Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Paying Dead Farmers Not to Farm

The Washington Post reports on a study that shows that the Federal governement paid $1.1 billion over 7 years to farmers who were dead, some of which likely was paid to them not to grow on some portion of their farms. Ilya Somin defends such payments, saying:

It’s hard to deny that dead farmers can do just as good a job of not farming as living ones; perhaps even better! At the very least, paying the dead not to farm isn’t worse than paying the living to do the same “job.”

He’s got a point. I especially like his argument about rent-seeking:

Once you start subsidizing the living, they will have strong incentives to lobby for ever larger subsidies and to reward politicians who hand them out, while punishing those who refuse. This activity increases deadweight losses by deterring ever-more productive activity, and also by diverting resources to the unproductive activity of lobbying and away from the socially useful purposes. Economists call this “rent dissipation.” The good news: the vicious cycle of rent-seeking, lobbying, and rent dissipation is not a problem if subsidies for not farming are confined to the dead.

He’s right; dead people rarely hire lobbyists.