Source: David Brunori / Forbes
I recently read the February 24 Good Jobs First report, “Subsidizing the Corporate One Percent,” by Philip Mattera, a respected thought leader in our business. It says that three-quarters of all state economic development subsidies went to just 965 corporations since the beginning of the study in 1976. The Fortune 500 corporations alone accounted for more than 16,000 subsidy awards, worth $63 billion – mostly in the form of tax breaks.
Think about that. The largest, wealthiest, most powerful organizations in the world are on the public dole. Where is the outrage? Back when I was young, people went into a frenzy at the thought of some unemployed person using food stamps to buy liquor or cigarettes. Ronald Reagan famously campaigned against welfare queens. The right has always been obsessed with moochers. But Boeing receives $13 billion in government handouts and everyone yawns, when conservatives should be grabbing their pitchforks.
According to Good Jobs First, there are 514 economic development programs in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. More than 245,000 awards have been granted under those programs. I ask again, where is the outrage? The system is antithetical to the idea of free markets. A quarter of a million times, state governments decided what is best for producers and consumers. That should make us cringe. First, the government is inefficient at providing public goods, and it is terrible at manipulating the markets for private goods. But more importantly, those 514 economic development programs are almost all the result of insidious cronyism. Narrow business interests manipulate government policymakers, and those interests prosper to the detriment of everyone else. Free markets be damned.
And while I’m looking for outrage, where are the liberals? The 965 companies in the report received over $110 billion of public money. Berkshire Hathaway, a company with $485 billion in assets and $20 billion in profits, received over $1 billion of that money. Its chair, Warren Buffett, is worth about $58 billion. Buffett, by the way, is still a darling of the left. He has some nerve to call for higher taxes. The billion dollars his companies took would pay for a lot of teachers, healthcare, and other public goods.
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