Corporate welfare, the use of government to enrich corporate executives and shareholders with profits they can't earn in the market, is rampant today. Title insurers, alcoholic beverage distributors, and renewable energy companies are just a few who rake in ill-gotten gains at the expense of taxpayers and consumers.
Though corporate cronyism today may be at its highest level in American history, it is nothing new. Here is Alexander Hamilton promoting it over 200 years ago in his 1791 Report on Manufactures:
Capital is wayward and timid in leading itself to new undertakings, and the state ought to excite the confidence of capitalists, who are ever cautious and sagacious, by aiding them to overcome the obstacles that lie in the way of all experiment.
Wikipedia says that Hamilton's report
laid forth economic principles rooted in both the Mercantilist system of Elizabeth I's England and the practices of Jean-Baptiste Colbert of France. The principal ideas of the Report would later be incorporated into the "American System" program by Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky and his Whig Party. Abraham Lincoln, who called himself a "Henry Clay tariff Whig" during his early years, would later make the principles cornerstones, together with opposition to the institution and expansion of slavery, of the fledgling Republican Party.
Of course, corporate welfare predated Hamilton. It, through such laws as the Stamp Act and the Tea Act, was one of the main causes behind the American Revolution. Yet Hamilton, who also pushed for the first national bank to benefit business interests, appears to corporate welfare's earliest prominent advocate and greatly influenced those who would promote it in the years to come.
For more, see the Foundation's Corporate Welfare Guide (use the search function to locate all of its entries).