Jacob Sullum

Last summer, Obama's presidential campaign boasted that the Illinois senator "expressed his support" for "reducing the number of multimillionaires who are eligible for farm bill subsidies." While that sounds better than Hillary Clinton's wholehearted endorsement of the farm bill, which the New York senator says will "help revitalize rural America" and "provide a safety net for our family farms," it's a pretty sad state of affairs when self-styled reformers aspire merely to reduce taxpayer-funded payments to multimillionaires.

Not all farmers are rich, but as a group they are better off than the people footing the bill for their subsidies, with a median income of $55,000 in 2006, compared to the national median of $48,000, and median wealth about five times the national median. Heritage Foundation analyst Brian Riedl notes that most subsidies "go to large commercial farms, which report an average income of $200,000 and a net worth of nearly $2 million."

Riedl estimates that farm subsidies cost Americans $25 billion a year in taxes and another $12 billion in higher food prices. According to a Cato Institute study, the opportunity cost of agricultural support during the last two decades (i.e., the amount we'd have if the money had been invested instead of squandered) is more than $1.7 trillion.

John McCain is the only one of the three remaining major-party presidential candidates who takes a stand against this regressive, market-distorting, trade-disrupting scam. The Arizona senator, who has long opposed agricultural subsidies, recently told voters (in Iowa, no less) that if he were president he'd veto the farm bill because "the subsidies are unnecessary."

By and large, though, Obama is right that farm subsidies "bring Republicans and Democrats together." It's the sort of unity that causes one to lose hope.


Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
 
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