Welfare Kings on Tractors
"There are few issues for which the political consensus is so distant from both common sense and expert opinion. Right-wing economists, left-wing environmentalists and almost anybody in between who doesn't receive a check from the Department of Agriculture or depend on a political donation from said recipients understand that Americans are spending billions to prop up the last of the horse-and-buggy industries....
....Our system is so complicated - i.e. rigged - that it's almost impossible to know how much agricultural subsidies cost U.S. taxpayers. But we know from the Washington Post's recent reporting that since 2000, 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. A Houston surgeon received nearly $500,000 for, literally, nothing. Cash payments have cost $172 billion over the last decade, and $25 billion in 2005 alone, nearly 50 percent more than what was paid to families receiving welfare.
But those sorts of numbers barely tell the story of our appallingly immoral agricultural corporatism. Subsidies combined with trade barriers (another term for subsidy) prop up the price of agricultural commodities for consumers at home while hurting farmers abroad. This is repugnant because agriculture is a keystone industry for developing nations and a luxury for developed ones. Hence we keep Third World nations impoverished, economically dependent and politically unstable. Our farm subsidies alone - forget trade barriers - cost developing countries $24 billion every year, according to the National Center for Policy Analysis. Letting poor nations prosper would be worth a lot more than the equivalent amount in foreign aid. But Big Agriculture likes foreign aid because it allows for the dumping of wheat and other crops on the world market, perpetuating the cycle of dependency.
Then, of course, there's the environment. Subsidies savage the ecosystem. One example: There's a 6,000-square-mile dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, larger than Connecticut. It's so depleted of oxygen from algae blooms caused by fertilizer runoff that the shrimp and crabs at the Louisiana shore literally try to leap from the water to breathe, imperiling the profitable Gulf fishing industry. Most of the fertilizer comes from a few Midwestern counties that receive billions in subsidies (more than $30 billion from 1997 to 2002, according to the Environmental Working Group)."