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Archer Daniels Midland: A Case Study In Corporate Welfare
by James Bovard
James Bovard is an associate policy analyst with the Cato Institute. His most recent book is Shakedown: How the Government Screws You from A to Z (Viking, 1995).
The Archer Daniels Midland Corporation (ADM) has been the most prominent recipient of corporate welfare in recent U.S. history. ADM and its chairman Dwayne Andreas have lavishly fertilized both political parties with millions of dollars in handouts and in return have reaped billion-dollar windfalls from taxpayers and consumers. Thanks to federal protection of the domestic sugar industry, ethanol subsidies, subsidized grain exports, and various other programs, ADM has cost the American economy billions of dollars since 1980 and has indirectly cost Americans tens of billions of dollars in higher prices and higher taxes over that same period. At least 43 percent of ADM’s annual profits are from products heavily subsidized or protected by the American government. Moreover, every $1 of profits earned by ADM’s corn sweetener operation costs consumers $10, and every $1 of profits earned by its ethanol operation costs taxpayers $30
One of the most politically charged debates in Washington revolves around business subsidies known as “corporate welfare.” A number of policy organizations have published studies examining the corporate welfare phenomenon: what qualifies as corporate welfare, how much it costs taxpayers, and how much it damages the economy. This study examines the dynamics of corporate welfare somewhat differently by investigating ADM as a classic case study of how those subsidies are obtained, how the welfare state encourages such “rent seeking,” and how such practices fundamentally corrupt the political life of a nation. Congress’s expressed desire to foster a free marketplace cannot be taken seriously until ADM’s corporate hand is removed from the federal till.
ADM is certainly the nation’s most arrogant welfare recipient. And it is one of the few welfare recipients that spend millions of dollars each year advertising on Sunday morning television shows populated and watched by politicians. Chairman Dwayne Andreas’s and ADM’s success in farming Washington represents the rational result of contemporary government policies that turn elections into “an advanced auction of stolen goods,” as H. L. Mencken quipped. Thanks to its multi-million-dollar hustling in Washington, a company that lives and dies on the generosity of the American taxpayer has managed to get itself revered as a great public servant. Although ADM is not the only corporation with its hand out in Washington, it is easily one of the most successful beggars on the block.(1)
Andreas recently told a reporter for Mother Jones, “There isn’t one grain of anything in the world that is sold in a free market. Not one! The only place you see a free market is in the speeches of politicians. People who are not in the Midwest do not understand that this is a socialist country.”(2) Andreas’s comment about “no free markets” is like the old joke about the son who murdered his parents and then asked for the court’s mercy because he was an orphan. ADM champions political control over markets and then invokes that control as an excuse for its continued political manipulation. Andreas has exerted his influence in Washington to ensure that the U.S. form of “socialism” resembles 1930s’ Italian corporate statism: the government plunders the citizenry for the benefit of politically connected corporations. And, though Andreas does not like to admit it, there are many markets in the world for agricultural products that are not controlled by politicians.
I know it is from 1995 but what has changed in the past 13 years? They have gotten a whole lot bigger.