Solid enterprise reporting by the Journal.

Join the global economy! Starve to death!

The Journal and the NYT both go page one with farm stories today.

The Journal posts a very interesting look at a big oops! by free-traders who now say they may have been wrong for telling poor countries not to invest much in growing their own food since others could do it more cheaply.

Now, with grain stocks depleted, China and India gobbling food as never before and food prices soaring, many poor countries are turning their back on the old ideas and installing government programs designed to support local farmers. These include cash subsidies to poor consumers, increased efforts to improve local seed varieties, and government-sponsored handouts of fertilizer and seeds…

A growing number of World Bank economists are now convinced most poor nations need a healthy farm sector as the basis of a robust economy. The manufacturing booms that swept Asia only happened after the region’s farm sectors developed. And new research shows that investing in agriculture lifts more people out of poverty much faster than long thought.

This goes to the heart of the problem with free-tradeism. Countries should be as self-sufficient as possible. Relying on others to supply your needs is a recipe for disaster in times like these when it’s every man for himself.

Nations appear to be figuring that out—at least where food is concerned. The Journal says “food security has become a matter of national security.”

The Journal’s story reads like yet another malpractice case by the rich countries against the poor ones. Haiti used to be mostly self-sufficient in rice production, but it cut its tariffs on imports and its “rice bowl” was “nearly wiped out” and the country is now the biggest importer of the grain per capita.

Planting-season woes signal bad moon rising

The NYT says the planting season has gotten off to a poor start given that it must produce lots of food to stave off shortages. It says “some farmers are starting to fear disaster” largely due to too much rain in the corn belt.

Last year, the rice crop in Arkansas yielded a record 160 bushels an acre. This year, experts there say, 150 bushels will be an achievement.

“There’s no doubt about it, we’re not going to have the rice to export,” said Carl Frein of Farmers Marketing Service in Brinkley, Ark. “Poor countries like Haiti, I don’t know what they’re going to do.”

Fed knocks some Wall-Street heads

The Federal Reserve made a bid to clear up the mess that is the derivatives market by calling in major banks and hedge funds for a powwow on how to find a quick-fix, the WSJ and NYT say on their respective C1’s. The Times says it’s meant to assure that the failure of any financial institution doesn’t threaten to melt down the entire system, as nearly happened in March with Bear Stearns.

The parties discussed creating a clearinghouse for trades.

The Times:

Because no central clearinghouse currently exists for derivatives trading, a default by a major party could lead to cascading losses at big banks and brokerage firms. Fears about this so-called counterparty risk have rattled nerves on Wall Street amid a worsening credit crisis.

The Journal notes that it’s not the first go-round for this. The Fed called Wall Street in in 2005 for a similar meeting.

Bernanke warned of serious inflation risks, sending bond markets into a tailspin. Two-year Treasury bonds yields (which rise as prices fall) rose the most in twelve years.


Lots of business and economic news on the cover of the Times today, including one of the dumber articles we’ve seen on its page one in some time: a trend story about more women buying smart phones these days. Stop the presses!

The story is pegged to the unveiling of the new iPhone, which just makes it worse.

Revelations include: Women like sleek phone designs! Many women say they like multimedia features! Females like pink!

This quote is about all you need to know about the tone of the piece:

“Ewww,” she said. “I never thought about it. Really? If I could only have one?” Minutes passed as Ms. Newman weighed the pros and cons of each. Finally, she said, “I guess if I wasn’t using the BlackBerry for work, I’d have an iPhone.”

Ewww, indeed.

First, take this grain of salt

In economic news, pending home sales hit a six-month high in April, the Journal says on A6, though it notes the number may “overstate strength because of sales cancellations.” It quotes the always-sunny National Association of Realtors economists as saying “bargain hunters have entered the market en masse.”

An indicator of job trends hit the lowest in four years.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.