Political Rents of European Farmers in the Sustainable Development Paradigm. International, national and regional perspective

To make a summary of a book that contains so many different threads is no easy task. One should, on the one hand, refer to its conceptual contribution to the paradigm of sustainable agriculture, and on the other hand, consider the conclusions drawn from the studies conducted at international, national and regional level. It is clear that changing the paradigm of agricultural development from an industrial to a sustainable one will be neither easy nor quick. Agriculture must satisfy the demand for food products while lowering the pressure on the environment, providing for technological and biological progress, meeting the need to ensure a secure supply of food, and ensuring global economic, social and environmental rationality. The discussion in this book has concentrated chiefly on the last two questions. This is because certain dimensions of environmental and social rationality have so far been poorly researched. Environmental rationality means not only protecting the natural environment and reducing the pressure placed on it by agricultural production. The authors have pointed out that the assumption of an intrinsic value of land changes the expected productivity of capital in the sectors which utilise that production factor, namely in agriculture. This has far-reaching theoretical and practical consequences. The statistical data that have been presented demonstrate that utilities are discounted in Polish land prices to a much greater degree than would result from the agricultural functions of land. A similar situation is found in other EU countries. Where does this excess value of land come from? It is undoubtedly a result of the expectations of political rents, of speculative motives, and also of non-agricultural amenities provided by land. However, it is hard to determine the proportions of these factors. Moreover, new utilities of land have the nature of public goods, which further complicates the problem of seeking a market equilibrium. Similarly, recognition of the fact of the absolute and relative deprivation of farmers in the long term changes the balance of intersectoral flows, because it means a drainage of surplus from agriculture to other branches of agribusiness. This drainage is understood as a permanent mechanism by which economic rent flows out of agriculture as a result of market imperfections, in particular the flexible prices of agricultural products. More space should be given to studies of this problem in the world literature. 135 Poznan University of Economics and Business, anna.matuszczak@ue.poznan.pl Summary: Political Rents and the European Model of Agriculture 239 The second thread of the theoretical considerations relates to the problem of whether the concept of political rent, as found in the literature, fits the processes taking place in European agriculture. A review of the literature on rent seeking suggests that these theories provide only a partial explanation of the level of political rents and lobbying actions in European agriculture. Although there is a vast theoretical literature on rent seeking and collective action at global level, there is not much empirical work done with regard to these problems relating to the Common Agricultural Policy. Particularly problematic is the question of measuring political rents in particular EU member states. It has been found that, on a global level, it is European agriculture that best meets the criteria of viability and sustainability. Viewed against the backdrop of global agriculture, it is economically effective (in the institutional conditions guaranteed by the CAP), satisfies a variety of economic and social needs, and is developing in a way that reduces the burden on the environment. In 2012, based on the results of social consultations, the European Commission published a strategy and plan of action relating to the bioeconomy in Europe. The strategy creates a cohesive framework for a comprehensive approach to the solution of complex social problems (challenges) in Europe and worldwide. The measures undertaken with respect to the bioeconomy are focused on three pillars: investment in research, innovations and skills; strengthening the impact of the policy and engagement of interested parties; and strengthening competitiveness in sectors of the bioeconomy. The bioeconomy strategy represents an important step towards solving contemporary economic and social problems. The model of the development of agriculture in the EU can thus be considered an appropriate path to be followed in relatively densely populated countries, in which food producing area per capita is small. However, does this model require institutional support and the payment of political rents? The question arises as to whether these are in fact political rents, if in return society receives a package of specified benefits, and there is a net increase in social well-being. Empirical analyses have shown that up to the mid 1980s the level of support for agriculture in the EU (measured by the NRA indicator) was constantly increasing. The decline in support in subsequent years was maintained by payments of the decoupled type. Based on NRA values it can be concluded that nominal support in 2011 was at a level comparable to that recorded prior to the creation of an organisation of agricultural markets, that is, before 1962. This means that the CAP is distorting world prices to an ever smaller degree, and agricultural producers are losing their competitive advantages (although to differing extents). An important observation is the fact that, although the CAP applies to all member states, the level of support varies between those countries. In 2005-2011 it was the highest in Ireland, Slovenia, Poland, Belgium and the UK, and the lowest in Italy and Bulgaria. This observation 240 Summary: Political Rents and the European Model of Agriculture is confirmed by a second indicator constructed for the purposes of this research by the authors of Chapter 2.3 – the Farm Receipts Gap Estimate (FRGE). Despite the fact that in principle agricultural policy has a universal application, the amount of financial support given to agricultural producers measured as a percentage of gross farm receipts is not uniform between countries, with differences as high as 17 percentage points in 2012136 (cf. Table 2.4.). We should add that, according to the OECD, the value of the PSE for the whole of the European Union is 22.6% (of gross receipts). The differences between the PSE and the FRGE result partly from the methodology used for calculation. Most importantly, however, the FRGE shows how little uniformity there is across the EU in terms of support for agricultural producers in different countries. The differences are even more marked when we consider the contribution of pure political rent137 to the revenue of producers in various countries. In the Netherlands this contribution is just 4.3%, while for Ireland it is 25.8% (although the highest value, 28.7%, is recorded in Finland; cf. Table 3.12.). These data also demonstrate one more thing: that the PSE should not be used as a measure of political rents, because it significantly overstates them. The mechanisms shaping the structure of transfers in the selected countries also exhibited clear differences. This applies in particular to the two main streams of transfers: from taxpayers to producers and from consumers to producers. There has also been a gradual change in the structure of support, away from consumer transfers towards taxpayer transfers. This has resulted both from changes taking place in the global economy and the rise in prices of agricultural products, as well as from transformations in agriculture’s role in the economy. A key part of the book proved to be Part 3, which presents the concept and the effects of long-term surplus drainage from agriculture under the various support models applied in the EU as regards equivalent payments (for specific public goods) and the different models for the taxation of agriculture. The analysis leads to what are called pure political rents, being what remains when the value of the aforementioned flows (drainage and net subsidies for public goods) is deducted from the sum of CAP subsidies. It should be noted that only rents calculated in this way meet the definition of political rent found in the public choice theory. Another important thread in this discussion concerns price fluctuations and their consequences. Agriculture is characterised by a high variability of prices in particular markets, which leads to adjustments of supply. This reaction is not always as described by neo-classical concepts – the spider’s web and King’s effects. Farmers’ expectations in different countries may be more or less adaptive, and are sometimes 136 From 19.99% in the Netherlands to 36.96% in Ireland. 137 After adjusting the support by that part the receipt of which is conditional on the supply of specified public goods, and by the value of long-term drainage resulting from market failures. Summary: Political Rents and the European Model of Agriculture 241 rational. This depends on the degree of horizontal and vertical integration of sale channels, and on access to information. This price variability leads to unexpected flows of economic surplus into and out of agriculture, and in the authors’ view, this produces a drainage effect in the long term. In response, there is a fluctuation in economic activity and in the economic situation in agriculture. This process is not uniform, however, and varies between different EU countries, as the authors observe. They propose an economic indicator based on surplus flows as a result of price fluctuations, based on an input-output table. The largest fluctuations were recorded in such countries as Germany, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia and Lithuania. At the other extreme (with the smallest amplitudes of variation) are Portugal, Greece, Cyprus and Malta. At the same time, the value of the computed indicator determined the changes in farms’ output and receipts, although in some countries this was a concurrent response, while in others it was delayed. This partly confirms the hypothesis that the outflow of economic rent from agriculture means a drop in productive activity, and vice versa (in some cases, however, such as in Poland, the response was delayed – recalling the spider’s web theory). It was also shown that the relationship between the economic indicator and the production of agricultural raw materials differs between countries. In Germany, for example, the variation in output as a response to price changes is relatively low. Even in the most difficult period for agriculture (2009) production fell there by just 1%, compared with 15% in Portugal and as much as 30% in Poland, despite a smaller drop in the economic indicator. The authors believe this to be a result of the different agrarian structure, scale and technology of production, differences in the functioning of market institutions (integrative links, contracting systems), and the reactions of the producers themselves to the situation. To sum up, drawing conclusions about the general economic situation based on flows of economic rents is an atypical approach, but one that can identify the causes of variation in the productive activity on farms and help compare the scale of such variation between countries. This approach may also be a useful analytical tool for agricultural policy, which becomes particularly important in conditions of the intensification of processes of globalisation. In generalising the conclusions drawn from the analysis of the structure of CAP support in selected EU countries, three different models were identified138. Only 138 The structure of support is described based on the contribution of the following variables to total variable subsidies: X1 – the value of payments for public goods, being the sum of set-aside, agri-environmental and less favoured area payments and other subsidies for the development of rural areas; X2 – the value of subsidies for plant and animal production (the sum of other payments to plant and animal production plus the balance of subsidy and penalties for milk production, subsidy for other cattle production and subsidy for sheep and goat production); X3 – the value of single farm and area payments; X4 – the value of subsidies for indirect consumption; X5 – the value of investment subsidies. 242 Summary: Political Rents and the European Model of Agriculture two of them – model A (dominated by single farm and area payments, and with payments for the supply of public goods making up 17% of the total) and model C (combining different mechanisms of support for farms, with the highest contribution from payments for public goods, 33%) – were in accordance with the development priorities of the European agricultural model as defined in the new programming period of 2014-2020. These operated throughout most of the area of the EU in 2012, particularly in the new member states (cf. Figure 3.3.). Nonetheless, in most regions of the “old” EU-15 member states, the model in operation in 2012 was model B, oriented exclusively towards direct payments, which are treated as a substitute for support for production and produce a relatively weak stimulus for sustainable development. Further calculations showed that these countries receive more than 80% of the pure political rents derived from the CAP. There is also a large variation between EU countries as regards agricultural income. The tax systems applied to agriculture, however, are very similar (with certain exceptions, such as the case of Poland). They incorporate taxes on income, assets and consumption (VAT). The Polish system is different in that it does not include a tax on income from agricultural production. Based on an evaluation of the tax systems applied to agriculture in selected EU countries, it is possible to identify countries having the most restrictive tax policies towards agriculture (Belgium, Portugal, Ireland, Spain) and those where such policies are less restrictive (the UK, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands). Taking account of the long-term surplus drainage from agriculture and the net equivalent subsidies (in exchange for specific actions relating to public goods), an estimate was made of the value of “pure” political rents for individual countries of the EU-27. The analysis carried out here points to the conclusion that agricultural interventionism in the EU requires a special conceptual approach, since it is not sufficient to simply treat all subsidies as political rents. The new approach proposed by the authors is necessary, as it provides an indication of how to improve the effectiveness of allocation of support for agriculture in individual EU countries. Quantification of the political rent in agriculture enables a more rational and socially appropriate distribution of assistance from the CAP in accordance with the goals set for agricultural policy in the new financial framework after 2014. Although the division of payment envelopes between member states has already been decided, since 2014 the CAP has gained flexibility in terms of the structure of both pillars and transfers between them. These matters remain in the hands of the governments of member states. Another issue is the aforementioned contribution of political rents to the gross receipts from agriculture in a given country (cf. Tables 3.12. and 3.13.). On average in the EU-27 this contribution is 13.63%, and although in the EU-12 it is slightly Summary: Political Rents and the European Model of Agriculture 243 higher, and in the EU-15 somewhat lower than average, there are countries in which that value is exceeded almost twofold. Redefinition is required as regards the issue of social fairness in the determination of the sizes of national CAP envelopes. The calculations of political rents show that historical payments are neither a rational nor a just solution, because the structurally low profitability of agriculture in certain countries should be compensated for by a higher supply of public goods, and this is not happening. Perhaps countries with structurally inefficient agriculture should supply more public goods than they do at present, if they wish to maintain their current ratio of political rents to gross added value, or else subsidise their agriculture to a greater degree out of national funds. Part 4 of the book contains case studies. These demonstrate the applicative dimension of the paradigm of sustainable development and methods of evaluating the effectiveness of agricultural policy in supporting such development in rural areas. Naturally, the results of these studies are not representative for agriculture as a whole (at national or EU level). Nonetheless, they indicate a direction for discussion concerning the development of sustainable agriculture in theory and in practice, and provide methodological guidance. They develop a methodology for examining regional sustainable development, which enables not only a sustainability assessment, but also a comparison of synthetic indicators over the whole of the analysed period. Also a set of analytical models is proposed, which make possible not only a better management of human and material capital in firms in agricultural and food sectors, but also the identification of areas that need to be improved to enable these resources to be used more competitively. Among the detailed findings, the following are particularly striking: • The location-specific factor “type of rural area”, based on land functions, is of key importance for land value in the SAPS. The area type determines whether particular use values, such as area or shape coefficient, and amenities, such as the possibility of building, as well as payments under agricultural policy, affect the land price. • There is a very large variation in land prices in the SAPS, and prices are strongly affected by speculation, which has driven the upward trend since the introduction of area payments in 2004. However, the impact of speculation is relatively small in areas with agrotouristic features. • Agricultural policy, in particular payments for public goods, has a very large significance (marginal effects) for the value of agricultural land compared with other parcel-level attributes of properties. • Payments for public goods are however capitalised in land prices only in peripheral areas. Elsewhere they fail to perform their role, and are even associated with the decapitalisation of the value of land. In particular, in 244 Summary: Political Rents and the European Model of Agriculture agrotouristic areas these schemes should be complementary and not substitutive with respect to the multifunctional development of the countryside. Therefore, in most places at present, single area payment support is not a differentiating factor for land value, in view of its general availability and low requirements, and the other payments do not compensate for the opportunity costs related to alternative ways of deriving rent from land. • Similarly, support for agrotouristic activity did not have a significant effect on the level of income from agrotourism among the analysed farms. This was because interest in such support came from those farms that did not yet obtain relatively high amounts of income from agrotourism; and moreover the instrument was not of a universal nature, but required the fulfilment of specified conditions. It can be expected that the situation was similar throughout Poland. • The relationships between agriculture and agrotourism are symbiotic in nature. Their common plane includes both the income of farms engaged in agricultural and agrotouristic activity, and the support provided by CAP instruments. In consequence, the preliminary conclusion can be reached that direct subsidies favour the economic activation of farms in non-agricultural activity. • The instruments of the CAP can be expected to evolve to favour the creation of public goods at local authority level rather than the development of agrotouristic activity itself at farm level. A particularly striking aspect of the findings of these case studies is that they point towards a common problem: the idea of payments for public goods under agricultural policy is set forth as a leitmotif of the European agricultural model, but in practice the CAP does not succeed in valuing these goods accurately. Perhaps this value is too low compared with the funds allocated indirectly to support production and efficiency, perversely given the name “decoupled”? Hence, the idea remains more a declaration than reality. This conclusion is confirmed by the variation in pure political rents obtained by agriculture (one might say non-equivalent rents) between EU countries in 2004-2012: ranging from approximately 9% of value added by agriculture in the Netherlands, to over 95% in Ireland. Are such disproportions, which it is hard to justify by any objective criteria, acceptable from the point of view of social justice and common community ideology? Alluding to the hypothesis put forward at the outset: there is something called the European model for the development of agriculture, but it is implemented in a minority of EU countries. Their common denominator is that pure political rent, after taking account of public goods and market corrections, accounts for a similar proportion of agricultural income.
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