Opinion Journal has today’s pop quiz: “What do Scottie Pippen, David Letterman and Ted Turner have in common?”
Answer: None of them are farmers, but all three have received thousands of dollars in federal farm subsidies this decade.
We could add to that list of non-farmer farm-aid recipients David Rockefeller, Leonard Lauder of the cosmetics firm, Edgar Bronfman Sr. of the Seagram fortune, and Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen. Our point is that you don’t have to drive a tractor, plant seeds, or even live anywhere near rural America to qualify for Uncle Sam’s farm largess. And you sure don’t have to be poor.
The Environmental Working Group has a map of New York City making the rounds on the Internet that shows 562 dots, each representing a Manhattan resident who gets a USDA farm payment. Who knew that growing cotton, corn and soybeans was such a thriving industry near Central Park? We don’t know the incomes of these people, but it’s a fair guess they’re not homeless.
What we have here is a real-life version of the 1960s TV show “Green Acres,” but in reverse. In the fictional series, Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor play a fancy couple who flee Manhattan to live down on the farm among the pigs and goats, while she pines for the glitter of Times Square. In the 2007 version, they flee the farm for Manhattan and get a subsidy check at their Park Avenue penthouse. What a deal.
Washington refers to these people as “absentee farmers.” They own the land and collect the subsidy checks, but few do any actual farming. It is true that the farmers who lease the acreage in Illinois, Iowa or Kansas are usually far from rich (though the per capita income of farmers is higher than the median family income). But studies indicate that the subsidies provide little financial benefit to these tenant farmers, who grow and harvest the crops and put food on our table. Most studies agree that the subsidies are capitalized into the price and rental value of the land. So the more generous the farm payments, the higher the rents that the absentee farmers in New Yorkers can charge.
As the editorial concludes, “Where is that Democratic devotion to class warfare when we really need it?”