Industrial/Coporate Subsidies? Why?

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Industrial/Coporate Subsidies? Why?

Post by flamingfingers »

Interesting subject from Coyne:

Arguments for why Canadians should pay for industrial handouts hold no value

By Andrew Coyne, Postmedia News January 16, 2013 5:02 PM

What gives a thing value? I mean in the economic sense. When we say this good or service is worth more than that one, what do we mean? How do we know?

There are a hundred ways to answer that in the non-economic sense: for the pleasure it affords, you might say, or the moral use to which it is put.

Or for the craftsmanship, or sheer effort that went into it. All of these have some validity, and it would be hard to say which was truer than the others.

But in an economic sense, the answer is clear: the economic value of a thing is measured by what people are willing to pay for it at the margin.

That’s not only its value to them: in most cases, that is also its value to society. There are exceptions, where a thing entails benefits or more usually costs for others besides the buyer and seller, but for the most part the maxim holds: a thing is worth making, in economic terms, if its value to society, measured by what people are willing to pay for it, exceeds its costs, that is the value of the goods and services purchased in its production.

That doesn’t invalidate those other, non-economic ways of measuring value. We may still wish to assign some value to a thing, collectively, beyond the value that people actually do assign it, given a choice — but if so, we should at least recognize that this comes at an economic cost. Which gets us into thornier questions, such as who should decide, and who should pay, and why there is typically so little overlap between the first group and the second.

I offer all this as a prelude to discussing the latest raft of government handouts to corporate Canada: $250-million to the auto sector in the form of a renewed federal contribution to the Automobile Innovation Fund, on the theory that automobile manufacturers should not be expected to innovate on their own; $400-million more in federal subsidies to the venture capital business — yes, you read that right, government-funded venture capital — to be dispersed through a handful of private equity funds. By this bit of sleight of hand the venture capitalists were persuaded they were still venture capitalists and not wards of the state, while the prime minister was persuaded that this did not involve the government in “picking winners.”

The economic arguments against this are well known, and have nothing to do with whether the recipients turn out to be winners or losers. The subsidies given to any one industry or sector come at the cost of every other: costs measured not just by the taxes they must pay, but in the capital, labour and sales diverted into the subsidized sector. Fading industrial dinosaur or high-tech start-up, the fact that a particular sort of enterprise cannot raise as much capital as it would like on its own does not make the case for governments to supply it: most often there is good reason for investors’ reluctance, namely the anemic returns they are likely to collect.

What’s interesting is the response of the proponents of these industrial handouts, whose ranks now include at least one former economist: not only do they fail to present any economic arguments for them, but neither do they offer even non-economic arguments — or not openly. Rather, they rely on a number of what might be called pseudo-economic arguments for why Canadians should pay (and pay, and pay) through their governments for things they would not pay for willingly. These include:

- Because we’ve been doing so until now. That is, the sector has grown so large, largely thanks to previous subsidies, and employs so many people, that any reduction in subsidies would come at an unacceptable loss of jobs and output in that sector. But subsidy destroys jobs just as surely as it creates them, in the sectors that were not so favoured. It follows the reverse also applies.

- Because others do so. As in, “we can’t be the only boy scouts in the world.” The latest handout to the auto industry was greeted by a sorrowful Globe and Mail report on how Canadian auto subsidies were falling behind those of other countries, in an industry in which governments are obligated to “pay to play.” But the willingness of other governments to subsidize their industries makes the case against us doing likewise, rather than for. If there’s no possibility of gaining even sectoral advantage, what’s the point?

- Because some industries are just special. The advocate of auto subsidies, though he may congratulate himself on his pragmatism, starts from one piece of divine dogma: that Canada must be in the automobile business. But this is just a special case of a more general insistence on the primacy of manufacturing, rooted in little more than a cultish preference for making things. (You can’t hold a service in your hand, now can you?)

This is, I repeat, not an economic argument. It has nothing to do with benefits or costs, or value in the economic sense. If it’s about anything, it’s about aesthetics, or a sort of sectoral snobbery, the kind that finds the prospect of being “hewers of wood and drawers of water” so unspeakably vulgar. And yet it is presented as if it were an economic argument.

The Macdonald Laurier Institute has just put out a study debunking the “Dutch Disease” thesis: the rise in the dollar had other causes than just rising resource prices; the decline in manufacturing had other causes than just the dollar, and so on, giving reason to doubt whether the resource boom came at the expense of manufacturing. But surely the real objection is: so what if it did? What’s so special about manufacturing?

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Re: Industrial/Coporate Subsidies? Why?

Post by Homeownertoo »

Why corporate subsidies? I suppose because corporations pay taxes and lobby governments. If we eliminated corporate taxation, it would seriously undercut any corporate sense of entitlement to government coffers. We also subsidize business/industry in a misguided attempt to give 'our side' a leg up on the foreign competiton. And because other foreign entities such as China, which pursues a mercantilist policy, don't play by the written or unwritten rules of free trade.

So there's a few reasons. None of them are very laudatory, hence the controversy.
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Re: Industrial/Coporate Subsidies? Why?

Post by flamingfingers »

Now this from the Fraser Institute:

The View from the West
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Conservatives pour $6.4 billion into corporate welfare
By: Mark Milke
Posted: 03/30/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 9

IF there was a theme in the recent federal budget, it was how chock full it was with new corporate welfare. The underlying refrain was how big government will help big business with your tax dollars.

For example, early on in Budget 2013, it is clear that crony capitalism is scattered throughout. On Page 6, Ottawa promises $1-billion to the aerospace sector over five years through the Strategic Aerospace and Defence Initiative; that's the main government program for disbursing taxpayer cash to the aerospace sector.

In addition, the federal government promises a new program for aerospace companies with an initial cost to taxpayers of $110 million over four years and then $55 million every year after that. So, during the next five years, Canada's aerospace sector will receive almost $1.2 billion in new corporate welfare money.

That's only the start of the corporate welfare list. Ottawa will deposit $920 million into the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, a corporate-welfare slush fund, and spend $92 million on forestry businesses (Page 7).

Page 9 lists $60 million for the Venture Capital Action Plan (in addition to $400 million announced in January), $37 million for granting councils to help business commercialize their products, and $325 million will go to so-called green technologies.
Buried more deeply in the budget, Ottawa announced it will "partner" with the provinces to deliver $3-billion to the agricultural sector (Page 92). It's not clear how much will come from the federal government and how much from the provinces but all such money originates with taxpayers anyway (or future taxpayers, given Ottawa still runs red ink budgets).

On Page 117, the federal Conservatives re-announce earlier plans to give $250 million to the automotive sector through the Automotive Innovation Fund. One page later, another $145 million is promised for the Automotive Partnership Canada fund.
Add it all up and Budget 2013, in conjunction with a few announcements earlier this year, provides $6.4 billion in new corporate welfare, courtesy of Canadian families. That number doesn't include corporate welfare announced in previous budgets.

Bizarrely, in a related example of picking winners and losers, the government announced an extension of the accelerated-capital-cost allowance to manufacturing companies investing in equipment.

While the ability to write off equipment more swiftly is not corporate welfare per se, the sector-specific picking is curious. After all, Budget 2013 notes how investment in machinery and equipment in the Canadian manufacturing sector has seen stronger growth than similar investment in that sector in the United States (Page 41).

The government also notes how research and development by sector is already strongest in manufacturing, with more than $7 billion invested in 2012 (Page 97). That compares to the category of mining, oil and gas extraction, at less than $1 billion last year.

Favouritism aside -- and neither sector should be favoured -- such accelerated write-offs are at least not a transfer of tax dollars. That is unlike crony capitalism where corporate welfare is a political act that promotes the illusion of "doing something" for the economy but at the expense of taxpayers in general.

Budget 2013 makes the usual defences for crony capitalism: jobs are created with the help of a micro-managing federal government. Thus, in his budget speech, the finance minister asserted the Conservative budget reflects a belief of Canadians that "their government will be a benign and silent partner in their enterprise."

Three questions for the finance minister: How do you know Canadians want you to use their tax dollars to be a "silent partner" with business? Why must government be a "partner" in any business enterprise through loans and grants? Why not just let corporations compete without dragging taxpayers into the ring?

Corporate welfare is a politically created illusion with no visible means of support. Economists who study crony capitalism are clear about why it fails: money is taken from taxpayers and productive businesses. In the case of businesses, such money is sometimes transferred to businesses in the same sector at the expense of the "giving" business.

This is why the "we're creating jobs" argument from the federal Conservatives as it concerns business subsidies is wrong. If that money were left with individuals and businesses, it would have been spent elsewhere or saved and invested. Instead, the federal Tories are addicted to the political picking of corporate welfare winners and losers.

The title of Budget 2013 was Jobs, Growth, and Long-Term Prosperity. It should have been "Grants, Subsidies and Eternal Business Handouts." It should also have had a price tag attached for taxpayers on the front cover: $6.4 billion in new corporate welfare.

Mark Milke is a senior fellow with the Fraser Institute and author of several studies on corporate welfare.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 30, 2013 J11 ... 93501.html
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