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Abolish the Agriculture Department


Amidst the big dispute between liberals and conservatives over race in theShirley Sherrod controversy, I’d like to make a libertarian point: Rather than give Sherrod her job back at the Department of Agriculture, let’s instead simply abolish the Agriculture Department, along with all the socialist programs that enable those welfare-state bureaucrats to dole out other people’s hard-earned money to farmers.

Because we’ve been born and raised under the countless departments and agencies of the U.S. government, we automatically assume that they are a necessary part of our lives. Nonsense! Just because the only way of life we have ever known is that of a welfare state (and a warfare state) doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re saddled with this way of life into perpetuity. Every generation has the right to change its form of government. Just because previous generations have chosen to embrace welfare-state socialism and economic interventionism doesn’t mean that current generations are precluded from embracing economic liberty and free markets instead.

The misleading videotape that originated within conservative circles implied that Sherrod had denied agricultural assistance to a white farmer as part of her job at the Agriculture Department. The suggestion, false as it turned out, was that Sherrod was guilty of racism in determining agricultural assistance to that farmer.

But take notice of the conservative mindset: Conservatives are not upset with the fact that someone is distributing welfare largess to farmers. They’re just upset with how the program is being handled. The last thing they would ever think of doing is challenging the premises of agricultural welfare or the very existence of the Department of Agriculture.

Needless to say, liberals are no different. In fact, they think it’s great that the federal government is helping farmers. They consider welfare-state bureaucrats as caring, compassionate, saintly people, sort of like governmental Mother Theresas.

But the fact is that government has no more business providing welfare to farmers than it does to anyone else. Where is the morality in forcibly taking some people’s money from them and giving it to others? Who’s the compassionate saint in this process? The federal bureaucrat? The taxpayer? The IRS agent? Congress? The president? The voters?

Actually, none of the above. When “help” to another person is the result of force or coercion, the entire process is morally delegitimized.

Suppose I break into your house and steal $10,000 that you have hidden under your mattress. I take the money and give it to a farmer who is about to lose his farm in foreclosure due to recent crop failures. You discover that I’ve done this.

Are you going to call me a saint? Are you going to thank me for converting you into a good person? After all, don’t forget that it’s your money that saved the farmer.

No, you’re going to label me a thief, and rightfully so. It doesn’t matter if I helped the farmer save his farm. I had no right to steal your money to do it.

How is it any different, in a moral sense, if I run to Congress and persuade it to impose a $10,000 tax on you, which the Agriculture Department then turns around and gives to the farmer?

It isn’t any different at all. Congress has no moral (or constitutional) right to do that. As President Grover Cleveland put it when he vetoed a farm subsidy bill to help out struggling farmers in Texas:

I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution; and I do not believe that the power and duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit. A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power and duty should, I think, be steadily resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that, though the people support the Government, the Government should not support the people.

Instead of giving Sherrod her job back at the Agriculture Department, better to simply abolish the Agriculture Department.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.