those heartless environtmentalists…”
As though it can’t possibly be the inhuman greed and atomization of loyalty built in to the economic system that’s presently dominating human affairs. That can’t be what’s wrong.
A few generations from now…well that’s the point isn’t it?
Merely keeping as many people as possible alive for as long as possible and continuing to live the way we do isn’t a surefire guarantee our descendants will enjoy a better quality of life than we have now. It is in fact very likely to go the other way entirely.
Aside from its efficacy as purposed, the collateral damage of DDT and other wide-spectrum poisons is calculable only by specialists, and then in turn those specialists are actively ignored, or violently thrust into public relations controversies that only the roughest and toughest politicians and media celebrities can withstand.
Kudos on a grand scale to Tim Lambert and the others with him in the trenches.


Donald Johnson 10.16.05 at 10:14 pm

I don’t know what the facts are, but the NYT editorial page is a big proponent of the notion that European subsidies for their farmers are a huge blow to African farmers. I’m not sure how exactly the harm is supposedly inflicted. If the subsidies were ended, would poor African farmers be producing food for Europeans, pulling themselves out of poverty that way? Or is food from Europe being shipped down there and driving African farmers out of business? Anyone here know?


Julian 10.16.05 at 10:45 pm

Is there a credible article in a mainstream publication summarizing the DDT issue? I’d like something more established than Tim Lambert’s weblog.


Troutsky 10.16.05 at 11:15 pm

When I was in school,over thirty years ago, the DOW chemical company sent a man to do a presentation on the benign qualities of DDT . In front of the whole assembled student body this poor bastard ate whole spoonfulls of the stuff,as a way to reassure us and sell us on the idea of chemicals helping mankind. Subsidized US (and Euro)grain is dumped on world markets at prices third world farmers cannot compete with. Ill find us a study.A scientific study.


Matt 10.16.05 at 11:39 pm


I know that’s what standard trade theory says, but I wonder what third-world countries w/o manufacturing bases are supposed to produce other than farm products? It’s not as if they can just say, “well, if the US is going to subsidize farm products, we’ll produce cars. That’ll show ‘um!” Now, that’s over-simplified, of course, but then, so is “standard trade theory”. If it’s impossible, very difficult, or very expensive to produce things other than what you’re producing now, and that product is then subsidised by another country, it will hurt you. No? This isn’t to say that the rhetoric over farm subsidies isn’t turned up too high- it probably is- but just quoting “standard trade theory” surely isn’t enough to solve the debate.


radek 10.17.05 at 12:20 am


My understanding of that argument is this, though I may well be wrong: French government guarantees high prices for ag product to French farmers. They accomplish this by buying up ag product until the price reaches the target level (by artificially inflating demand). They gotta do something with all the product they bought so they sell it on the world market. This drives the world price of food down, hurting farmers in the Third World (this is the terms of trade effect).
Of course for this policy to work it is necessary to impose severe restrictions on imports of ag product into France, or no Frenchman would buy expensive price supported French food, but instead would go with the cheaper African food. So there’s an extra cost to African farmers – being denied access to the French (European) market.
So the answer to your questions would be “both”.

And speaking of confusing usage of terminology in economics here we have another example; “subsidy”. There’s the kind of subsidy where a government gives a producer some amount of money per each unit that she produces (supply curve out, price down, quantity up). And then there’s the kind of subsidy as described above where government buys up stuff (demand curve out, price up, quantity up – though all the increase in q is government) to increase the price for producers. The two quite different effects (and then you throw in international trade in and it gets really messy) but in many discussions people end up arguing about whether removing subsidies will up the price or down the price, without realizing that it depends on what kind of subsidy you’re talking about.
Saw some confusion on this at Unfogged awhile back.


radek 10.17.05 at 12:32 am


As long as there’s SOME substitution possibilities then standard theory would be applicable. Especially over the long run – and these subsidies have been around for awhile. So I guess a riposte to your argument would be that if there are no alternatives for those countries, that is rather due to general failure of policy to generate growth and development, not to EU policy. Of course, EU policy might accerbate the situation but it is not responsible for creating it in the first place.


Yes, but that’s exactly the term of trade effect. The point is that I’m not convinced the effect on world price of the ‘dump’ on to the world market is that big, especially since demand for food as whole tends to be pretty elastic. I might be wrong though – like I said I haven’t seen any serious study which measures the effect.

The broader point was that the stance of ‘against EU food subsidies because it hurts farmers in poor countries’ is not necessarily based on the kind of theory that supports free trade. ‘against EU subsidies because it hurts European consumers’ would be based on this kind of theory.


Rafi 10.17.05 at 2:14 am

In my humble opinion, DDT could have been an extremely effective public health tool. But agribusiness couldn’t keep their hands off it. And when any pesticide is used on such an enormous scale, major problems (biomagnification in the food chain, pesticide resistance, etc.) are inevitable. If DDT was strictly used for disease control, we could have continued its use without major consequences.

Big business: 1.
Public health: 0.


abb1 10.17.05 at 3:45 am

It’s perfectly sensible for any community (including nation-states) to subsidize and protect their local producers.

And that’s it, there isn’t much more to say about ‘free trade’, farm subsidies, tariffs, etc. These words need to be said again and again and replace the current conventional wisdom.


Peter Clay 10.17.05 at 7:27 am

It’s perfectly sensible for any community (including nation-states) to subsidize and protect their local producers.

Is it? At whose expense? Why, then, are there not a dozen subsidy and tariff barriers between London and Birmingham? Why has nobody thought of this before – no industry need ever fail again! We could have kept the coal mines, steel mills and linen industry open!

Here’s an interesting blog post about protecting the shoe market in Kenya.


abb1 10.17.05 at 8:07 am

I’m not familiar with the British economy, but are you sure there aren’t a dozen subsidies in London and Birmingham – like, say, special utility rates, special tax breaks, special byways for businesses paved and maintained by local governments and so on?


Matt 10.17.05 at 9:17 am


If subsidies in general (not just farm subsidies) don’t hurt countries other than the one putting the sussidies in place, why do other countries fight so strongly against them? Is it just that their governments are captured so much by domestic business? That can’t be all of it, surely. (It surely is some, though.) Similarly, though I agree that domestic problems explain a large portion as to why, say, countries in Africa haven’t been able to exploit US subsidies, it seems more than a bit beholdent to abstract theory to think it explains all. (Certainly not even all experts on trade theory think so- in the Trade regulation class I took the authors of our texts, Alan Sykes and Jackson, seemed to think that subsidies hurt not only the imposing state but the others.) And, my understanding is that the argument against farm subsidies isn’t that it allows US products to be dumped on the world (thought that might be right) but that it keeps African countries from being able to export to the US. (The same with, say, steel subsidies.)


Stephen 10.17.05 at 9:21 am

I think Tim Lambert is correct to criticise some of the hyperbole surrounding DDT. However I think he is being somewhat selective in his own analysis.

He concentrates on resistance to DDT in some parts of the world such as Sri Lanka and India but neglects to mention the resistance to pyrethroids which had caused great increases in Malaria during the 90s in many parts of Africa where (this last bit from memory) 90% of malaria is recorded.

People are primarily interested in using DDT (usually with bed-nets) in the pyrethroid resistant areas–not the DDT resistant areas.

I recommend you have a look at

Barnes KI, Durrheim DN, Little F, Jackson A, Mehta U, et al. (2005) Effect of Artemether-Lumefantrine Policy and Improved Vector Control on Malaria Burden in KwaZulu–Natal, South Africa. PLoS Med 2(11): e330

for a recent and easy to understand example (PLoS is open access journal).


Tim Lambert 10.17.05 at 11:09 am

Dear stephen, you seem to have missed this post.


abb1 10.17.05 at 12:17 pm

…it keeps African countries from being able to export to the US…

But don’t African countries have a hunger problem right there in Africa? Why would they want to export to the US – that’s absurd. They have to develop their own food industry, and the only way to do it is to impose prohibitively high tariffs on imports, or just simply ban them.


CM 10.17.05 at 1:34 pm

The proprietors of Arts and Letter Daily seem to have a unhealthy interest in conservative-mag stories relating to the goodness DDT and the non-existence of global warming.


soru 10.17.05 at 2:44 pm

But don’t African countries have a hunger problem right there in Africa?

Starvation usually isn’t caused by an absolute lack of food, but by lack of money to buy food in a subset of the population, often agricultural labourers not hired when crop failure means there is no harvesting work to be done.

Diversification between export and food crops is probably safer than food crops alone.



Daniel 10.17.05 at 3:27 pm

My understanding of that argument is this, though I may well be wrong: French government guarantees high prices for ag product to French farmers. They accomplish this by buying up ag product until […]

This would have been a reasonable description of the Common Agricultural Policy up until about 1999. However, it’s no longer accurate at all.

1) EU subsidies for most food industries are no longer volume-based or carried out through market purchases. What they do is guarantee an income for farmers, usually based on the land they own.

2) Under the “Everything But Arms” regime, the poorest countries of Africa are allowed to export anything (except arms) into the EU on the same terms as member states. Unsurprisingly, this has not resulted in Africa exporting massive amounts of wheat and dairy products into the EU, but this is because most of the EU is, for the most part, composed of much better land for dairy and arable farming than most of Africa. The real beneficiaries of the EBA regime have been the value-added vegetable industries (environmentalists occasionally sniff at whether it really makes a lot of sense to grow haricots verts in Zinbabwe for air-freight to Stockholm but this is a separate question).

I would actually be prepared to pay money to clean the Internet of all the CAP-related articles dated before 1999 which still clog up the debate on this subject.


Daniel 10.17.05 at 3:32 pm

(in related news, any agri college graduate who has seen a field in the Dordogne and a field in Malawi would be forgiven for thinking that any economic equilibrium under which agricultural products are produced in Malawi and flown to the Dordogne, is likely to be one in which the marginal cost of agricultural labour is so low that it is unlikely that the end of poverty for Malawian agricultural labourers lies in this direction. It is a fact about Europe that it has a lot of advantages as farmland. So does a lot of the USA, although there is quite a lot of the USA that would never have been farmed had it not been for government provision of completely uneconomic irrigation systems.)


SamChevre 10.17.05 at 4:56 pm


You ask, If subsidies in general (not just farm subsidies) don’t hurt countries other than the one putting the subsidies in place, why do other countries fight so strongly against them? Is it just that their governments are captured so much by domestic business? (#32)

This phenomenon is well known in economics. The people harmed are more aware of the harm than those benefited are aware of the benefits. It is not just domestic business interests, but domestic interests in general. In other words, being able to buy European grain for $.10 a pound, rather than native grain at $.15 a pound, is good for everyone who buys grain; however, it is very bad for the native farmers who now can’t make a living farming.

In more geekish terms, free trade benefits the economy on balance, but it has distributional effects. Since utility curves are risk-averse and logarithmic (having X more helps less than having X less hurts, and having 10X as much is not 10X better), the perceived utility effects often run in different directions than the actual economic effects.


radek 10.17.05 at 8:08 pm

“It’s perfectly sensible for any community (including nation-states) to subsidize and protect their local producers”

It’s perfectly sensible for any community (including nation-states) to support and protect their local consumers.

…by not subsidizing and protecting the damn producers.


radek 10.17.05 at 8:10 pm

“This would have been a reasonable description of the Common Agricultural Policy up until about 1999. However, it’s no longer accurate at all”

Sure, like I said I might be wrong and I was just trying to present/understand the side of the argument that I don’t even support.

“What they do is guarantee an income for farmers, usually based on the land they own”

So is it just a cash handout? That’s definetly a much better way of subsidizing somone than monkeying around with prices indirectly.


david 10.17.05 at 11:23 pm

Okay Daniel, now that you’ve been baited, have at it. The subsidies kill people deserve a beating, and you’re just the guy to do it.


abb1 10.18.05 at 2:44 am

It’s perfectly sensible for any community (including nation-states) to support and protect their local consumers.

…by not subsidizing and protecting the damn producers.

It sure is. But that’s not challenging any annoying dogma, any stupid common wisdom – so what’s the point?


Ray 10.18.05 at 3:25 am

The point is that its challenging the common wisdom that you were just putting forward. Radek’s argument is that when you start supporting and protecting your producers you are in fact harming your consumers.


abb1 10.18.05 at 4:22 am

I didn’t mean to put forward any wisdom. To say “it’s perfectly OK to do this” is not the same as saying “this is the only way”.

Clearly, idolatry of the ‘free trade’ is wide-spread, but I’m not aware of any powerful protectionist preconception occupying the public mind at this time.


Hume's Ghost 10.18.05 at 11:35 am

Anyone care to parse this? I don’t have the heart.


jill bryant 10.18.05 at 12:29 pm

I have always heard that Tom Delay is behind the pro-DDT stance. That as an ex-exterminator who lost money with the anti-DDT movement, he wanted to get back at the EPA and the environmentalists. I don’t know the truth to these accusations – just that he is extremely anti EPA and any science that doesn’t put money in his pockets.


bellatrys 10.18.05 at 4:53 pm

Are you seriously asking this? I’ve been posting on this for at least the last year.

It’s all part of The Matrix.

Why, some might wonder, do these so solicitous-conservatives never suggest that money might be put into effective anti-malarial vaccines or treatments? Ans: because they don’t stand to make any money from it, themselves.

These guys who are DDT apologists are also Olin fellows. That is to say, they bear the same relation to the truth that John Lott/Mary Rosh (also an Olin-sponsored “scholar”) has to facts about guns. What has Olin to do with DDT? Why, the same as Halliburton to do with “frivolous asbestos lawsuits.” Olin also makes gunpowder, btw.

Just follow the money.


abb1 10.18.05 at 5:23 pm

True, but there’re plenty of idiots who’ll do it for free, ’cause they are ‘conservative’.

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