Stillwater News Press

Opinion

March 15, 2014

GEORGE WILL: How to keep them down on the farm

STILLWATER, Okla. — WASHINGTON — Someone who is determined to disbelieve something can manage to disregard an Everest of evidence for it. So Barack Obama will not temper his enthusiasm for increased equality with lucidity about the government’s role in exacerbating inequality.

In the movie “Animal House,” Otter, incensed by the expulsion of his fraternity, says: “I think this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture.” Such thinking gives us minimum wage increases that do very little for very few. Meanwhile, there are farm bills, like the one Obama signed last month at Michigan State University.

MSU was one of the models for the land-grant colleges created under the 1862 Morrill Act, whose primary purpose was to apply learning to agriculture. Today, we apply crony capitalism to agriculture. The legislation Obama lavishly praised redistributes wealth upward by raising prices consumers pay. Vincent Smith of Montana State University says small non-farm businesses are almost 30 times more likely to fail than farms, partly because the $956 billion farm legislation continues agriculture’s thick safety net. The geyser of subsidies assures that farm households will continue to be 53 percent more affluent than average households.

Certain payments are, however, restricted. People making more than $900,000 annually are ineligible.

Seventy percent of Agriculture Department spending funds food services.

Nearly 48 million people — almost as many live on the West Coast (in California, Oregon and Washington) — receive food stamps. This dependency, inimical to upward mobility, is assiduously cultivated by government through “outreach initiatives” to “increase awareness” and “streamline the application process."  

Between 2000, when 17 million received stamps, and 2006, food stamp spending doubled, even though unemployment averaged just 5.1 percent.

A few states have food stamp recruiters.

An award was given to a state agency for a plan to cure “mountain pride” that afflicts “those who wished not to rely on others.”

Nearly two-thirds of households receiving food stamps qualify under “categorical eligibility” because they receive transportation assistance or certain other welfare services.

We spend $1 trillion annually on federal welfare programs decades after Daniel Patrick Moynihan said that if one-third of the money for poverty programs were given directly to the poor, there would be no poor.

But there also would be no unionized poverty bureaucrats prospering and paying dues that fund the campaigns of Democratic politicians theatrically heartsick about inequality.

The welfare state, primarily devoted to pensions and medical care for the elderly, aggravates inequality. Young people just starting up the earnings ladder, and families in the child-rearing, tuition-paying years, subsidize the elderly, who have had lifetimes of accumulation.

Households headed by people 75 or older have the highest median net worth of any age group.

George Will’s email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

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