NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 3, 2006

At this nation's founding, nearly nine out of 10 workers were employed in agriculture. By 1900 that fell to fewer than four in 10. Today, fewer than one in every 100 workers is in agriculture, and less than 1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) is attributable to agriculture. Yet this country spends billions upon billions of dollars subsidizing a system that makes almost everyone in the world worse off, says columnist Jonah Goldberg.

It is almost impossible to know how much agricultural subsidies cost U.S. taxpayers, but judging from the Washington Post's recent reporting since 2000, it is substantial, says Goldberg:

  • The U.S. government paid out $1.3 billion to "farmers" who don't farm; they were simply "compensated" for owning land previously used for farming, including a Houston surgeon who received nearly $500,000.
  • Over the last decade, cash payments have cost taxpayers $172 billion.
  • In 2005 alone, $25 billion was given out, nearly 50 percent more than what was paid to families receiving welfare.

And agricultural subsidies hurt more than just American pocketbooks, says Goldberg:

  • U.S. farm subsidies alone -- forget trade barriers -- cost developing countries $24 billion every year, according to the National Center for Policy Analysis.
  • Subsidies wreak havoc on the ecosystem, including the creation of a 6,000-square-mile dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, caused by used fertilizer, most of which comes from a few Midwestern counties that receive billions in subsidies.
  • Swaths of forests and wetlands have been cleared or drained to make room for farmland that would never earn a buck were it not for the generosity of the U.S. government.

There is nothing wrong with farming when it's economically feasible, says Goldberg, but the current system is being rigged to prevent real free market reform.

Source: Jonah Goldberg, "Jonah Goldberg: Welfare Queens on Tractors," Los Angeles Times, August 3, 2006


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