During the Great Depression, when 25% of America’s population lived on farms (as opposed to about 2% today), the federal government provided subsidies to farmers to stave off financial ruin. The subsidies were no longer needed by the start of World War II, when markets for crops were plentiful. Almost 80 years later, taxpayers are subsidizing farmers to the tune of $16 billion to $20 billion per year.
Instead of getting rid of these obsolete subsidies, Congress has subsidized Brazilian cotton farmers with $300 million to keep them from pursuing a claim that the subsidies violate world trade treaties.
Watch the Brookings Institution’s Jonathan Rauch explain this fiasco during Common Good’s June 2010 Ending Government Paralysis forum at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia: