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Great Grain Robbery (1972) (wikipedia.org)
47 points by zeristor on April 25, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 26 comments

Earl Butz is a hero to most farmers because when prices shot up they made more money than they ever had in a lifetime. In Michigan navy beans shot up 700%.

I had a farmer recount to me once that he went out with a broom and got enough beans from the bottom of a grain bin to fill the trunk of his car. He told me that trunk full brought him more cash than an entire gravity box wagon the year before!

While in this case, the soviets came out ahead, the deal was not inherently unfair.

It appears the price was set based on market rates on the day the deal was done. In effect, the USA just sold all the grain on that day, more than they actually had, not on the actual day of delivery. They just issued a futures contract.

Had the price of grain fallen on world markets, the soviets would have lost out.

If the price of grain had fallen, the Soviet Union would have purchased it from other countries at market rates. Only after they had exhausted other countries' grain surpluses would they have bought from the US.

The GP is talking about prices falling after, not before, the purchase.

I think the point is that the market rate was "unfair" (depending on your definition of fairness), as it was based on massively assymetric information.

Presumably there could have been asymmetry in the other direction too? Perhaps the americans knew they were in for a bumper wheat crop, and thought they'd lock in the price now before prices fell?

As mentioned in this NASA training video on Remote Sensing for agriculture:


Anyone aware of European datasets coming from agricultural remote sensing? I'd also be interested in forest land datasets.

Wikipedia says that "The problem was heightened by the fact that only a small fraction of the Soviet Union was able to be farmed"

Really? I though that, until the mid-century at least, the vast majority of the population of the USSR were farmers.

I mean, ok, of course they grey other things as well, but still - that sounds strange.

Yeah, not sure what to make of that. Apparently this is a reference to the black earth belt (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernozem). The article isn't particularly well written. Why only the Chernozem belt can be farmed (short term climate conditions maybe?)? What kind of mismanagement USSR exhibited that led to massive grain shortage on their end?

Would you steal a loaf of bread to feed your family? Would anyone try to stop you? What about a billion loaves?

The robbery is in reference to giving away US money to US grain companies.

Why would we subsidize the USSR during the Cold War? Why not require some political concessions first?

In the context of the times, the late 60s-early 70s were a time of political concession from both the USSR and the US. This was the Detente period of the Cold War, when the two sides were trying to sign nuclear arms treaties to avoid mutual annihilation like they faced during the Cuban missile crisis as well as the expense involved with making tens of thousands of nukes, and the US was trying to pull itself out of Vietnam and needed good relations with the USSR to make sure they wouldn't have to fight a 2nd Vietnam war if the USSR decided to push the spread of global communism. The grain export deal was just one piece in the puzzle.

Each piece should have had its own concession.

That's the kind of inflexible deal-making that makes negotiation impossible in real life. Sometimes I wish time machine simulations were real so we could send people back in the past and let them try their hand at navigating historical global crises. That'll be sure to teach some humility after the umpteenth time the world gets nuked.

The USSR was responsible for spreading death and oppression through out the world. It finally collapsed due to its failed economic system. Subsidies delayed that collapse, delayed the freedom of hundreds of millions and allowing more deaths.

No one was nuking anyone, the Soviet leadership was just trying to maintain their decadent lifestyles at the expense of their peoples.

hindsight is always 20/20.

Regional food shortages can have a global ripple effect. Sound familiar?

why the term robbery?

just because the seller couldn't detect a weakness on the buyer and artificially inflate the prices it is considered a robbery? Does someone who will need a car for a job or lose the house for non-payment "rob" the car dealership for not disclosing they really need that car they are purchasing at market price?

IMO, the robbery is that the business people consulted for the deal saw only the big sale and the possibility to get their costs subsidized (for what reason that was even offered by the govt?!) and they indeed made a nice profit and were not affected by the internal price hike as they were sellers, not buyers, while the US public lost 300mi subsidizing this mess and paying the higher prices. Indeed a robbery.

It was alleged the U.S. government was robbing American taxpayers in order to support grain trading companies by subsidising trading with the Russians.

“Author Martha Hamilton introduced the term as the title of Chapter VII of her book The Great American Grain Robbery & Other Stories, as part of an allegation that the U.S. government was robbing American taxpayers in order to support grain trading companies.”

Which in itself is a reference to a 1903 silent film The Great Train Robbery, widely considered to be the first of what we'd now recognize as an action film, and the first western.

The wikipedia article says:

> The term Great Grain Robbery is a pun referring to the "Great Train Robbery" novel

The novel in question being a 1975 one by Michael Crichton! Being British, to me, the term refers to an infamous train robbery in 1963. I don't know if that incident is well known in the US.

Presumably, though, both those uses are references to the film.

Michael Crichton's novel references a British train robbery from Victorian times:


The 1903 movie referenced is a separate dramatisation of a US robbery:


The '63 train robbery indeed still holds an unhealthy spell over britons, part of our broader culture of lauding mavericks who get one over on the system, even if they happen to be unpleasant / violent criminals. Probably the same in the US when put like that I suppose. A less commonly recounted aspect of the Great Train Robbery is how incompetent the perps were and how easily caught

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