The economic genius of the West Wing

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Actual dialog from a recent West Wing rerun:

Josh: What do I say to people who ask why we subsidize farmers when we don't subsidize plumbers?
Farmer's daughter 1: Tell 'em they can pay seven dollars for a potato.

Yes, I know it's a TV show, but do people actually think like this? I always assumed that the reason we couldn't get rid of farm subsidies was rent seeking by the farmers, but if people actually believe this, that could be part of the problem.

1. Don't blame me. That's how she's identified.

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To be fair, if "arguments in its favor have been grossly mischaracterized on an American network television drama" were a disqualifying criterion for political positions, then there wouldn't be a lot of them--including perfectly sensible ones--left to hold.

I can't even figure out what she means.

Is the idea that if we dump subsidies, all the small farmers will be forced out of the market, and we'll wind up with a potato oligopoly, which will then impose seven-buck per spud prices?

Chris: I think that's the straw-person viewpoint we're supposed to attribute to farmers.

I thought farm subsidies were a holdover from the idea of food independence (as if the US has been dependent on food imports since the 1700s).

I read it as subsidies let farmers sell spuds cheaper b/c they're being subsidized--which is even stupider than Chris's version.

Actually, its worse, some of the subsidies (eg, Dairy) are deliberately designed to INCREASE retail prices as well as offering the farmers a government-rent.

Ever wonder why Gasoline is cheaper than Milk?

Ever wonder why Gasoline is cheaper than Milk?

Because it doesn't taste as good?

Because it doesn't have to be refrigerated?

Because the organisms it's made from are dead, and don't need any care and feeding?

I agree that the "seven dollars for a potato" argument is grossly oversimplified to the point of being downright misleading. But I don't see any a priori reason why the gasoline/milk price ratio should be in any particular ballpark.

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