Should the Government Promote Fishing?

May 12, 2010

A Cato essay on special-interest spending explains how many federal programs deliver subsidies to particular groups of individuals and businesses while harming taxpayers and damaging the overall economy. A major reason why spending has spun out of control in Washington is that thousands of special interest groups have secured a slice of the spending pie, and they fight tooth and nail to make sure policymakers keep baking.

 As the essay explains, taxpaying citizens are almost powerless to stop these subsidies: 

At the same time, average citizens do not have a strong incentive to battle against particular subsidies because each program costs just a small part of their total tax bill. Besides, when average citizens do speak out against particular programs, they are outgunned by the paid professionals who defend each program. These professionals are experts at the complex features of programs, and they are skilled at generating media support for their causes. One technique they use is to cloak the private interests of subsidy recipients in public interest clothing—for example, they often proclaim that increased funding is essentially to the nation’s well-being. 
As a fisherman, I became aware of a federal program targeted at one of my recreational pastimes. Buried in the Interior Department’s budget is a program funded with federal taxes collected on the sale of motorboat fuel and excise taxes paid by manufacturers of fishing tackle. A non-profit organization called the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation is then granted the money to use in promoting fishing.
The RBFF receives around $14 million a year, 13 percent of which is spent on staff salaries and benefits. The latest annual report claims that its activities have generated $25 million in sales for the boating and fishing industries since 2007.
The idea for this program was hatched in the 1990s because recreational boating and fishing participation wasn’t keep up with general population growth in the United States. Federal, state, and industry officials got together and decided that a “national theme” was necessary to increase participation. And surprise, another government program was born.
But as a trade publication points out, the promise of increased participation hasn’t materialized: 
The Foundation has received funding of almost $80 million in that time, courtesy of federal excise taxes paid on fishing and boating by manufacturers and importers, while the number of adult anglers fell by over a million. 
I’ve been fishing all of my life, so I support the sport’s growth (as long as newcomers stay away from my favorite spots!). However, if the fishing and boating industry wants to promote its activities, it should pay for it itself. The excise tax is paid by manufacturers of fishing tackle, but then they simply pass the burden on to consumers. Besides, it makes little sense to set up a costly bureaucratic tax and spending scheme to benefit a private industry.
Maybe kids should be playing more board games instead of video games since board games are more family-friendly. Should the board game industry lobby Congress to create a program promoting board games? Maybe kids should get more involved with outdoor activities like hiking or mountain biking. Should the outdoor equipment industry get a federal program encouraging kids to take up those activities?
Unfortunately, our nation is increasingly becoming a nanny state. Government officials want to control what food we eat, what cars we drive, and now what hobbies we pursue. What made this country great was individuals freely pursuing happiness in their own unique ways, not the ways decided on by politicians in Washington.   



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