Book Review: The Big Handout

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"The Big Handout" by Thomas M. Kostigen (Rodale)

When you buy a bag of rice, eat a piece of supermarket chicken, or fill up your car at the pump, you’re participating in a subsidized market, with the government picking up part of the producer’s expenses. While subsidies are established with the best of intentions–to grow the economy, support domestic businesses, help citizens prosper–they’ve become so pervasive, complex, and entrenched that they pervert markets and unfairly create a host of winners and losers in the global economy. That’s the takeaway from The Big Handout, Thomas Kostigen’s highly informed rant against our financially leveraged world.

Kostigen has a breezy writing style with a perpetually outraged tone, but he’s talented at breaking down head-spinning economic relationships to draw out the fact that subsidies influence our world at every turn, often for the worse. He calculates that these payouts cost U.S. taxpayers $200 billion a year, many of them rewarding corporations and the wealthy while hurting the little guy and the environment. Even Kostigen, cranky as he is, acknowledges that eliminating subsidies altogether “isn’t going to happen.” But he argues that more government transparency–knowing exactly what we’re paying to whom, and why–will help steer us away from subsidized catastrophe.

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