THE SOURCE: “Explaining Mass Support for Agricultural Protectionism: Evidence From a Survey Experiment During the Global Recession” by Megumi Naoi and Ikuo Kume, in International Organization, Fall 2011.
The new prime minister of Japan, Yoshihiko Noda, made a bold move last fall when he announced that his country would participate in talks to join a Pacific free-trade agreement. Japan provides generous support to its agricultural sector through subsidies to farmers and hefty tariffs on rice and other food imports. These protections would likely shrink under the terms of a free-trade deal.
In theory, consumers ought to prefer free trade because it brings down prices. But most people are producers as well as consumers, and the more they think of themselves as producers, the more likely they are to oppose dropping trade barriers that protect struggling sectors such as agriculture. Political scientists Megumi Naoi of the University of California, San Diego, and Ikuo Kume of Waseda University, in Tokyo, show that in the midst of the 2008 global downturn, Japanese strongly supported protections for their country’s farm sector when they were encouraged to identify with farmers as producers.
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