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A collection of short essays by Acton writers, click a link to jump to that article: 

Protecting farmers, or crony capitalism?

Michael Matheson Miller, Acton Institute

Reuters has reported that a large portion of U.S. farm aid went to the wealthiest farmers and advocacy groups:

More than half of the Trump administration’s $8.4 billion in trade aid payments to U.S. farmers through April was received by the top 10% of recipients, the country’s biggest and most successful farmers, a study by an advocacy group showed on Tuesday.

Highlighting an uneven distribution of the bailout, which was designed to help offset effects of the U.S.-China trade war, the Environmental Working Group said the top 1% of aid recipients received an average of more than $180,000 while the bottom 80% were paid less than $5,000 in aid.

The EWG, a Washington-based non-profit, said it obtained data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture through Freedom of Information Act requests for its research, the results of which could not be independently verified by Reuters.

As we discussed in the documentary, Poverty, Inc. and the PovertyCure DVD series, farming subsidies can have a negative impact on both small- and medium-sized American farmers, as well as farmers in the developing world.

Smaller farmers in the U.S. have to compete with subsidized big agricultural firms, and they must navigate complex regulations that make their farming more difficult and expensive. Joel Salatin highlights this problem in his book Everything I Want to Do is Illegal. Agricultural subsidies in the U.S. and Europe also distort world markets and can have negative effects on farmers in the developing world, who cannot compete with the free or artificially cheap food that arrives on an irregular schedule.


Christians in Iraq: The brutal truth

Samuel Gregg, Acton Institute

When it comes to understanding the present plight of Middle-Eastern Christianity, one author to whom I usually turn is Father Benedict Kiely. He’s the founder of Nasarean.org, which tries to help persecuted Christians in the Middle East.

Sometimes Kiely’s observations are difficult to read, not least because they force Western Christians to face up to the full nature of the plight confronting their confreres, which no amount of happy-talk can quite disguise. In a recent Catholic Herald article titled “The Harsh Truth about Christianity in Iraq,” for instance, Kiely marshals a formidable array of facts that underscore the bleak future facing Iraqi Christians.

Leaving aside the ongoing harassment, Iraqi Christians face major economic challenges. Once upon a time, Christians in Iraq and many other Middle Eastern nations were disproportionately represented among the commercial and business classes, partly because they were often legally restricted from entering other professions. That overrepresentation of Christians in commerce is still true in countries like Jordan and Lebanon.

However, in today’s Iraq, the situation is very different. As Kiely states, “The steady dwindling of the Christian population of Iraq continues because of the lack of security and employment. Without jobs, families have no incentive to stay, and without security they will not stay.”

Kiely also underlines another dimension of the problem: the awkward silence from so many Western Christian leaders about the plight of their Iraqi Christian brothers and sisters. He notes how Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil in Iraq views such Western Christians as being, as they are on so many other subjects, paralyzed by political correctness and fear of being labeled “phobic.”

“A phobia,” Kiely writes, “is an irrational fear: There is nothing irrational about the fears of Iraqi Christians.”


Should we deep-six the Jones Act?

Jordan Jorritsma, Acton Institute

In the past three years New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts have announced plans to build offshore wind farms that would generate hundreds of megawatts of power. But they face a major hurdle: the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, commonly referred to as “the Jones Act.” The Jones Act is what is known as a cabotage law, which protects a shipping industry from foreign competition.

There are four main requirements to be registered as a Jones Act-compliant ship. It must be built in the United States. It must be controlled by a company that is 75 percent U.S.-owned. It must be flagged (or registered) in the U.S., and 75 percent of the sailors must be American.

U.S. food aid data show that carrying goods on U.S.-flagged ships increases costs by as much as $50 to $60 a ton. The Maritime Administration (MARAD), an agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation dealing with waterborne transportation, reported in 2011 that it costs almost three times more to transport cargo on U.S.-flagged ships as opposed to foreign ships. Puerto Rican victims of Hurricane Maria may have lost 10 to 20 percent of their aid by being forced to use Jones Act-compliant vessels. Government reports have also found that it costs more than twice as much to produce a U.S.-flagged vessel than the same type of vessel in another country.

As long as wind farms are placed on the Outer Continental Shelf, the sites are bound by Jones Act restrictions. This means that ships from Europe, which is where the vast majority of offshore wind ships and expertise come from, cannot transport any equipment from the mainland to the worksite. If a company wants to use European installation vessels, they must transfer all of the equipment and components to a Jones Act-compliant vessel before transferring it to the European installation vessel. This only adds extra steps, and cost, to the process.

Americans deserve the benefits of competition in the shipping and wind sector. It is imperative that we realize that goal by repealing the Jones Act.

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