Monday, May 13, 2002

Old MacDonald, You May Already Be a Millionaire...

President Bush signed the farm bill especially early this morning. He said the early hour of the signing ceremony was to pay tribute to the nation's early rising farmers, though it could just as likely have been to avoid media attention. The final bill was unfortunately not an improvement on the bloated, counterproductive drafts that made their way through the respective houses of Congress. It ended up being nothing more than welfare for farmers, many of them far from charity cases. Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation writes in NRO:

"Worse, two-thirds of all farm subsidies go to large farms and wealthy agri-businesses, most of which earn more than $250,000 a year. Among the landed gentry on the agriculture dole are 14 members of Congress, 15 Fortune 500 companies, and celebrities such as Sam Donaldson and Ted Turner. These mega-corporations and multi-millionaires will rake in as much as 160 times the median annual farm subsidy of $935."

But even assuming all the money did go to small-time producers...

"Advocates of the current farm bill say they're just trying to help struggling family farmers. But they could do that far more cheaply. Congress could guarantee every full-time farmer a minimum income of 185% of the federal poverty line ($32,652 for a family of four) for "only" $4 billion per year — one-fifth the cost of direct subsidies in the new bill."

And even if the price tag doesn't make you gag, there's the problem of overproduction:

"Why have farm subsides grown so much — from $6 billion in 1996 to $30 billion in 2000? Because of how they were designed. Farm subsidies are supposed to compensate farmers for low prices caused by overproduction, but to receive more subsidies, farmers must plant more crops. This leads to more overproduction, which drives prices down further and induces calls for even larger subsidies.

"Then, while paying these farmers to grow more crops, the federal government turns around and pays other farmers not to farm 40 million acres — the equivalent of idling every farm in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin."

Disgraceful. See also Michael Lynch's take at Reason ("...the bill’s true purpose: to harvest money from taxpayers and plant it in places where political flowers will bloom.") and Brendan Miniter's column at OpinionJournal ("...the list of special breaks to agribusiness [already in force] is numbing in length and in complexity.")


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