Those who disapprove of the term "corporate welfare" - mainly those whose interests are allied to large businesses which rely on governments for much of their support - might consider an alternative term: "making choices in the marketplace."
Free-enterprisers usually are quick to suggest that this is something governments ought not to do. Often, they are right about that, but their eagerness to push the argument often depends on which marketplace, and which players, are involved.
Enter the recent talk in Washington state about a new sports facility for the Seattle Supersonics, whose owners say that their team is unprofitable and cannot be made profitable without a new facility. Were the Supersonics owners planning to invest their own money in their own business and build the thing, the only issue under debate would be the precise location and maybe the traffic flow. There would be, in other words, no substantial debate.
There is debate, though, because this business wants its costs and losses to be made up by the taxpayers.
Tacoma News Tribune columnist Peter Callaghan outines the issue cleanly in today's column, noting first, "The Mariners in 1995. The Sea-hawks in 1997. The SuperSonics in 2005. The names change but the rhetoric and the politics stay the same."
The idea is getting a round of "no" from elected officials, so far. Callaghan suspects - probably rightly - that the will to resist will fade as the threat of a move is pressed.
Finally, in a tone that suggests defeat, he asks plaintively, "If the Sonics want to claim the team is losing money, they should be required to prove it. And when they get the $200 million to $250 million in public money, there should be an easily enforceable mechanism to make sure they continue to tell their “partners” – the taxpayers – how the business is doing."
After the past experiences, why is resistance so hard? The rise of Tim Eyman suggests that Washington taxpayers don't like being smacked upside the head; but the recurrence of public sports facility funding suggests that maybe they do.