NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Farm Bill -- or "Robin Hood in Reverse"

February 1, 2002

Critics make the point that the Senate farm bill - which totals a whopping $174 billion -- taxes the middle classes living in cities and suburbs in order to ladle subsidies out to some of America's most prosperous companies and citizens.

The Web site of the Environmental Working Group -- www.ewg.org -- details the record of farm subsidies paid out since 1996, and those familiar with it say it's an eye-opener. Between 1996 and 2000, the cost to taxpayers amounted to $71 billion.

  • Two hundred colleges and universities are among those subsidized -- along with companies such as Caterpillar, Chevron, Pfizer and John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance.
  • The list also includes 492 "farmers" living in New York City.
  • A mere 10 percent on the subsidy list received two-thirds of the funds.
  • And the top 1 percent -- 24,111 recipients -- raked in $13.5 billion over five years, an average of $558,698 each.

A 1997 Department of Agriculture report showed only 36 percent of the country's 1.9 million farms received subsidies. California is the nation's largest agricultural producer, yet only 9 percent of its farms receive subsidies. Iowa -- where the government props up commodity losers like corn and wheat -- gets three times as much money.

Ironically, experts note, the subsidies actually hurt the "family farms" they purport to help by distorting markets and driving down prices, making it harder to earn an honest dollar. The big handouts to agribusiness also drive up the cost of farm land, further driving out the little guys - the ones who folded when the number of American farms declined by 15 percent between 1987 and 1997.

Source: Editorial, "Prairie Plutocrats," Wall Street Journal, February 1, 2002.

 

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