Popular phrase to describe the practice of distributing public assets, tax revenues, or favors to private corporations, where the transaction cannot be justified as a fair market exchange, i.e., the government gives out more than it gets back. Such government subsidies can take the form of direct spending (bailouts, R&D contracts), giveaways (public airwaves, mining royalties, low-interest loans), or tax breaks (credits, exemptions, deferrals, and deductions) Lobbyists favor tax breaks because they avoid yearly appropriations and settle into the tax code where Congress rarely ventures.

In the United States, current estimates of corporate welfare range from $80 billion to $195 billion a year at the Federal level alone, depending on who's counting (and whether they include capital gains tax breaks).

Phrase came into popular use in the media when Secretary of Labor Robert Reich used in during the 1994 Republican revolution which sought to end public welfare and government spending.

A great empire has been established for the sole purpose of raising up a nation of customers who should be obliged to buy from the shops of our different producers all the goods with which these could supply them. For the sake of that little enhancement of price which this monopoly might afford our producers, the home-consumers have been burdened with the whole expence of maintaining and defending that empire. For this purpose, and for this purpose only, in the two last wars, more than two hundred millions have been spent, and a new debt of more than a hundred and seventy millions has been contracted over and above all that had been expended for the same purpose in former wars. The interest of this debt alone is not only greater than the whole extraordinary profit which it ever could be pretended was made by the monopoly of the colony trade, but than the whole value of that trade, or than the whole value of the goods which at an average have been annually exported to the colonies.

Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations: Book IV, Chapter VIII

This was published in 1776. Apparently, business using government to fleece the public is not a new thing.

*sigh*

That probably means that it won't be changing anytime soon.

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