How to make Moscow grow more food
In the continuing debate over whether the United States should have lifted the grain embargo imposed by former President Carter on the Soviet Union, there is perhaps one additional aspect of the question worthy of some consideration. It is an aspect which goes far beyond the American effort to express disapproval of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, or of the overall relationship between Russia and America. It is an aspect which, it can be argued, is of worldwide significance and of potentially long-range importance to tens of millions of individuals.
The question is whether the United States should adopt a permanent policy of not helping the Soviet Union overcome its agricultural deficiencies in order to help speed a fundamental change in Soviet farm policy. To put it bluntly, in a world where starvation already grips millions of pitiful victims and where in many areas the gap between population growth and food production continues to grow, is it right for America -- or for any other country -- to keep on subsidizing through exports a demonstrably inefficient agricultural system such as exists in the Soviet Union?
For ideological reasons largely unconnected with the demonstrably rational use of farmland, the Soviet government maintains a centrally directed system of collectivized agriculture which results in a national food output below that country's potential. Moscow continues to insist on the maintenance of this system even though it has before its very eyes proof that a system of private effort would produce appreciably greater results. This proof is afforded by the fact that, although they operate in the same climatic zone and do not receive the vast infusions of state monies which go to the collectivized sector, the private peasant plots, constituting only 3 percent of the cultivated land, account for roughly 30 percent of the total farm output.
Heretofore the United States, which accounts for some 60 percent of the world's grain export trade, has been in effect subsidizing this inefficient and -- given the world's need for more and more food -- harmful system. Does not Moscow's ability to make up for its shortall through imports from the US, Canada , and a few other lands, permit it to continue pretending to itself that collectivized agriculture is the most effective system and thus refuse to face up to the fact that this latter system remains hopelessly inferior to and outclassed by the farming methods of the free Western world? And does not the perpetuation of collectivized agriculture in Russia --and in the Soviet-dominated lands of Eastern Europe -- add to the burdens of those areas of the world where greater and greater worldwide food production is vital?
Russia and much of Eastern Europe are not, of course, the only areas where agriculture is inefficient and where the government must bear part of the blame. Many third-world countries have lagged in effecting such social, economic, and technological reforms as would give their peasants both a greater stake in and a greater ability to achieve higher production. But many of these lands are woefully overpopulated, are desperately poor, are still largely illiterate, and, above all, do not pretend to world leadership as does the Soviet Union. Thus the USSR with its vast land area, its on-the-farm population some 10 times that of the United States, its self-sufficiency in oil, its huge tractor plants, and its generous chemical fertilizer deposits is virtually unique in the realm of agricultural undercompetence.
The question naturally arises : would such a permanent embargo policy by the US constitute interference in the internal affairs of the Soviet Union? Of course. But no country on earth has persistently given greater precedence for such interference than has Russia. Every minute of every hour of every day of every year the Kremlin is interfering in the internal affairs of other nations. Indeed, so great is this interference that such lands as Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Mongolia, and now Afghanistan run according to instructions from Moscow. Thus Moscow could have no moral or intellectual grounds for objecting to a bit of tit for tat.
The main question, of course, is whether such an American policy would actually --even in the long run -- speed the evolution of Soviet agricultural policy toward that greater efficiency the world so desperately needs. We cannot be sure. But it is a factor in the equation which deserves consideration.