The Occupy Wall Street protesters aren't good at articulating what they want, but one of their demands is "end corporate welfare." Well, welcome aboard. Some of us have been fighting crony capitalism for decades, and it's good to have new allies if liberals have awakened to the dangers of the corporate welfare state.
Corporate welfare is the offer of special favors—cash grants, loans, guarantees, bailouts and special tax breaks—to specific industries or firms. The government doesn't track the overall cost of these programs, but in 2008 the Cato Institute made an attempt and came up with $92 billion for fiscal 2006, which is more than the U.S. government spends on homeland security.
That annual cost may have doubled to $200 billion in this new era of industry bailouts and subsidies. According to the House Budget Committee, the 2009 stimulus bill alone contained more than $80 billion in "clean energy" subsidies, and tens of billions more went for the auto bailout and cash for clunkers, as well as aid for the mortgage industry through programs to refinance or buy up toxic loans.
This industrial policy model of government as a financial partner with business can sound appealing, but the government's record in picking winners and losers has been dreadful.
As important as this economic damage is the corrosive effect that corporate welfare has on public trust in government. Americans understand that powerful government invariably favors the powerful, who have the means and access to massage Congress and the bureaucracy that average citizens do not. This really is aid to the 1% paid by the other 99%.
With American federal debt headed toward the worst European levels, this is an issue that should unite the tea party, the Occupy Wall Street protesters and Congressional deficit-cutters.