Thursday, January 3, 2013

Congressional priorities...

Agribusiness wins, struggling families lose.

I wish people would be as concerned about farm subsidies as they are about how awful it is that people are getting assistance from food stamps during a depression.

I wonder what Casey Mulligan would say about this. We're taking away $110 million in means tested income assistance (which is supposed to be what's propping up unemployment, right?) and subsidizing production with the money. What do you think? If you think these supply-side problems are a big deal this should be great policy!


  1. Farm subsidies remain fairly popular (according to polls I've seen and according to my own highly biased anecdotal appraisal from discussions I have had about farm subsidies) and welfare to the poor ain't.

    1. Hence my wish.

      I don't know... farm subsidy popularity largely depends on how you frame it. It is popular with some people all the time, of course, and in certain states. Same with "welfare". There are other ways of talking about it that people don't attach the same sort of stigma or resentment to.

    2. Well, that sounds more an appeal to rhetoric than anything.

      Anyway, since you're apparently skeptical of Mulligan's book I have to ask whether you've read it. So have you read it?

    3. I haven't even mentioned Mulligan's book. I'm skeptical of a lot of his ideas (search on the blog, we've discussed him before long before the book came out). I have not read the book.

    4. Well, the book is where he lays out his arguments in most detail, so it goes kind of without saying that it would be the best avenue by which to ascertain the merits of his ideas.

      Anyway, whenever I drop into econblogs from time to time I always get the feeling that what is happening is like Unitarians vs. Orthodox antebellum style stuff going on. That being said, I'll drop out now.

  2. Actually, after reading the link, it doesn't look like we are taking "$110 billion in means tested income assistance."

    Instead, it looks like we cut $110 *million* (with an m) from a nutrition EDUCATION program that is part of SNAP, but did not not the SNAP nutrition assistance program (the actual food stamp benefits people receive).

    1. Thanks for the million correction - I'm making it now.

    2. Anyway - it's not the benefit money itself but I still don't see how this is a good prioritization.

    3. I would also note that the cuts were made to SNAP's educational program, NOT their income assistance program (i.e. the actual food stamp benefits people receive).

      That's an important distinction. I think even Casey Mulligan would object to taking food out of the mouths of the hungry poor. But education has not been proven very effective for fighting obesity. So I could imagine plenty of people (left and right) supporting the cut.

      Saying $110 million in income assistance was cut is just incorrect.

    4. SNAP is an income assistance program. I don't understand the point of noting that its budget amounts to more than benefit checks.

      re: "I think even Casey Mulligan would object to taking food out of the mouths of the hungry poor."

      He might not want to cut it entirely, but this is precisely the sort of thing he wants to remove.

    5. Then I guess I don't understand this sentence.

      "I wonder what Casey Mulligan would say about this. We're taking away $110 million in means tested income assistance (which is supposed to be what's propping up unemployment, right?) and subsidizing production with the money."

      How would even Casey Mulligan argue that obesity education programs for the poor are propping up unemployment?

      I have read Casey arguing that providing people with income for not working makes it less likely they will work. I have never heard him say providing literature and seminars on eating right would also make you less likely to work. How do you make that leap?

    6. If you're saying that a dollar spent in these programs is not going to increase food purchases in the same way that a dollar spent in benefits, of course. But we're talking about services that encourage the use of food stamps and educate people on how to get them and use them in a healthy way. I don't understand what your big hang up on this is. This is an income assistance program that's important to a wide cross section of families and we're taking money out of making that function well and putting it into support for agribusiness.

      The person I linked to thinks this is an odd choice. I agree.

  3. If your only point is that cutting obesity education for the poor and using the money to support "agribusiness" is a bad idea, then I don't see why you need to mention Casey Mulligan or imply that he thinks that obesity education is propping up unemployment.

    My hang up is that I think you are mischaracterizing other people's views. There is simply no good reason to think Mulligan (or ANYONE for that matter) would argue that obesity education to the poor increases unemployment. So why have that line in there? Especially if it is not even related to the point you wanted to make.

    But it is your blog.

    1. re: "I don't see why you need to mention Casey Mulligan or imply that he thinks that obesity education is propping up unemployment."

      He thinks income assistance programs prop up unemployment! Yes, budgets for income assistance programs are broader than just the benefit checks. I am well aware of that. You keep calling this "obesity education", but the point is these programs also promote use and understanding of the food stamp program. People go into extension programs or social service offices or wherever these are held, they get a talk about healthy eating, and then they get shown how to get and use foodstamps. These educational budgets for any of these (housing assistance, TANF, etc.) are always about promoting the use of the benefits. No, they are not the checks themselves but I think you're wrong to silo these budgets like this.

      You obviously disagree but simply spelling out your understanding of the situation a couple times is not going to change my mind.

    2. I keep calling it obesity education because that's where your link says the cuts were made. It said nothing about education "to promote use" of food stamps. Here is what the link says was cut "Instead, Congress cut a nutrition education program that promotes healthy eating habits and physically active lifestyles for people of limited means."

      *shrug* I just don't see how spending on education that promotes healthy eating habits will influence unemployment. And *that* is what was cut. So i guess I still just don't see your point.

      But I got to run. So leave it as is if you like.

  4. We now have the debt ceiling and the sequester looming. If the Republicans have any integrity they will be demanding an end to agricultural subsidies (including corn based ethanol) and a phase out of Federal flood insurance. I will not be holding my breath...

  5. Here are your options...

    1. It's impossible for 500+ congresspeople to even come close to knowing what the priorities of 300,000,000+ citizens truly are. In this case, how do you know what the priorities of 300,000,000+ citizens truly are?

    2. The priorities of 500+ congresspeople are superior to the priorities of 300,000,000+ citizens. In this case, questioning the priorities of congress would be as ridiculous as questioning the priorities of god.

    Let me tell you what your priorities should be...

    1. Read the debate between Samuelson and Buchanan...and write an entry on who you side with.

    2. Read Scroogenomics and write an entry on whether or not you agree with Waldfogel.

    3. Read The Case For Tax-Target Plans by Daniel J. Brown and write an entry critiquing his argument.

    4. Write an entry highlighting the differences between demonstrated preference, revealed preference and stated preference.

    5. Write an entry on rational ignorance and concentrated benefits and diffuse costs.

    Who do you think knows you better? Me...or congress? Or perhaps it doesn't matter when it comes to determining how your limited resources should be spent?

    It's really not that complicated. There are market (libertarian) economics and non sequitur (planned/command) economics. The first one works because your preferences/priorities do matter and the second one fails because your preferences/priorities do not matter.

    I want you to look over all that homework I gave you and have the option to say "No way!" or "I'm skeptical!" or "No thanks!" or "I doubt the business model!". But why should you have the option not to "buy" what I'm selling? Why should taxpayers have the option not to "buy" what a government organization is selling?

    "The government should not help to save Chrysler, of course not. This is a private enterprise system. It's often described as a profit system but that's a misleading label. It's a profit and loss system. And the loss part is even more important than the profit because it's what gets rid of badly managed, poorly operated companies. When Chrysler loses's got to do something. When Amtrak loses money it goes to congress and gets a bigger appropriation. [...] It's the stockholders of Exxon who ultimately are buying it. If they don't like what Exxon is doing with their money, they have a perfectly good alternative...they can sell the stock. And as the stock went down, if the stockholders didn't like it, they would pay somebody to change the policy which Exxon is following. We have a far greater degree of control over what Exxon does than we have over what a lot of our government corporations do." - Milton Friedman, What is Greed?

  6. Upon reflection - and as a political scientist - the question naturally makes me ask who is the natural opposition to agricultural subsidies? One either doesn't exist or it is a rather weak opposition. So it isn't surprising that agricultural subsidies fly under the radar for the most part - no one is really pushing back against them out of some self-interest.

    1. Right - concentrated benefits and dispersed costs is how these things happen.

  7. I am waiting for Mulligan to place all the blame for our current predicament on the postal monopoly and cabal of postal inspectors.


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