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Tuesday, February 10, 2015


No, it's not a sports score. It's the number of $100 million incentive packages offered in each place beginning in 2010. This is based on my first paper to use the September 2014 February 2015 update of Good Jobs First's Megadeals database (you can download the entire update in spreadsheet form).

I've said before that U.S. investment incentive use is totally out of control. The new paper confirms this beyond my worst nightmares. Think about it: The United States and the European Union have comparably large economies, yet U.S. state and local governments have put together an average of 15 $100 million packages per year in 2010-2014, compared to 1.2 per year in the EU. Yes, more than ten times as many per year in the U.S.!

The U.S. incentive packages are bigger, too. The largest of the six EU packages (Global Foundries in Dresden, Germany, in 2011) comes to about $285 million at an exchange rate of $1.35 per euro (and the euro is down to less than $1.15 now). Boeing, Sempra Energy, Intel, Cerner Corporation, Cheniere Energy, Shell, Tesla, and Chrysler all received packages worth over $1 billion. Moreover, Boeing's incentives were accompanied by substantial retirement and other benefit concessions from its workers.

How does this happen? Governments in the European Union and the United States both face the same need to attract investment, but the EU has a binding legal framework that restricts what Member States can do. Every subsidy program or large individual subsidy must be notified in advance to the European Commission, and only implemented if the Commission approves. Every region in the EU has a maximum subsidy level it can give, with a limit of 0 for the richest regions and only 50% (subsidy/investment) for the poorest regions, mostly in the former Communist countries. Finally, investments larger than €50 million have their maximum allowable subsidy cut sharply, by 50% on the amount between €50 million and €100 million, and by 66% for the amount over €100 million.

Because of the lack of a framework in the United States, state and local governments spend almost $50 billion per year just to attract investment, and up to a further $20 billion in subsidies not even requiring investment, according to my estimates. This is more than enough to rehire every state and local employee who lost their job since the recession. All other things equal, subsidies make the economy less productive, and these subsidies transfer money from average taxpayers to the far richer subsidy recipients. In other words, they slow economic growth and contribute to economic inequality.

Changing this is a huge job. The first step is simply knowing what the stakes are, achieving transparency in how much governments give to business. Things are improving on the transparency front, but we still have a long way to go. Then we've actually got to change the rules...

UPDATE: Greg LeRoy of Good Jobs First sent me an updated version of the spreadsheet, which has 76 incentive packages greater than $100 million that it has discovered since 1/1/2010. The updated spreadsheet is now available at the Megadeals link above.


  1. You keep using this phrase "out of control". Are these incentives not under the control of our elected officials? Under whose control should they be?

  2. I say "out of control" because governments are wasting billions on investment attraction, when it is perfectly feasible to not waste it. That's what the EU comparison shows.

    Officials are legally in control, but don't recognize how difficult it is to solve their strategic dilemma. States need to sharply restrict what cities can do in terms of subsidies, and the feds need to restrict the states. With rules in place, then those jurisdictions that don't have a 0 limit can go at it.