Saturday, July 25, 2009

Money for Nothing and the Chicks are Free

I read today that the Obama Administration is considering the idea of paying farmers in Afghanistan to NOT grow the poppy flowers that ultimately are processed into heroin and sold all over the world. This killer crop not only undermines our country’s efforts to combat drug use, but profits help to fund Taliban terrorists who use them to wage war against us. Afghanistan is the world's leading source of opium, cultivating 93 percent of the world's heroin-producing poppy crop. The Taliban has set up a sophisticated business in which farmers are paid ahead of time to be poppy sharecroppers, and the Taliban takes care of getting the crop to market. The United Nations estimates that opium poppies earned insurgents an estimated $50 million to $70 million last year. The Bush Administration took a different approach by burning these crops, but was criticized for driving the farmers into the waiting arms of the Taliban.

I was never a big fan of paying farmers (or anyone) to NOT do something. For many years our government has been paying huge subsidies to U.S. farmers to NOT grow certain crops because of surplus supplies of wheat, corn and other commodities. Generally, economic theory and the marketplace regulate oversupplies by the simple expedient of supply and demand; as supplies of a product increase in the marketplace, demand shrinks and prices drop. At some point, growers of these crops get the message and grow something else for which there is a greater demand. To pay these farmers for not growing these crops and to leave their fields unplanted just goes against common sense and the traditional American work ethic.

Why should my tax dollars go to support a farmer who is essentially doing nothing? If wheat is in a state of oversupply, then plant soybeans or whatever crops the world is demanding. If you can’t make a living farming, then sell your land and move on to something else. Give someone else a chance to use your land for more productive purposes. If we extended this ridiculous logic, the very foundations of economics would be shaken. If I’m a computer programmer and the job market is flooded with programmers, should the government pay me to not seek work as a programmer? It’s the same thing as far as I can see.

As a political conservative, I worry when the government gets involved in anything. The massive investments they’ve made in the banking, insurance and auto industries are just mind boggling. I know the economy was in free fall, and it was put there by greedy Capitalists, but where do we draw the line? President Obama and his people did what they thought was right, and I am rooting for a happy ending to this story, but I have my doubts. What if General Motors and Chrysler fail despite the massive infusion of taxpayer dollars? Are we throwing good money (mine and yours) after bad?

I guess only time will tell if the economic policies we are pursuing are the right ones. Clearly the system failed in a big way, and we need to learn from our mistakes to make it better. Getting back to the poppy farmers….what’s to stop them from taking our money and growing the poppies anyhow? Clearly we can’t monitor every remote Afghan farm to see if they are keeping up their end. I truly believe the maxim: “There is no free lunch”. Somebody pays for everything. Giving people money for nothing, whether its welfare, food stamps, health care or for not growing something gets put on our collective tax tab. Helping people who may be down on their luck for a while is fine, but don’t subsidize a whole permanent economic underclass with my hard-earned money. Definitely a bad idea and not the way America became the greatest country in the world.


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