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Common Ground


I often find myself disagreeing with Cynthia Tucker, the Progressive journalist and professor, so I was happy to read a recent column of hers, on the farm bill that just passed the House, and find that she and I share some common ground on our views toward government.

She considers the bill an example of congressional priorities that “…protect the rich and punish the poor, comfort the comfortable while brutalizing the afflicted.” Indeed, it is an example of the cronyism that always accompanies political power, in which those who hold power use it to aid the rich and powerful. Should we expect anything else?

She says about Republicans, “…if they really want to rein in government, if they believe people ought to stand on their own two feet and refuse the ‘welfare state,’ why are they preserving welfare for those who need it least? Do they not see the glaring hypocrisy in their insistence on farm subsidies?” Of course they see the hypocrisy. That’s how cronyism works. You help your cronies, not those who actually might need help.

Tucker offers a great example. “One case of mind-boggling hypocrisy is that of U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, a Republican and a farmer from Frog Jump, Tenn., who collected nearly $3.5 million in subsidies from 1999 to 2012, according to the Environmental Working Group. In 2012, he received $70,000 in direct payments alone…”

She goes on to note, “Fraud, by the way, is rampant in farm subsidies, although you’re unlikely to hear anything about it. … You have to burrow into reports from the Government Accountability Office for that.” Of course the cronies don’t want you to know what they are doing.

I recently noted that politicians can gain more political support if they campaign against the status quo rather than in favor of some specific policy to replace it. Tucker’s column is a good illustration. Though she calls herself a Progressive, her recognition of the rampant cronyism that characterizes politics is shared by observers from one end of the political spectrum to the other.

Tucker doesn’t suggest any solutions to this cronyism, and we might have less in common there. Meanwhile, it is nice to see that people coming from conservative, libertarian, and Progressive points of view all share common ground in recognizing that government policy favors the politically connected at the expense of the general public.

Randall G. Holcombe is Research Fellow at The Independent Institute, DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University, past President of the Public Choice Society, and past President of the Society for the Development of Austrian Economics. He received his Ph.D. in economics from Virginia Tech, and has taught at Texas A&M University and Auburn University. Dr. Holcombe is also Senior Fellow at the James Madison Institute and was a member of the Florida Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors.
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