Economic Opportunity

Rent-Seeking in St. Louis

June 23, 2016

Centene Corporation, a multi-billion-dollar health care provider, is considering expanding its headquarters in Clayton, Missouri. The move would bring hundreds of new jobs, but despite the fact that Centene had a profit of $355 million last year, it is seeking $147 million in corporate welfare.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board, which is against the taxpayer-funded subsidy, asserts that “the residents of Clayton, St. Louis County and the Clayton schools will be out $96 million in property taxes over however long the abatement lasts.” Continuing, the board notes, “There might be some public benefit in this project, but not $147 million worth.”

Many readers will notice that Centene’s behavior reflects a predictable pattern of rent-seeking. Frequently, under this behavior firms publicly waver on whether or not they will expand in or move to a particular city, which in turn leads to governments bidding up their corporate welfare packages to secure these firms.

In a free society, governments should instead focus on creating a competitive economic climate for all businesses rather than using taxpayer money to give advantages to select favorites.