The Wall Street Journal published my letter responding to the Pigford class action lawyers today:
Harvesting Without Trying to Sow
In their March 27 response to my “Rotten Tomatoes for a Billion-Dollar Farm Payout,” Philip Fraas and David Frantz, the lead counsel for the Pigford case, disparage the notion that many black claimants merely “attempted to farm.” This assertion is tricky to reconcile with Mr. Frantz’s comments in late 2010. CNS.com reported that Pigford payouts “included those who were prevented from farming because they did not get USDA loans. ‘I personally worked with many, many young individuals who went through that,’ [David] Frantz said. ‘A typical scenario would be that, ‘I was born and raised on a farm and then I went into the army after high school. When I came back, I wanted to get back into farming and I went to the Farm Service Agency to get a loan so I could rent some land. My uncle was going to rent me 250 acres so I was going to raise beans. I went to get a loan and they turned me down.’ That’s a very common scenario.'”
According to Mr. Frantz, “I was going to raise beans” is sufficient grounds to demand and receive $50,000 in restitution from fellow Americans. Some Pigford claimants were lavishly compensated because they did not receive subsidized loans for which they never applied. The feds have been lax in policing in part because Attorney General Eric Holder pledged to Pigford claimants that they would see the “federal government standing not as an adversary, but as a partner.”
The farm count for Pigford payments is based on a definition of farmer unrelated to whether someone could even hope to earn a living. Almost 90% of black-owned farms in the 1980s had gross sales of less than $20,000 each. Most farmers (both white and black) in those sales classes consistently lost money every year in the 1980s. It made no sense to include these hobby farmers, part-time farmers and tax-farmers in any settlement class.
A version of this article appeared April 1, 2013, on page A12 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Harvesting Without Trying to Sow.