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Stephen Mihm

Sugar Industry Is Exhibit A of Tariff Favoritism

Thanks, taxpayers: The farm bill shows how protections for big business become permanent.

Sweet deal.

Sweet deal.

Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Congress last week quietly passed the farm bill, a vast collage of legislation affecting the agricultural economy of the United States. This law, which Congress updates every five years, undergoes constant revision.

But a few things never change. Foremost among these are the elaborate protections and subsidies given to nation’s wealthy farmers of sugarcane and sugar beets. Their ability to fend off foreign competition for nearly two centuries is a case study in the way that protectionist measures can become political economy zombies, defying all efforts to kill them off.