Thursday, April 25, 2013

Corporate Welfare and the Case for Taxes and Regulation

Most everyone knows the most common use of welfare as helping those in danger of being left behind by society. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP although often still referred to as Food Stamps, and Medicaid are the most well known programs available to people. And no, Social Security and Medicare are not welfare programs.

But just as there are welfare programs for individuals and families, there are also welfare programs for corporations and the rich and powerful. These are just not given names to make them easily identifiable as welfare programs yet the end result is governments at all levels wind up subsidizing for profit industries at the expense of the taxpayer. Privatizing the profits, socializing the losses in other words.

Let me offer a few examples. WalMart is one of the easiest examples. They are a profitable business yet far too frequently, WalMart employees are forced to use public assistance, i.e., the pretty much textbook definition of the working poor (see here, here, here, here, here, and here). If you check der Google for "WalMart employees public assistance" there are over 900K hits in .34 seconds.

Privatizing the profits, socializing the losses.

Next up are oil and gas companies. Just for last year (2012) the Big Five oil companies (ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, BP, and ConocoPhillips) had combined profits of $117B (high of $45B for Exxon down to 'only' $8B for ConocoPhillips). These are just the biggest oil companies and does not cover the Koch Brothers Amerada Hess, T Boone Pickens, and many other "smaller" oil companies (smaller being a relative term). While the amount of subsidies varies depending on how they are defined, contrary to Forbes magazine's contention, they do exist. As even an earlier Forbes article concedes (although they paint it as "everybody loves them.") Christian Science Monitor places the subsidies at $41B a couple of years ago. The Atlantic in March discussed over $38B in Big Oil and gas subsidies identified by the Obama administration for deletion over the next 10 years. This chart shows the annual subsidies for Oil and gas at $10B to $52B per year. You will notice that all of these guesstimates on the amount of annual subsidies are well below the annual profits.

Just these past few weeks we have seen a few more examples of privatizing the profits and socializing the losses. Exxon's oil spill/pipeline break in Mayflower, AR. Due to a loophole in the law, Exxon will not have to pay into a federal cleanup fund after this disaster. The West, TX fertilizer plant explosion:

"This explosion, I think, surprised a lot of people," said Senator John Cornyn. "It is no surprise that ammonium nitrate is explosive under the right conditions."

No one could have anticipated - unless they did.

Tax breaks. Lack of regulations. No inspections. Ka-boom!

I wish I had the answers or the magic wand but I do not have the magic wand and elected officials at all levels do not have the will to find and implement the answers. It might hurt the (un)free market and cost a few cents of profit.

Privatize the profits. Socialize the losses. Avoid the taxes and regulations and let the tax payer pick up the pieces. John Galt would be so very proud.

And because I can:

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