Farm Forecast: Aid, with 32.3 Billion in Scattered Dollars

(Page 3 of 3)

"You bet. There was $47 million for peanuts--a 'temporary' program from the 1930s. Money for tobacco--$340 million. Billions for grains and soybeans. On and on. That's why on June 1 the Clinton Administration announced that farm-subsidy spending will total $32.3 billion this year. An all-time record."

"A lot of eyebrows shot up when that number came out, J.C. In 1986, during the biggest farm depression since the 1930s, a Democratic Congress racked up $25.8 billion, but these conservative Republicans have just left that record in the dust. And did you see those trend lines?"

"Jarat, the 1996 reform farm bill was supposed to spend $42 billion over seven years, with payments declining every year. Congress's numbers show that the actual spending will be more like $86 billion, with payments rising every year."

"You know, J.C., for all of the elegance of that reform play in '96, you just can't beat farmers when it comes to sheer relentlessness."

"Well, combine those big campaign contributions with some real economic distress out there on the farm, and there was just no way Congress was going to stick to its reform guns. You gotta say, though, the reformers aren't empty-handed. They did succeed in holding on to their economic reforms. We're still supporting farmers instead of prices; it just costs a lot more than anybody planned. Jarat, don't forget that a lot of Democrats and farmers wanted to go back to market controls. Reformers managed to hold them off by throwing money at them. They saved the economic reforms by sacrificing the fiscal reforms, but things are still better than in the bad old days."

"You know, J.C., the sugar program sort of confirms your point here. It's an old-fashioned market-control program. Earlier this month, the General Accounting Office announced that this baby cost American consumers $1.9 billion in 1998, of which only $1 billion flowed to American producers. Another $400 million spilled over as benefits to foreign producers--America's competitors--and $500 million was just wasted outright as what economists call 'deadweight loss,' or wealth destroyed by pure inefficiency."

"Just like old times, Jarat."

"Sure is. To keep this relic from collapsing under market pressures, the Administration has just had to rush in and spend $60 million to buy 150,000 tons of sugar. To keep prices up, the government will need to make sure all of that sugar goes to waste instead of being sold to someone who might actually need it."

"Gotta love it, Jarat."

"OK, J.C. What's your call? Four great years for reformers in 1993 through 1996, four great years for farmers after that. Who's the net winner as of now?"

"I'd have to say we are, Jarat: the chattering classes and the hard-working professionals of the lobbying and politicking communities who sell tickets to the game."

"Which is as it should be, J.C. See you next week. We'll be discussing prescription-drugball."

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