Opinion

Farm subsidies, political leverage, and the ratchet of statism

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Timothy P. Carney,Taxes,Agriculture,Big Government,North Carolina,MinusRelatedPhoto,Subsidies,Government Regulation


Look at that map of western North Carolina. Most of that chunk of the state -- basically, everything in that map but Asheville and a swath running east from Asheville -- is in the 11th Congressional District.The pea-green area is all national forest. The gray-green area is a national park.

The federal government owns most of the 11th District.

That helps explain why Mark Meadows voted for the farm bill last week.* You see, congressional leaders stuck in the farm bill a provision renewing funding for "payments in lieu of taxes." Federal PILT is, basically, partial compensation for the property taxes states and localities lose because Uncle Sam doesn't pay property taxes.

My Wednesday column explained that Hill leaders moved PILT from a spending bill to the farm bill to win over the likes of Meadows and Western conservatives.

The map above makes another point: The more control government has, the more leverage powerful politicians have for implementing their plans -- which usually involve giving the federal government more power.

I call it the statist ratchet. It goes only in one direction.

You see this ratchet in Obamacare, as I wrote in December:

Whenever Obama sees a problem, he proposes a regulation. When that regulation hurts someone, he proposes a subsidy. That subsidy, in turn, justifies a new tax or regulation, then more bailouts.

You saw it during Obama's heavy-handed auto bailout it when bailed out banks found themselves impotent to fight Obama's politicized unilateral rewriting of the bankruptcy code to benefit his campaign donors.

The same folks always increasing government spending and subsidies towards businesses and people later use that government assistance to say "stop whining about government and start playing the tune we're calling." Or, more concisely, "you didn't build that."

If Washington didn't own 30 percent of the U.S., and most of the West, congressional leaders wouldn't have been able to buy off lawmakers from the West, and from districts like North Carolina.

Government power begets government power.

*CORRECTION: Meadows did not vote against the farm bill last year. Rather, multiple House Republican sources say Meadows was one of the conservative members who would have voted no on this larger, Democrat-shaped farm bill, except for PILT funding.

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