I know my faithful Idaho Business Review readers (thanks again, Mom) must be reading this blog title and double-checking the byline to be sure which “Michael” this is.
Yep, it’s really me, folks. I’ve seen the error of my leftist-leaning, Obama-loving, socialist-sympathizing ways. My motto henceforth is, “have gun, will tea bag” – provided, of course, that the Tea Bag movement is willing to take on the greatest of all threats posed by Big Government.
No, I’m not speaking here of the current administration’s obvious efforts to expunge the Second Amendment, turn the world’s greatest system of health care delivery into a bureaucrat-run Death Panel, remove the Bible from public discourse, or supplant Canada as the largest socialist state in the Western Hemisphere. These components of the Obama-Reid-Pelosi Gang of Three are child’s play next to Big Government’s fait accompli in its agenda to enslave all real Americans: the hijacking of our food system.
What makes this accomplishment all the more insidious has been its stealth. To quote Kevin Spacey’s character, Verbal Kint, from the movie The Usual Suspects, “the greatest trick the Devil ever played was convincing us that he doesn’t exist.”
But I digress. What is called for here is some explanation by way of a short history lesson – and for that we need to go back to the New Deal.
Between droughts and price-collapsing surpluses, American farmers in the 1920s and ’30s were experiencing bankruptcy on a massive scale, proving yet again that the more things change, the more they stay the same. In an effort to stabilize the family farms that fed America’s industrial might, New Deal programs established a target price for agricultural goods based on their cost of production. Whenever prices dropped below that target, quoting from Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, “…the farmer was given a choice. Instead of dumping corn onto a weak market (thereby weakening it further), the farmer could take out a loan from the government – using his crop as collateral – that allowed him to store his grain until prices recovered.”
The New Deal programs that led to what was known as the “Ever-Normal Granary” came to their end under Earl “Rusty” Butz, Richard Nixon’s second secretary of agriculture. Responding to consumer outrage over inflationary food prices in the early ’70s, Butz set about dismantling New Deal farm policies with bills that removed the floor under grain prices and replaced loans to farmers with subsidies that bridged the shortfall between production costs and market prices. The net effect of subsidizing every bushel of corn that farmers could produce was to encourage them to produce more, and further depress the market through oversupply.
But there has been a more insidious effect of what one Iowa farmer subsequently described as “the plague of cheap corn:” the effort to sop up this surplus through Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, and the transformation of “cheap corn” into “cheap beef” as a result. Author Pollan talks about the coincidence of the exodus of humans from urban centers to the suburbs at the same time that farm animals were making the reverse journey from farms to urban-like concentrations of fellow creatures in feed lots. “The ‘urbanization’ of America’s animal population could never have taken place if not for the advent of cheap, federally subsidized corn,” Pollan notes.
So, what’s wrong with cheap food, you ask? Well, for starters, the “blow back” of the Nixon Administration’s farm policies (which created a strong Republican base among farm communities at the same time they sowed the seeds of their destruction) was to split an elegant solution (cattle raised on grass pasturage renewed by the very animals it sustained) into two intractable problems: a fertility problem (remedied by petro-chemical fertilizers) and a pollution problem on the feedlots (yet to be remedied). And while one could dedicate any number of blogs to the health implications of CAFO-raised beef (starting with human ingestion of growth hormones and antibiotics used to subvert nature’s design for ruminant animals), I’d like to address a cost that I believe is much closer to the Tea Baggers’ hearts.
From a Tea Bagger perspective, which posits “that government that governs least governs best,” cheap food created through Big Government subsidies and market manipulation, with a healthy dose of lobbying dollars by the likes of ADM and Cargill, are part of a larger conspiracy to deprive Americans of their God-given freedom and self-reliance and transform us into Matrix-like drones.
When you stop to think about it, aren’t cheap beef and Wal-Mart the 21st Century American equivalent of ancient Rome’s “bread and circus” domestic policies? Go ahead and outsource our jobs, drive down working wages and salaries through cheap imports that simultaneously transform us into a debtor nation, and sublimate our outrage through Big Macs and flat screen TVs purchased on credit cards – whatever it takes to stave off the unthinkable scenario that we might do something extreme and dangerous … like organize into unions or demand an end to “fee for service” health care.
So, Tea Baggers, I’m turning to you to speak truth to power. The Republicans and Democrats have too much of a vested interest in the status quo to wrest control of our food supply back from Washington. No, my friends, they are the problem, not the solution. This is a task that rightfully belongs to a true maverick. And would I be willing to renounce my elitist Democrat apostasy, return to the “real” America, and vote for Sarah Palin for “Rogue-in-Chief” if she had the guts to storm the ramparts of Big Government agriculture policy? You betcha!