Just Say No to (Corporate) Welfare
Acton Institute Powerblog

Just Say No to (Corporate) Welfare

Just say “No!” to corporate welfare. That’s a pretty good motto, I think.

And it seems that one form of corporate welfare, the vast system of farm subsidies, is getting some increased critical mainstream coverage. In today’s WaPo appears a story with this headline: “Federal Subsidies Turn Farms Into Big Business.”

I’ve seen quite a few stories in this vein over the past few months, exploding the mythical image of the down home family farmer. Here are some unintended consequences of the subsidies: “The very policies touted by Congress as a way to save small family farms are instead helping to accelerate their demise, economists, analysts and farmers say. That’s because owners of large farms receive the largest share of government subsidies.”

And here’s what farmer John Phipps has to say about the subsidies: “It’s embarrassing,” Phipps said. “My government is basically saying I am incompetent and need help.”

Phipps got $120,000 in subsidies despite the fact that he “harvested nearly 170,000 bushels of corn and soybeans last year on two square miles of fertile soil. He grossed nearly $500,000, putting his farm in the nation’s top 3 percent.”

These subsidies are big money, as “last year the government paid out about $15 billion in income support or price guarantees.”

Why does somebody like Phipps take the money even though it’s not a necessity? Because not taking it would put him at a great competitive disadvantage: “I’m not proud of it,” he said. “I would like to have the moral courage and financial clout not to take them. But if I don’t, I won’t be able to compete when it comes time to bid for land.”

Our own Kevin Schmiesing has some good things to say about agriculture and subsidies. Kevin says that in policy debates, “Our focus should be not so much on the preservation of the farm as on the preservation of the dignity and self-respect of the farmer. That federal subsidies will further that goal is a questionable proposition indeed.”

And for other cases of egregious corporate welfare, look no further than the construction of sports stadiums.

Jordan J. Ballor

Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is director of research at the Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy, an initiative of the First Liberty Institute. He has previously held research positions at the Acton Institute and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and has authored multiple books, including a forthcoming introduction to the public theology of Abraham Kuyper. Working with Lexham Press, he served as a general editor for the 12 volume Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology series, and his research can be found in publications including Journal of Markets & Morality, Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Faith & Economics, and Calvin Theological Journal. He is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary and the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity & Politics at Calvin University.