I wrote recently about some nuggets of hope for the Republicans. But unfortunately it didn’t take long for them to disappoint – which they do so often it is hard to sustain more than one cheer for today’s GOP (which is one more than I could muster for today’s “progressive” Democrats). Of course, the latest fail is the Republican House backing another Farm Bill that is – and has been – a poster child for crony capitalism. Michael Tanner of Cato had the best line on this fine piece of legislation:
“Republicans demonstrated that they are just fine with bloated welfare programs as long as those welfare payments go to well-heeled special interests.”
However, the Post article that quotes Tanner argues that there is another theory that attempts to explain political support for farm subsidies without relying on the power of agribusiness money: “Farmers and farm owners have disproportionate political sway in key districts.” Unless I’m too tired to tell the difference, aren’t these consistent explanations rather than competing? Both rely on the “concentrated benefits, diffuse costs” model familiar to all political scientists and economists. So Republicans are happy to satisfy rent-seekers (agribusiness and farmers) who are part of their winning coalition, especially those in key districts – and are happy to exploit what seem to be “welfare measures” as a cover to satisfy them. Of course, it would be useful to tease out how much they support the welfare part (splitting the bill won’t necessarily solve the problem because food stamps provide indirect subsidies to farmers too) but I’m guessing Tanner is smart enough to realize that the key district theory is an important part of the story – so I’m not sure there is the explanatory tension here that the Post suggests.