Bush loved farm subsidies when the Republicans controlled congress, but now that the Democrats are running the show he’s gotten religion and is sensibly proposing that we change the current rule which says you can’t get subsidies if you earn more than $2.6 million a year (in income, not in gross revenue) to a more parsimonious $200,000. Congress is trying to hold the line at $950,000 which prompts Megan McArdle to wonder “Of all possible reforms, this would seem to be a no-brainer. How many fabulously wealthy Democratic farmers in swing states can there be?”
I think there’s a twofold answer. One is that farm state residents and their elected representatives may well believe that subsidies to rich farmers have positive trickle-down impacts on the whole community. Indeed, one mistake I think liberals sometimes make is to assume that political disputes about “economic self-interest” will naturally break down as higher-income versus lower-income rather than region versus region or industry versus industry. The other is that money really does talk in politics, as in Larry Bartels’ finding that the preferences of voters in the bottom-third of the income distribution “have no discernible effect on senators’ roll call votes.” There may not be many farmers earning between $200,000 and $950,000 a year, but the fact that their interests carry a lot of weight in the halls of congress isn’t actually especially aberrant.
Photo by Flickr user jdickert used under a Creative Commons license