James Bovard has been railing against agricultural subsidies since his wonderful 1989 book, “The Farm Fiasco.” While Mr. Bovard and other opponents of such handouts have scored some notable successes in the past 25 years, many of these programs continue to flourish thanks to the powerful political interests that protect them.
But the election of Donald Trump threatens the cozy norms of the Beltway establishment. Mr. Trump has already indicated a willingness to take on defense contractors over wasteful projects and to harass corporate chieftains who move jobs abroad. Might he also be eager to challenge the agribusinesses feeding at the taxpayer trough?
Mr. Bovard suggests that the president-elect’s effort to “drain the swamp” begin with farm programs.
“While generous government subsidies are defended by invoking the ‘family farmer,’ big farmers snare the vast majority of federal handouts,” he writes in a Monday Wall Street Journal commentary. In fact, “50 members of the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans have received farm subsidies,” according to the Environmental Working Group, which tracks agricultural spending.
There a number of wasteful agriculture subsidies that drive up consumer costs and inhibit competition, but consider just one example.
U.S. taxpayers have paid $750 million since 2010 to subsidize Brazilian cotton farmers after the World Trade Organization ruled that financial support for American farmers depressed world prices. “To deter Brazil from imposing penalty tariffs on U.S. exports,” Mr. Bovard explains, “the U.S. paid a king’s ransom to Brazil so it could perpetuate handouts to American farmers.”
Washington, D.C. presents a target-rich environment for fiscal hawks. But Mr. Trump could do a whole lot worse than to take Mr. Bovard’s advice and abolish agricultural welfare.