The Center for Rural Affairs is proposing a modest investment of $100 million per year for rural development in the 2012 farm bill. That would be a several-fold increase over current investment in non-farm rural development and would still represent less than one-half of one percent of farm spending allocated by the farm bill and one-sixth of one percent of total funding allocated by the farm bill.
In addition to attacks on the broken farm commodity system, it has also become popular to attack other investment in rural areas as unfair subsidies. Spending on roads in rural areas is a popular target. In a later post, Klein takes just that jab. But the argument there is not much stronger.
Certainly, we invest in roads located in rural areas. Those roads are used often by urban people driving from one urban center to another; the mere physical location of the road in a rural area says very little about who benefits.
We also invest in infrastructure in urban areas, including rather expensive airports, stadiums and rail lines. And there is an entire federal department dedicated to urban development.
But the entire debate quickly becomes vapid when viewed in these terms. I don’t begrudge New Yorkers or Chicagoans their infrastructure. And it does little good for them to begrudge my community’s basic infrastructure needs.
It is better to focus on the type of development and the sorts of values we should incentivize. We live in a nation that ought to invest in building strong communities and healthy and sustainable economies that benefit the people who live in them. Different communities have different needs.