John Stossel

By now you've probably heard that a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report states:

From 1999 through 2005, the USDA "paid $1.1 billion in farm payments in the names of 172,801 deceased individuals. ... 40 percent went to those who had been dead for three or more years, and 19 percent to those dead for seven or more years." One dead farmer got more than $400,000 during those years.

And they say you can't take it with you.

Defending the USDA, the GAO adds, "The complex nature of some farming operations -- such as entities embedded within other entities -- can make it difficult for USDA to avoid making payments to deceased individuals."

Exactly. The agricultural section of the U.S. code is nearly 1,800 pages.

There's an easy way to avoid such absurdities: Abolish all farm subsidies.

Why are taxpayers forced to pay farmers $25 billion a year? Sure, farmers face droughts and floods, but that's been true since Moses' day. They can't say they weren't put on notice that farming has risks. Running a restaurant or a software company entails risks, too, but we don't guarantee their continued operation. Those businesses and America are stronger for it.

Farm subsidies are popular with politicians because Big Agriculture lobbies hard, and many people believe that without subsidies, we wouldn't have a reliable food supply.

But what an insane myth that is. As I wrote in "Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity", most crops are not subsidized. Yet we have no shortages of fruits, vegetables, livestock and poultry. America has plenty of peaches, plums, peas, green beans, etc., and farmers who grow those crops do fine. What makes wheat, cotton, corn, soybeans and rice different?

Last week, the New York Times reported that dairy farmers in New Zealand get along perfectly well without subsidies : "[E]ver since a liberal but free-market government swept to power in 1984 and essentially canceled handouts to farmers -- something that just about every other government in an advanced industrial nation has considered both politically and economically impossible. ... [O]utput has soared."

Yet in America, our congressmen enact a 742-page farm bill that, among other things, includes 10 times more money than in 2002 for "specialty crops," including citrus, tomatoes and melons, and an amendment to include goat meat in the mandatory Country of Origin Labeling Program.

An amendment that would have withheld subsidies from farmers with incomes of $250,000 or more was rejected by the House.

John Stossel

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at > To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at ©Creators Syndicate