FW: 'Free' market - theirs and ours

Les Schaffer schaffer at SPAMoptonline.net
Tue May 15 06:00:05 MDT 2001

[BOUNCE Non-member submission from
 [Downwithcapitalism <downwithcapitalism at utopia2000.org>]]

Washington Post. 15 May 2001. Farmers in Turkey Put Their Village Up For
Sale. Excerpts.

CALLI, Turkey — For sale: Quaint Turkish village, 112 baked mud homes,
24,000 acres farmland, one mosque, one schoolhouse, disappearing way
of life, $1.2 million. Cash only.

In the lime green hills of Turkey's northeastern Anatolian plateau,
this is what the farmers' plight has come to. They are hounded by
debtors they cannot pay. Their tractors sit idle because most owners
are too broke to buy the diesel fuel to run them. Their wheat fields
are ablaze with yellow flowering weeds for lack of money to purchase

And now, for the first time in the quarter-century history of the
state Agriculture Credit Cooperative, local farmers are receiving
warning notices in the mail ? pay up or the state will take your land,
your tractor, your belongings, or perhaps, send you to prison.

After decades in which a beneficent government routinely forgave debts
and ladled out subsidies, Calli and hundreds of other farm hamlets are
struggling with Turkey's new get-tough efforts to salvage the nation's
collapsing economy and appease international moneylenders.

"We have to make our voices heard," said Ahmet Erdogan, 52, a member
of the village's elected council which hatched the desperate publicity
stunt of putting Calli and 10 other nearby villages up for
sale. (There have been no takers.)

"The state is like a big hammer banging on us. The situation is so
hard for everyone. We have people who haven't had a vegetable in their
kitchen for six months."

In the last half-dozen years, more than a third of Calli's families
have locked their doors and deserted their farms for the cities, a
trend that is emptying villages across Turkey.

[N.B.] In less than half a century, Turkey has changed from a country
where three-quarters of the population lived in rural areas to one
where three-quarters are in cities, making it one of the world's most
rapidly urbanizing nations.

The story of Calli exemplifies the kind of government policies that
helped push Turkey into the financial abyss that threatens its
economic, political and social stability. It also demonstrates vividly
why it will be so difficult for this strategic U.S. and NATO ally to
impose the reforms considered critical to its survival as a reliable
political partner and credible player in the global marketplace.

In the past 16 years, the government has bailed out farmers with five
separate amnesty programs. As a result, the single largest debtor of
the Agriculture Credit Cooperative that serves Calli and surrounding
villages is the government itself, which owes the association nearly
$30 million for the debt it has forgiven member farmers.

In an effort to pull Turkey out of its quagmire of debt ? which
extends across virtually every sector of the economy from small
businesses to industrial giants ? the International Monetary Fund
recently approved a $10 billion loan package, demanding in return that
Turkey reform its antiquated financial system. As it has in other
developing nations it has assisted, the IMF has argued that the
short-term pain to farmers and others is necessary to restore faith in
the economy, both at home and in the international marketplace.

"The era of cheap populism has ended in Turkey," the country's new
economic minister, Kemal Dervis, recently told his cabinet colleagues.
"We should all tighten our belts."


New York Times. 15 May 2001. Far From Dead, Subsidies Fuel Big Farms.

DALHART, Tex. -- By any measure, Lanny Bezner is a successful family
farmer. His eldest son, John, rides herd over his cattle, spread out
on pastureland from here to nearby New Mexico. A younger son, Brian,
looks after the farm's heavily irrigated cornfields, with help from
the husband of Mr. Bezner's daughter, Virginia.

As a Texas patriarch, Mr. Bezner rigorously sticks to the principle
that economy of scale is the only way to survive in modern
farming. The bigger the farm, the better likelihood of turning a
profit, he says.

By buying adjacent fields, he has expanded his cropland from its
original 700 acres to more than 8,000. In five years he has doubled
his grazing land by leasing 90,000 acres of pasture. He owns a fleet
of tractors and heavy farm equipment; he fills their tanks with fuel
from his own gas pumps. He dries and stores his harvest in his own
imposing grain elevators, which hold more than a million bushels of

Surveying the farm that he carved out in the Panhandle landscape of
dry mesquite and sagebrush, Mr. Bezner says the key to his family's
prosperity is federal farm subsidies.

"We're successful primarily because of government help," said Mr.
Bezner, 59, an entomologist who grew up on a farm outside Amarillo.

Although Mr. Bezner hesitated to discuss the size of those subsidies
(and refused to divulge how much he makes without federal help, or
what his expenses are), government documents show that in the last
four years of the 1990's, he received $1.38 million in direct federal

Most remarkably, Mr. Bezner and the other big farmers here in Hartley
County and across the country received those record-breaking payments
in an era when farm subsidies were slated for extinction.

Under the Freedom to Farm Act of 1996, swept up in the language of the
Republican revolution under Speaker Newt Gingrich, farmers who planted
row crops -- corn, wheat, soybeans, rice or cotton -- were freed from
government production controls. In exchange for being able to plant
what they wanted, they were told, they would have their subsidies
gradually phased out.

While farmers embraced their new freedom to decide what to plant, they
balked at accepting the rigors of the free market. When prices for
their crops held stagnant and their costs rose, farmers lobbied
Congress for "emergency" payments.

Their friends in Congress relented.

Instead of diminishing, the subsidies have nearly tripled with steep
emergency payments that reached $22 billion last year, according to
Keith Collins, the top economist at the Agriculture Department.

Supporters of farm subsidies, which were enacted in the Depression,
argue that they are needed to save the family farm. But government
documents indicate that the prime beneficiaries hardly fit the image
of small, hardscrabble farmers. Because eligibility is based on
acreage planted with subsidized crops in the past, the farmers who
have the biggest spreads benefit the most, according to the
Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit advocacy organization that
obtained government records of farm subsidies through the Freedom of
Information Act.

"The data shows that government subsidies are tilting the playing
field in favor of the largest farms," said Clark Williams-Derry, the
senior analyst at the Environmental Working Group who created a
national database of subsidies.

Mr. Bezner makes no apologies for accepting the money. To his mind,
government subsidies help the American consumer by making sure grocery
stores are stocked with inexpensive food. "That government money is
keeping cheap cereal on the shelves in New York City," he said.


Barry Stoller


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