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Editorial | Making change abroad includes reform at home

Published: Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Updated: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 09:02

Foreign policy enthusiasts, policy- makers, world-changers and activists are among those who consider foreign aid to be one of the most powerful tools in ending world poverty. The popularity of foreign aid is hardly surprising given its direct approach: it’s hard to question the efficacy of giving money to people who need it to eat. This train of thought has produced decades of foreign aid ideologies with mixed success. From grandiose, corrupt projects like dams and highways to strings-attached, IMF reform pack- ages that can give as much aid as damage, foreign aid packages have left something to be desired.

Leaving the intricacies of economic development and foreign aid to economists, we can still examine another tool in the arsenal of global chance: domestic reform. Though it seems unlikely, domestic reformers can have a big impact on the lives of others all around the world by taking action at home. One important target? Agricultural subsidies.

Despite the West’s oft-stated love of free markets and free trade, agricultural subsidies manage to return every single year, largely for political reasons. Democrats and Republicans in the United States find it hard to stand up to subsidies that benefit states like Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa, which just so happens to have one of the earliest caucuses in presidential primaries.

Ending agricultural subsidies is the step that many politicians — and hence, policy-makers — are afraid to take, yet it is a significant one. Western economic development takes away subsidies for farmers in other countries because they do not have free trade or free market policies, yet the West retains its own subsidies. With those massive subsidies, countries like Japan, France and the United States bow to their agricultural interests while destroy- ing foreign competitors — those farmers who, now absent their own subsidies, are demolished by the same agricultural interests.

Fighting against big interests is never easy, especially when they appear to have such a systematic hold on the issue. Yet bigger battles have been fought and won. Reforming political problems at home may lack that sense of directness that comes from cutting ribbons abroad or installing new wells in a village, but those changes are necessary. One could argue that changing hearts and minds in the domestic sphere can be a more powerful method. Giving people a chance takes more than giving them the necessities to live — it means giving them a chance to thrive.

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