This article extends recent work on a comparative theory of retrenchment in social policy by asking whether the politics of retrenchment travels well across policy areas, with policy feedback remaining a crucial variable for explaining government success or failure. The article analyzes policy change in agriculture in the United States and France, a natural choice for an extension of retrenchment theory because agricultural policy resembles social policy in some respects but also provides telling points of contrast. The article finds that the call for new theories focusing on retrenchment is justified: the politics of agricultural retrenchment differs from that of expansion, and success at retrenchment varies by program.
The analysis shows, as well, that retrenchment has been significant both in the U.S. and in France and the European Union. Variations in policy feedback help explain why these policy changes occurred. Moreover, the France-U.S. comparison highlights how systemic institutional factors shape the politics of retrenchment. Finally, focusing on agriculture, a policy sector in which international developments have a greater direct importance than they do in social policy, the article identifies an additional systemic retrenchment strategy: constraining domestic programs through international agreements.