I Didn’t Believe This Meme, You Shouldn’t Either

Over the last couple days I have seen this meme in a couple different places from far left social media sources.

Source: Facebook
Source: Facebook

This meme alleges that average taxpayer pays $36 per year to fund the food stamp program while they pay oil companies $5,737 per year in subsidies and asks us to “imagine if we spent as much money protecting life as we do destroying it.”

I found this to be very difficult to believe so I looked at the sources cited.

Food Stamp Citation Debunked

For the $36 in food stamps (itself a redistribution of property, be we’ll leave that aside for now), the source is a two year old article in the progressive news website truthout.

In this article, which is professing outrage over $5 billion in sequester cuts to the U.S. federal food stamp program in 2012 (a sequester proposed by the White House in 2011 and signed into law by President Obama) the author states that “the average American taxpayer making $50,000 per year paid just $36 toward the food stamps program.”, or just 10 cents a day.  The source for this was a website that cited as its source another progressive news website. Since neither of these is an “original” source I decided to do my own research.

I was unable to locate a U.S. government data source to support the $36 per year allegation. What I did find, using U.S. government data sources and doing my own math, is that in 2012 the total cost of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) was $74.6 billion (excluding “Other costs”). The cost per taxpayer (excluding returns filed with no Adjusted Gross Income (AGI)) of the program was $522.54 per year or $1.43 per day, 143 times as much as alleged by the article’s author. For the 8% of taxpayers making $40,000 to $50,000 per year, the cost per year was $6,862.39 or $18.80 per day.

Source: Prepared by author from sources shown
Source: Prepared by author from sources shown

Oh, and the $5 billion cut the truthout author was complaining about represents an immaterial one-tenth of one percent of the 2012 budget of $74.6 billion.

In the absence of a citation to a verifiable U.S. government source supporting the $36 per year amount, I consider this part of the meme DEBUNKED.

Oil Company Subsidies

The source cited for the evil oil company subsidies is an article in the left leaning U.K. website the guardian. This article, in turn and not surprisingly, cites another source: an estimate by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This source does not include any U.S. government data supporting the $700 billion figure, so I decided to dig a little deeper.

The IMF paper is titled “How Large Are Global Energy Subsidies?” It is a discussion of “energy subsidies at the global and regional levels”. It defines “energy subsidies” as the difference between actual prices paid by consumers in a semi-free market and an artificial “benchmark price” based on the actual cost of producing the energy, a hypothetical cost called “Pigouvian taxation”, and other estimates of externalities like road congestion, accidents and road damage, as well as CO2 emissions that many people believe cause climate change. In other words, the “subsidy” numbers are made up to begin with.

What is a “subsidy”? Wikipedia defines a “subsidy” as “a form of financial aid or support extended to an economic sector generally with the aim of promoting economic and social policy…Subsidies come in various forms including direct (cash grants, interest-free loans) and indirect…”

The subsidies the IMF is complaining about are mostly of the indirect nature and have to do with the environmental externalities and mythical climate change costs associated with fossil fuel use. While there are components of subsidies to energy producers (tax credits for installing clean burning technology, for example) these represent reductions in tax receipts, not outlays from a governmental entity.

The meme uses the $700 billion from the guardian article as its source for the $5,737 per taxpayer number ($700B/5,737 = 122 million taxpayers, lower than the amount in 2012 from my table above). There is no source cited for this $700 billion, so I consider it an unverified amount, and in any event most likely represents indirect subsidies, not direct outlays of the United States government funded by taxpayers (and increasingly by debt holders).  In the absence of a citation to a U.S. government source supporting $700 billion in direct outlays of the U.S. government, I consider this part of the meme DEBUNKED.

False and Misleading

This meme implying that U.S. taxpayers are subsidizing energy companies to the tune of $5,737 per year while only paying $36 to fund the food stamp program is misleading and outright dishonest.

First, the amounts cited cannot be reliably verified or recalculated and most likely are from different years. Second, the IMF paper only reports by region, with the U.S. included in “Advanced Economies”, it does not separately report United States energy subsidies. Finally, as I and others have written, fossil fuels support human life on this planet, not destroy it.

What’s sad about this meme is that the average person who wants to believe this will just share it with others and not evaluate its truth. Even if one does want to look into it, it has “sources” so it must be true! Only if one takes a critical look and attempts to verify the amounts cited using objective, reliable data is this meme exposed as the falsehood that it is.

By Richard D. Turnquist

May 21, 2015


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