Common Ground

I often find myself disagreeing with Cynthia Tucker, the Progressive journalist and professor, so I was happy to read a recent column of hers, on the farm bill that just passed the House, and find that she and I share some common ground on our views toward government.

She considers the bill an example of congressional priorities that “…protect the rich and punish the poor, comfort the comfortable while brutalizing the afflicted.”  Indeed, it is an example of the cronyism that always accompanies political power, in which those who hold power use it to aid the rich and powerful.  Should we expect anything else?

She says about Republicans, “…if they really want to rein in government, if they believe people ought to stand on their own two feet and refuse the ‘welfare state,’ why are they preserving welfare for those who need it least? Do they not see the glaring hypocrisy in their insistence on farm subsidies?”  Of course they see the hypocrisy.  That’s how cronyism works.  You help your cronies, not those who actually might need help.

Tucker offers a great example.  “One case of mind-boggling hypocrisy is that of U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, a Republican and a farmer from Frog Jump, Tenn., who collected nearly $3.5 million in subsidies from 1999 to 2012, according to the Environmental Working Group. In 2012, he received $70,000 in direct payments alone…”

She goes on to note, “Fraud, by the way, is rampant in farm subsidies, although you’re unlikely to hear anything about it. … You have to burrow into reports from the Government Accountability Office for that.”  Of course the cronies don’t want you to know what they are doing.

I recently discussed books by Peter Schweizer and David Stockman who document many more examples of ways that those with political power use it to benefit the permanent political class at the expense of everyone else.  Those authors, who would be classified as conservative or libertarian, have common ground with Progressive Tucker (and me!), because we all recognize that government acts for the benefit of the political and economic elite, at the expense of the general public.

I don’t disagree with much in Tucker’s column.  She and I (and Schweizer and Stockman) see the same problems in the cronyism that accompanies political power.

Tucker doesn’t suggest any solutions to this cronyism, and we might have less in common there.  Meanwhile, it is nice to see that people coming from conservative, libertarian, and Progressive points of view all share common ground in recognizing that government policy favors the politically connected at the expense of the general public.

Randall G. Holcombe is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University. His Independent books include Housing America: Building Out of a Crisis (edited with Benjamin Powell); and Writing Off Ideas: Taxation, Foundations, and Philanthropy in America .
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