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Bailout for farmers a self-inflicted wound

July 29, 2018

In political parlance, pork has a specific meaning — as in a politician bringing home the bacon in the form of government spending.

President Donald Trump’s promised $12 billion bailout for U.S. farmers hurt by his tariffs on Chinese and other markets does not stray far from this definition. As in other forms of pork barrel spending, the goal is not just to keep local economies afloat, it is to earn enough gratitude that there is a payoff in campaign contributions and votes come re-election time.

For Trump, it’s not re-election time just yet, but the midterm elections loom, and those he is trying to keep afloat are the farmers and other Midwestern voters who got him over the top in 2016. He’s hoping they help keep Congress Republican in November.

But among the many problems with this bailout:

It ignores all other sectors and workers hurt by his trade war — one he is waging against enemies and allies alike. His tariffs were also on foreign aluminum and steel, which, despite a truce Trump has announced with the European Union — described by him as “foes” — still seems to be in place. So, what of, for instance, the downstream manufacturers in the U.S. likely to be hurt by the increased prices on these? What of those whose non-agricultural products are targeted tit for tat by nations hurt by the Trump tariffs?

It represents a double penalty against consumers. Because tariffs imposed on foreign goods are essentially taxes imposed on Americans who consume them, we will pay in higher costs first. And, now, Trump says we will pay again because our taxes will be used to finance what amount to more subsidies for farmers who wouldn’t have been hurt at all but for Trump’s actions.

A chief U.S. complaint when it comes to unfair trade practices is how other governments subsidize specific industries to keep them competitive. Now, we have further subsidies on top of already existing subsidies to U.S. farmers.

Finally, as even representatives of farm states are saying, the most enduring help U.S. farmers can get is an open market to sell their products. They don’t want — and shouldn’t get — help for being uncompetitive or not having access to markets. In one fell swoop with his trade war, Trump is making U.S. farmers uncompetitive and restricting their markets.

This bailout is occurring only because Trump handed farmers something they might need bailing out from. Take that away, and a lot of problems go away as well.

Yes, pork is the perfect word for it.

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