Paying Dead Farmers Not to Farm:

Today's Washington Post reports that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has continued to make subsidy payments to farmers who are deceased.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture distributed $1.1 billion over seven years to the estates or companies of deceased farmers and routinely failed to conduct reviews required to ensure that the payments were properly made, according to a government report.

In a selection of 181 cases from 1999 to 2005, the Government Accountability Office found that officials approved payments without any review 40 percent of the time. . . .

In a letter responding to the GAO report, the Agriculture Department said that the payments were not necessarily examples of fraud or abuse and that auditors did not prove any specific cases of cheating. The department's field offices defended the practice of routinely paying dead farmers' estates without fully investigating the claims, citing staff shortages and competing priorities. The agency also said that any overpayments would amount to less than 1 percent of farm subsidies paid between 1999 and 2005.

jvarisco (www):
If it was lesss than one percent, then the total would be over a hundred billion. A hundred billion in farm subsidies over seven years? That's almost as costly as Iraq.
7.23.2007 12:25pm
Assuming they're buried on the farm, they'd tend to fertilize the crops and push up production. So the policy makes sense.
7.23.2007 12:30pm
nrein1 (mail):
jvarisco, the war in Iraq is costing a lot more then 100 bil over 7 years.
7.23.2007 12:37pm
wt (www):
In all fairness, the dead people kept up their end of the bargain.
7.23.2007 12:46pm
Edward A. Hoffman (mail):
Wow -- the administration even treats dead farmers better than wounded vets.
7.23.2007 12:54pm
It figures. Keeping the Elysian Fields cultivated takes a government subsidy these days.
7.23.2007 1:17pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I am somehow not nearly as outraged as I should be. The whole farm subsidy program is pork written large. And, thus, no one is really surprised that people cheat just a little bit to keep the gravy rolling in.

Yes, the theory is nice, that small farmers sometimes need help through hard times. But why should small farmers need it any more than small software vendors, small electronics firms, or, in my case, small law firms? The reality is that much of farming is now big business, and these farm subsidy programs essentially are there to salve our nostalgia about our rural past. Why should the small farmers who are supposed to be the recipients of these programs supported in the first place? All it does is delay the economic rationalization of the farming industry, to the detriment of the taxpayers and consumers (who are most often one in the same, but getting hit twice).

Of course, much of this is a result of our federalist system. The Senate has two Senators from each state, regardless of population. And, thus, the agricultural states, with their much lower population densities, get undue representation in this body, resulting in this sort of pork.

The only good thing about our system is in comparison with other countries. Japan and the EC (esp. France) are notorious for their farm subsidies and restrictive agricultural tariffs, all to protect agribusinesses more obsolete than ours.
7.23.2007 1:46pm
SenatorX (mail):
The government should do what it did to me when I got out of the Army. A year later I was in college, working nights delivering pizza, and had no money at all (I got half benefits for having a GED) when I recieved a letter in the mail.

Seems they had overpaid me on my exit (leave I didn't take and stuff). Please send the total PLUS INTEREST in the return envelope within 2 weeks.
7.23.2007 2:12pm
I find, although anecdotally, that bigger farmers benefit considerably from subsidies, not just the little guys. Further, big farmers know how to work the system because they are better able to absorb the initial transaction costs associated with figuring out the system.
7.23.2007 2:14pm
bornyesterday (mail) (www):
Seems like one of the most effective uses of federal money I've heard of in a while. How can it not work?
7.23.2007 2:24pm
Jay Myers:
Let's not overlook the fact that zombie farmers can work day and night without sleeping and thus outproduce their living counterparts. This is very sound policy.
7.23.2007 4:03pm
Ken Arromdee:
Paying people to not grow food strikes me as one of those issues that people rail against because it makes a lousy sound bite. Whether the arguments against it are legitimate is entirely secondary; that isn't why it gets attention.
7.23.2007 5:11pm
Ilya Somin:
Dead farmers can not farm just as well as living ones, maybe even better since they'll never be tempted to renege on the deal. So why not pay them just as much for it:)?
7.23.2007 5:45pm
Insignificant Dallasite:

Paying people to not grow food strikes me as one of those issues that people rail against because it makes a lousy sound bite. Whether the arguments against it are legitimate is entirely secondary; that isn't why it gets attention.

Assuming for the moment that there is some rational reason to pay farmers not to farm, shouldn't we only be paying the ones who are actually capable of farming?
7.23.2007 5:59pm
This whole thing is almost two centuries old. Just check out a classic "Dead Souls" by Gogol. "Souls" in the 19th century parlance of the original meant "farmers" (serfs actually, but that's not relevant).
7.23.2007 6:19pm
Well, perhaps they're all still voting...
7.23.2007 7:24pm
Mark F. (mail):
Is any candidate besides Ron Paul proposing to end this farm welfare outrage? The farm lobby has had us taxpayers bent over and taking it without lube for years.
7.23.2007 7:27pm
Grange95 (mail):
Sure the farm program has major flaws ... but before we attack this particular "ourage", maybe we should ask if this is a situation where the farmers in question signed up their farms for various programs prior to their deaths. Often, farm program benefits run with the land in question, not to an individual (i.e., the benefits are paid for taking a particular piece of land out of production, or to pay crop insurance for yields on a particular piece of land). If the benefits in question do run with the land, I have a hard time seeing why the fact the farmer died makes much difference to eligibility for benefits.
7.24.2007 9:08am
Edward A. Hoffman (mail):

If the benefits are supposed to run with the land then they should be going to whoever became the owner after the original participant's death. If a farmer in such a program dies and you buy the farm from his estate (or inherit it directly), any benefits that run with the land should go to you and not to the dead farmer or his heirs.

P.S. This thread has been treating the topic *much* too seriously.
7.24.2007 4:52pm
robertemmet (mail):

If the benefits are supposed to run with the land

Oh, goodie. Farm benefits for Blackacre. O is boviously dead, but what estate did he grant A? ;-)
7.25.2007 8:39pm
robertemmet (mail):
boviously obviously
7.25.2007 8:40pm