Ag policy was about cultural stability, not endless market growth

If you think US politics is too polarised, too angry and too polluted by big money, take a quick look at the train wreck that UK politics has become to see what we imminent if we don’t regain our collective goodwill soon.

Straw-haired, scandal-plagued Prime Minister Boris Johnson resigned on July 7. In 2016, BoJo became the Conservative Party’s loudest peddler in the barely successful UK vote to “leave the European Union (EU)” – or Brexit. He rode it upstairs.

But when Brexit took effect in 2020, its impact on the UK economy became real and Johnson’s popularity began to wane. British dairy farmers, for example, had relied on “EU payments” to “make up 40 percent of their annual profit”. Likewise, ranchers “receive (d) … subsidies” for “over 90 percent of annual profits.”

Johnson’s ongoing shapeshifting – he was against Brexit before he was pro – and his fleeting acquaintance with the truth eroded any political muscle he might have had to dodge the fallout from Brexit. When the end came it was fast but not clean.

Then the real chaos began, as would-be Conservative parties began a week-long scramble to select a successor to Johnson to become both their leader in the lower house of parliament and the new prime minister. Liz Truss, an economist, a member of Johnson’s cabinet and someone even bolder than BoJo, quickly rose through the fight.

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Truss’ first official move was to step off a cliff: she proposed big tax cuts to a few fat Conservative Party fat cats who had backed her campaign, while confronting millions of poorer Britons with rising food, energy and housing costs were, just threw a crumb .

British financial markets suffered from this revival of Maggie Thatcher’s divisive economic policies and the value of the British pound plummeted almost to the value of the dollar. The Bank of England, roughly synonymous with our Federal Reserve, stepped in – a rare move indeed – to bail them out and reassure global markets that there were still some responsible adults in London.

But Truss, like many confident economists, reloaded her guns and fired another massive dud. Days after her tax cut fiasco, she announced that her economic agenda would be “growth, growth and more growth”, another deadbeat idea as most British voters watch their household budgets shrink, shrink, shrink due to inflation.

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Few outside the British Fat Cat Brigade believed her, and by mid-October the country’s tabloids were dubbing their month-old government “The Liz Truss Disaster Show”.

There are many reasons why the Truss disaster show — and frankly, the empty, bombastic Johnson show — is dripping with failure. The most important thing, however, is not yet clear: that governments built by self-serving interest groups, think tanks and business lobbies are eroding everything they touch – public trust, politics, themselves and ultimately liberty.

You can tell these technocrats by the words they use. They say “markets” and “consumers” when they really mean “communities” and “citizens.” They conflate the word “job” with “work” – it doesn’t – and emphasize “wages” instead of “livelihood”. They “monetize” politics, “politicize” culture, demonize “compromise” and despise “bipartisanship”.

Ag politics does this to the max: almost everything from farm bills to climate change research is driven, and often dictated, by interest groups, commodity groups, transnational agbiz corporations, and outsized general farm groups.

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Most focus on just two issues: the size of the future government pie and how to enlarge it to provide these permanent players with more markets, jobs, profits and power.

That was never the goal of federal farm policy, but it’s now at the heart of it. The underlying explanation for this is something like a tax cut by Liz Truss: If you take care of the bigger and bigger folks, something might trickle down to the smaller and smaller folks. But of course it doesn’t, and a nearly empty, decaying rural America is proof of that.

So let’s try the trickle; Instead of markets and consumers, let’s put citizens and communities at the heart of agricultural policy and see what happens.

The Farm and Food File is published weekly in the US and Canada. Past columns, events and contact information are posted at www.farmandfoodfile.com.

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