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Posts Tagged ‘rent seeking’

Last night the U.S. Senate played host to naked special-interest politics, as agricultural subsidy interests won vote after vote on the floor. As this story from Politico notes,

the sugar program stands out as one of the most intrusive of the commodity programs still on the books: a mix of price supports, import quotas, and since 2008, a feedstock program under which sugar can be purchased by the government to be used in biofuels.

The amendment Wednesday sought to end these purchases and roll back the price-support level from 18.75 cents per pound to 18 cents.

The amendment failed, 53-46. Some Republicans voted to keep the subsidies, including Marco Rubio of Florida. Even non-sugar-producing states’ senators voted to keep sugar subsidies:

And as a member of the Agriculture panel, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), warned her colleagues against unraveling the commodity coalition behind the farm bill.

“We forget that this is much bigger than a sugar program. It’s much bigger than any one single commodity,” said the North Dakota freshman, who hails from a state that is a major producer of sugar beets. “My concern is when you single out one commodity, whether it’s soybeans, corn or sugar or tobacco or rice, when you single out one commodity, you threaten the effectiveness of the overall farm bill.”

In other words, there’s a logroll among senators from subsidized states. My guess is that if you ran a logit model of votes on the sugar amendment, both sugar production and production of other subsidized commodities would enter the equation negatively. I wonder whether ideology or partisanship would factor in. I count 20 GOP “nays” (out of 45), meaning that a little over 60% of Democrats voted nay. And will Tea Party activists hold people like Rubio to account? I’m not holding my breath.

My last intemperate rant against agricultural subsidies here.

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This working paper is already getting substantial attention, and it’s not hard to see why. They find that banks that lobbied more in the years leading up to the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) of 2008 received more money through TARP. What’s particularly astounding is the rate of return, which they estimate at between $485 and $585 per dollar spent in lobbying.

I suppose there are two ways to look at this. One is to become outraged at the profitability of lobbying and the fact that money buys influence in Washington — but who is really surprised by that? The other way to look at it is that despite the flood of rents available, rent-seeking seems to be far less than theory would predict. Theory predicts that banks should spend up to about 1/2 the amount they could reasonably expect to receive, and that total expenditures on rent-seeking could even be greater than the rents available. Perhaps the reason standard rent-seeking models don’t apply in this case is that a program the size of TARP was unforeseeable until just days before it happened.

In any event, the findings certainly betray the common assertion from political leadership that the program was simply a practical response to the financial crisis aimed at preventing another Great Depression.

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Spirit of Subsidy Award?

I’ve frequently corrected my progressive/liberal friends who claim that folks like me are pro-business with all of the negative things that might imply.  I’m not.  I’m pro-markets.  And those are two very different things.  Although I really appreciate much of what businesses and entrepreneurs provide for me and the rest of society at some risk, when they engage in rent-seeking behavior, I jump off the bandwagon. 

David Boaz has an interesting post on the Chamber of Commerce that makes a similar point in reference to its “Spirit of Subsidy Awards” “Spirit of Enterprise Awards”!

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