Ed Driscoll

The Forgotten Man Has His Terminal Moment

“Super: Feds paying millions in subsidies to farmers no longer among the living,” Erika Johnson writes at Hot Air:

A new federal audit found that the government is still paying out millions of dollars a year to dead farmers because the Agriculture Department neglects to do routine checks required to make sure it is paying benefits to the right people. Perfect, via the Washington Times:

The Government Accountability Office said that from 2008 to 2012 one agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, made $10.6 million payments on behalf of more than 1,100 people who’d been dead at least a year. Another branch, the Risk Management Agency, paid out $22 million to more than 3,400 policyholders who’d been dead at least two years.

Some of the payments may have been legal because they were for work done before the farmers died, but GAO said the problem is the two agencies don’t perform the routine checks — such as looking at the Social Security lists — to see.

“Until and unless NRCS and RMA develop and implement procedures to have their payment or subsidy data records matched against SSA’s complete death master file, either through coordination with FSA or on their own, these agencies cannot know if they are providing payments to, or subsidies on behalf of, deceased individuals; how often they are providing such payments or subsidies; or in what amounts,” the investigators wrote.

As disgusting as the fiscal waste is, I can’t say I’m surprised by this news. Among the many anecdotes collected in Amity Shlaes’ The Forgotten Man, her 2007 look at how FDR made the Depression “Great,” was the story of Depression-era farmers who were paid money to destroy their own crops, in order to artificially inflate prices, after the newly reprimitivized system of Keynesian economics replaced its tried and true laissez faire-oriented predecessor. Additionally, “Roosevelt was elected in part by the farm vote. They wanted the kind of high prices they had had before World War I,” Shlaes told Reason’s Nick Gillespie in early 2008.

And the New Deal went to extraordinary — and at times destructive — lengths to appease that constituency by tamping down production, as an article by Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute that appeared in USA Today back in 2005 neatly summarizes:

The centerpiece of FDR’s New Deal was the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933. It created “codes” or cartels in more than 500 industries in order to limit competition. Businesses were told to cut output and maintain high prices and wages. Businessmen who cut prices were cajoled, fined, and sometimes arrested. Fortunately for the country, NIRA was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1935. The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 similarly restricted production to keep prices high. “Excess” output was destroyed or dumped abroad. While millions of Americans were going hungry, the government plowed under 10,000,000 acres of crops, slaughtered 6,000,000 pigs, and left fruit to rot.

If Washington “logic” during FDR’s Depression was to pay farmers to destroy their crops, the terminal destination of such Bizarro World thinking would be to “reward” dead farmers for their “efforts.” Besides, President Obama has vowed to make us more European, and what could be more European than this? A Mark Steyn article in the London Telegraph back in 2005 neatly foreshadowed today’s news:

If you want the state of Europe in a nutshell, skip the German election coverage and consider this news item from the south of France: a fellow in Marseilles is being charged with fraud because he lived with the dead body of his mother for five years in order to continue receiving her pension of 700 euros a month.

She was 94 when she croaked, so she’d presumably been enjoying the old government cheque for a good three decades or so, but her son figured he might as well keep the money rolling in until her second century and, with her corpse tucked away under a pile of rubbish in the living room, the female telephone voice he put on for the benefit of the social services office was apparently convincing enough. As the Reuters headline put it: “Frenchman lived with dead mother to keep pension.”

That’s the perfect summation of Europe: welfare addiction over demographic reality.

But will the families of any of the dead farmers wind up returning their subsidies to Washington in the form of estate taxes?