Download audioA Comedy of Errors

Sometimes the government is so sure it can solve our problems that it creates programs at odds with each other.

In a comedy of errors, the federal government tries to help migrant farm laborers by offering subsidized loans to farmers so they will build worker housing. At the same time, the government tries to help those same farm workers with free legal services.

When farmers balked at the loans because of all the paperwork involved, the government said, "Fine, take the loans and build worker housing, and we'll let you charge your tenants for utilities."

Enter the Michigan Migrant Legal Assistance Project, the government-funded group that helps migrant workers with legal problems. The Project filed a class-action lawsuit, claiming that the government couldn't allow farmers to charge workers for utilities.

The government backed down and the farmers had to reimburse all utility payments. The lawsuit scared farmers into not building farm labor housing in Michigan. As a result of the government's action, the farmers lost, the migrant workers lost, and the taxpayers lost.

When the government seeks to "do good" with other people's money, it often serves to only make matters worse. Far better to protect worker rights, while allowing farmers and workers to work out their own differences.

For the Mackinac Center, I'm Catherine Martin.