Should cotton be grown in the United States, even if it's more expensive to grow it here and less expensive to grow it elsewhere? Should cotton be grown through muscular terraforming in places naturally unsuited to it, like, say, the desert in Arizona?
Congress thinks so. Congress thinks that life would be much more rewarding for America, and for American cotton growers, and for people employed by American cotton growers, if we keep growing cotton here, even if other growers can grow it cheaper elsewhere. Congress is so convinced of this that they are willing to spend a very large amount of your tax dollars in subsidies to cotton growers. Call it what it is — the softer side of welfare.
Congress pays cotton growers $3 billion a year to grow cotton in America. In fact, we pay them to grow cotton in odd places where cotton has not traditionally been grown, like the Arizona desert. It may be strategic: in an event of a war with cotton-producing nations, we wouldn't want our supply of ironic t-shirts to be depleted. Naturally the countries that produce cotton think this is bullshit, and complain, and threaten a trade war. But Congress has an answer for that, too. They just pay off the cotton growers in the complaining countries with your tax dollars: for instance, they pay $147 million to Brazilians.
So. To sum up, Congress uses $3 billion per year of your tax dollars to pay cotton growers to grow cotton, most of which goes to large corporate growers, because those growers can't compete on the open market. Then Congress pays $147 million a year of your tax dollars to Brazilian cotton growers because they can't compete in the market now distorted by the $3 billion Congress already handed out. It's only a matter of time before the American cotton growers insist that Congress pay them more in subsidies because the money given to the Brazilians has made it too hard to compete again.
I don't want to go out on a limb here, but this strikes me as potentially somewhat inefficient. Perhaps we should just take a more modest amount of tax dollars — say, $10 million — and pay it directly to the members of Congress who have cotton growers in their districts, and cut out the middlemen. Or maybe there's a non-cotton answer that's even cheaper. For instance, to steal a theme from our friend TJIC, let me point this out to members of Congress: Nylon rope is only about fifteen bucks for 50 feet.
Edit: Patrick points out that I forgot that he already ridiculed this, and I even commented on it, months ago. In my defense, my memory is fading as I age. Also, I like to think that my NPR link will draw a more hip, affluent, urban audience than Patrick's country-music-themed post.
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