Presidential Pandering

The difference between a statesman and a politician is that the former looks to the next generation, and the latter to the next election. English Proverb

The United States of American was established by statesmen – men who put the welfare of the citizenry above that of their own. There are very few statesmen among today’s political leaders, even fewer among those who seek the office of president. Last week’s Republican presidential debate was a case in point.

For the first 30 minutes, the man I have dubbed the “Stepford candidate,” former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, was beginning to look good to me. I was ready to believe that this man, who has been all over the political spectrum in the course of his career, was sincere — until he was given the opportunity to respond to a question posed by a YouTube participant Ted Faturos. Faturos wanted to know which of the candidates, who label themselves fiscally responsible, will endorse the elimination of farm subsidies.

Romney’s response was ludicrous.

We don’t want to find ourselves, with regards to our food supply, in the same kind of position we’re in with regards to our energy supply. And so it’s important for us to make sure that our farmers are able to stay on the farm and raise the crops that we need to have a secure source of food. And so I believe in supports that will allow us to do that.

After Romney opined about how foreign governments subsidize their farmers, Cooper threw the question to Rudy Giuliani who agreed with Romney.

This was pure political pandering of the worst sort to farmers in Iowa – the site of the nation’s first presidential caucus. It fact, the answer they gave should be considered a “hanging offense” to voters who are on the giving – not the receiving – end of those subsidies.

It is a shame that every candidate on the stage did not have an opportunity to give us a straight answer on that question. However, they all were given a chance to name three programs they would eliminate and not one mentioned the Department of Agriculture.

If ever, there was a federal agency that has outlived its usefulness, it is this one!

Today in America, there are more people whose welfare is tied to the computer industry than agriculture, but the federal government still micro manages the nation’s farmers.

The idea that we will run out of food or depend on countries with farm subsidies to feed us is ridiculous. There is no shortage of food in the world and certainly not here in this country. There are isolated cases where people are starving, but it is not because of a food shortage. Modern farming techniques make it possible to produce more food on less acreage than ever before.

According to a study by Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation, farm subsidies cost Americans $25 billion in taxes each year and another $12 billion in higher food prices.

Furthermore, we spend millions each month just to store the surplus!

Farm subsidies continually are sold as an issue of compassion. Family farmers are paraded before Congress and we are told that we must help these people who are living in poverty just to put food on our tables. In fact, commercial farmers, which have an average income of $200,000 and an average net worth of nearly $2 million now collect the majority of farm subsidies. Certainly, these folks are able to make it on their own! The taxpayers are simply adding to the fat on top of their gravy.

Recently, members of Congress considering the current farm bill, had an opportunity to limit those subsidies to those with incomes of less than $200,000. The response was underwhelming! Want to know why? Many members of Congress and their families benefit personally! Thankfully, that bill now is stalled in the Senate.

To be sure, a small amount of that farm money is doled out in dribbles and dabs to family farmers who are having trouble staying afloat. I don’t mean to be heartless, but they should be allowed to compete on their own. Some will make it. Others would be better off working for a big agribusiness. Some should transition into a different marketplace.

What about small family-run grocery and hardware stores? They have to compete against the big chains. The ones that have survived have found innovative ways to compete. The rest went under. No one shed a tear for them!

Americans are a compassionate people but we are not saps. Eliminate farm subsidies and eliminate the presidential candidates – and the members of Congress – who support them!

7 thoughts on “Presidential Pandering

  1. You could not have been more correct. I am a small farmer and I can assure you that nothing has done more to destroy family farms than the meddling of the feds. When I hear our congressmen rattling on about how we need more subsidies to save the small farmer I just get sick. Nothing could be further from the truth. An interesting book from another small farmer you might wish to read is “Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal”, by Joel Salatin. It documents the crushing burden the federal (and now state) government places on small farms in order to “help” us and “protect” our consumers. If you want a candidate that really understands this, vote for Ron Paul!

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  2. Much of what you wrote is accurate, but your suggestion that the USDA be eliminated is overkill. Yes, too much of the subsidies are given to large commercial farms; but some restructuring may be more appropriate.

    You wrote that farm subsidies cost Americans $25 billion in taxes each year and another $12 billion in higher food prices. The combined $37 billion divided among 300 million people at theee meals per day is 11 cents per meal. For decades Americans have spent less per capita for food than any nation in the world. Another nation is not even close.

    I am reminded of a bumper sticker I saw about 30 years ago – “Don’t complain about food prices with your mouth full.”

    The government school lunch program which is a part of the USDA costs more than $8 billion per year. Personally, I don’t think taxpayers should not pay for anyone’s lunch.

    Just because we have cheap food doesn’t mean we should be wasteful, but the USDA does have some value because much of America’s success has been made possible by programs in this department. I’m sure it is severely bloated like most every government program.

    Family farms are very important in this country. Farmers are the ultimate environmentalists. Farmers, regardless of age are always looking to the future with their conservation practices. Part of my farm is timber. I am presently harvesting hardwood trees that are 18 inches and larger, leaving the smaller for the future. At 66 years of age, that doesn’t include me. Hardwoods can only be harvested once in one’s lifetime, or about every 50 – 60 years. My dad owned the land before I did. He harvested only once in his 86 years. I farmed here 25 years before I harvested any timber. My logger told me yesterday that the Red Oak trees on my property would have sold for about 3-4 times the current price had I harvested them five years ago. Too bad, I have to take the price at the going market. (and that’s fine with me)

    The point is, farming as a business is not like a hardware store, so to equate a farm business to any other small business is not legitimate.

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  3. To Dennis,

    I did not mean to be disrespectful to the family farmer. Columnists are always up against a word limit. Small businesses — that includes farms — are the backbone of America. Unfortunately, a good part of the money that goes to big agribusiness hurts the small farmer.

    My husband’s family ran a small grocery store in a farm community. OK, so the grocery and hardware store isn’t just like a farm. Every business is different. What about real estate and construction? Home builders often have to sell their homes in down markets for less. In fact, today, some are unloading them for less than it cost them to build just to get rid of debt. There are good years and bad years. The free market isn’t perfect but works best.

    As for price supports and subsidies keeping prices low — tell me about the price of peanut butter? Anybody got a peanut quota they would like to unload?

    Perhaps I overreacted on the USDA but not by much. I would keep the part that guarantees us that our food is safe but that could be rolled into HHS.

    I agree with you about school lunches. We already give the poor free food. To think they can’t pack lunches for their kids is crazy.

    The best way to help the family farmer and others with small businesses is to eliminate the death tax and cut regulation.

    Keith,

    Thanks for turning me on to Mr. Salatin. Joseph Farah and Richard Pombo wrote a great book, “This Land is Our Land” that I think you will appreciate. Ron Paul is right on this and many other issues.

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  4. Our smaller farmers provide the competition that is needed to keep the corporate farmers honest.
    Without the competition of the smaller family-owned farms, we will be paying higher food prices or be, as we are currently with energy and manufacturing — depending on imports.
    Too many of our family farms are being lost (sold) to the corporations which will eventually control all production.
    We certainly do not need more Exxon-Mobiles, Texaco-Phillips, Dutch Shell type corporations setting prices.
    JC

    PS. Did you ever take a look at what it costs to run a farm currently. I just paid 3.35 for tractor fuel yesterday in order to
    move a hay crop out of the field with my small 26,000 dollar tractor. The man that bailed my hay paid 30,000 for his hay baler and 70,000 for his tractor and hay rake. We cultivate, sow and hope for rain; and sometimes it does not come for years. Feast to famine. Other businesses may be able to deal with the weather, but the seeds that we plant are rather demanding when it comes to recieving moisture at the appropriate time. Our children are seeing the futility of it all and are leaving for, what they perceive to be, more certain circumstances. Even the family farms are experiencing labor shortages as the children move on. Corporate farms are moving operations to Mexico for labor. One day I will sell it all; probably to a corporate farm or to a developer who will chop the farm into pieces in order to grow houses. Pass the ketchup, please.

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  5. Ms. Chastain,

    I can certainly agree with you that subsidies have negative effects. As an agronomist living in the center of the Corn Belt I see that it has been subsidies that have driven the family farm into the past and made many large landowners and businesses wealthy at the taxpayers expense. In addition it has reduced diversity in the crops we grow and has negative effects on the environment as well.

    I work with farmers and I don’t know of a single one who likes having to take subsidies. However, it is analogous to Social Security: the system has been set up so that you pretty much have to participate.

    Is it is a matter of food security as Romney suggested? The prevailing view within the ag community is that world markets could potentially drive the price of food staples and commodities so low that our farmers could not compete. And it is not just foreign subsidies, but also the value of the currencies, labor rates, subsidized inputs, and abuse of the land that make foreign products less expensive. The analogy I could use would be to compare it to the electronics industry; although the United States can produce a sufficient quantity of high quality electronic products for domestic use we have lost the largest share of this market to Asian manufacturers. As a result we have also lost the domestic electronic manufacturing capacity.

    Similarly, if we remove our subsidies we might find that our farmers would be unable to compete with China, Argentina, Brazil, and others who can produce those commodities at much lower cost. No, it wouldn’t happen all at once. But over time, as growing conditions, capital and loan expenses, and consumer demand varies, the financial risk would encourage an exodus from farming (for all except some of the largest corporate farms who could endure the risk), and would result in a loss of the agricultural infrastructure. (Storage facilities, equipment and fertilizer manufacturers, grower knowledge, research, food quality protection, etc). Outsourcing our food puts us in a position of relying on foreign markets for many food staples. We can see how reliance on China for toy production has recently resulted in a loss of faith in toys produced in that country. Are Americans willing to trust their food production to the Chinese as well? Are you? This, to me, it what food security means; good quality food, supplied year after year, from reliable domestic sources.

    Yes, we are capable of producing far more food than we currently consume. The food we export goes to alleviate some of the imbalance in foreign trade. However, it is the agricultural infrastructure that is at risk, not the ability of the land to produce.

    At least this is how I see it. Although most of us would love to see the demise of subsidies, we are awaiting a more practical solution, which we have not seen. I would be very much interested in your response, or in hearing what an economist such as Walter Williams would have to say on this issue.

    David Pike

    Champaign, Illinois

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  6. Dear Jane,
    The fact that all the “farm subsidies” were initiated under FDR is reason enough to suspect them of being an egregious wrong, even absent all the other evidence. No one has done more to erase the face of our Republic than that man.
    I can’t speak of now, but before I retired from the Corps, in 97, the Navy was still required by law to serve real butter, and real milk at every meal served, based on a law that was passed in the thirties to subsidize dairy farmers.
    The same law requires the Federal Government to buy any excess dairy products which are not sold at the end of the specified period. When I was a teenager and a Boy Scout, I often helped my uncle, who was a “professional Scout” in that he had a job which put him in charge of all sorts of things related to his district Scout activities and camps. We went to government warehouses and filled a five ton truck with dried milk, rice, flour, beans, peanut butter (another mandated buy), and all the cheese we could load into the truck. We did this numerous times each summer until all the local camps he was responsible for, were taken care of.
    Every bit of that “government surplus” was generated by these farm subsidies as they work in many different ways. Some are direct payment, such as you mention, but many are clandestine by virtue of the fact that they don’t pay farmers directly, but guarantee a selling price, and guarantee all excess will be bought by the government at the established price.
    If it were just a whole lot of poor farmers collecting this wealth stolen from the rest of the Nation, it would only have monetary impact on us. The fact that the vast majority of this subsidy program goes to corporate farms means that this money helps those who have the money to have full time lobbying people in D.C. This means the farm subsidies are part of the congressional lobbying problem which is quid pro quo. This in effect, exponentially raises the actual cost of the subsidy to a level incalculable due to the intricacies of, and the limited ability to pursue where the money goes, on its convoluted path.
    If you add in the ethanol issue, there is another exponential increase in the costs of these subsidies because it is currently based around corn, and thus affects food prices on commodities that are not even subsidized directly. At the same time, there is a major subsidy on sugar, which is a far more efficient fuel for ethanol production. All this is actually immaterial because ethanol at its best can only carry half the BTUs per pound as gasoline, so for every ten percent added to gas, one loses five percent of expected mileage. The ethanol is subsidized at over fifty cents a gallon, while the corn crop for ethanol is also subsidized, and the costs in fuel to produce the “extra” corn is not factored into the overall costs. When it is all added up, just the ethanol program doubles the cost of gas at its current percentage at only ten percent.
    While I would garner few votes for it, I would eliminate about three quarters of the federal government were I elected, which is probably why I don’t bother running. Were the federal government actually constrained to its Constitutional limits, we would live once again, without income taxes, and without welfare, federal un-funded mandates, and with states that actually had different characteristics so people could move from a state such as Californification, to one which more closely comported with their values and ethics.
    I’ve waited a long time for someone to address this issue, it should have been gone before you or I was born, and just like the telephone tax put on in 1898, taxes live forever.
    Thanks again,
    john mcclain

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  7. Jane,

    You are absolutely 100% correct about a lack of statesmen around now in the United States. One problem is career politicians in Washington, and that can be fixed easily enough with term limits if somehow they can be passed for everyone. The other problem is far deeper and is generational. There are very few Ronald Reagans around. George W. Bush certainly isn’t and is closer to Jimmy Carter as president than he has been to Reagan despite him owing much to Reagan. The dollar wasn’t nearly this weak under Carter and the federal deficit wasn’t at nine trillion dollars either. In fact, during Clinton’s last years in office there was a surplus. Bush has tried to blame the deficit on 9-11 but in reality he is a very big spender. Now, Bush is trying to go against Israel along with the most anti-Israel secretary of state in American history. If not for Bush’s Supreme Court appointments and federal appointments to the judiciary, he might be the worst president in U. S. history. Who else was there to support for president in 2000, however, outside of John Kasich who was a sitting congressman and therefore a long shot at best? Again, the problem is a lack of Ronald Reagans around.

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