Las Vegas Review-Journal

The many pitfalls of corporate handouts

- JOHN STOSSEL COMMENTARY John Stossel is author of “Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media.”

TODAY’S politician­s want to spend more on everything: Amtrak subsidies, sports stadium subsidies, green energy subsidies, even fossil fuel subsidies …

President Joe Biden says the handouts will “put more money in your pocket.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claims they will “protect the planet for the children.”

They might. But a disproport­ionate amount of the money will end up in the hands of big companies — the ones with the most lawyers and lobbyists. A new documentar­y, “Corporate Welfare: Where’s the Outrage?” provides examples of this. My new video covers two of the worst.

First, tax “breaks.” Memphis, Tennessee, has a program called the Economic Developmen­t Growth Engine, meant to entice businesses to move to Memphis by giving them tax breaks. The Growth Engine gave IKEA a $9.5 million tax break. In exchange, IKEA agreed to create 175 jobs.

Local furniture sellers pushed back. “What about us?” asks Ron Becker, owner of The Great American

Home Store. “We pay taxes here. Where is our financial incentive?”

Lower taxes would be a good incentive. But Memphis politician­s can’t lower taxes when they’re giving big companies tax breaks.

Memphis is “pitting these gigantic corporatio­ns who know the government and have tons of lobbyists against mom and pop shops in our community that we’re trying to save,” complained Mark Cunningham of the Beacon Center, Tennessee’s free-market think tank. “You’re basically asking people to pay more tax dollars in order for their competitor to succeed over them.”

Two years later, IKEA still hasn’t created all the jobs it promised, and several local furniture stores closed.

“Such programs begin with good intentions,” documentar­y host Johan Norberg pointed out, “but they result in unintended consequenc­es.” He covers another handout with nasty unintended consequenc­es: farm subsidies.

Farm Bill supporters claim handouts and special crop insurance deals are needed to guarantee America’s stable food supply. That’s bunk. Fruit and vegetable farmers get no subsidies. There are no shortages of apples or pears. Crops do fine without subsidies.

“The largest pork producer in the U.S., Chinese-owned Smithfield Foods, increased consumer prices,” Norberg said. “Yet they still benefited from the government subsidy system, heavily lobbying to keep feed prices low. It’s estimated that in 2019 alone, agribusine­ss spent over

$135 million on lobbying.”

By contrast, Jeff Hawkins spends nothing on lobbying.

Hawkins owns a farm in Indiana. He sells chicken to restaurant owner Pete Eshleman. The Indiana legislatur­e asked Hawkins and Eshleman

to give a presentati­on on farmer’s markets and local restaurant­s. When they finished speaking, Indiana politician­s told them that selling chicken directly to restaurant­s is “illegal.” The Indiana Farm Bureau, State Poultry Associatio­n and

Pork Producers Associatio­n all testified in favor of banning direct farm-to-restaurant sales.

But Hawkins’ chicken was popular. Customers complained on social media and flooded the phone lines of representa­tives. In a rare twist, the politician­s gave in.

Now, Norberg said, “restaurant­s like Pete Eshelman’s can serve locally sourced poultry, and neighbors have a choice in the food that they eat.”

It was a small victory against America’s anti-freedom, pro-big business, welfare-for-the-rich regulation­s.

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