U.S. agriculture plays by rules so don't expect government kudos

Do you have a memory, maybe from when you were in grade school, of that one obnoxious kid in the class, who, despite making trouble for others and not following the rules, always seemed to find favor with the teacher. It didn’t provide much incentive for those of us who were doing as we were told and behaving ourselves.

As a member of the agricultural community, I’m getting a flood of such memories these days, especially as it relates to what has become the new favorite American pastime — bailing out undeserving industries and companies, specifically the U.S. auto industry.

What is even more infuriating than the fact the U.S. government is so willing to rescue such abject failures is that sentimentality is now being pushed into the picture. Let’s disregard the fact these companies didn’t follow the rules of business — that they flaunted their inefficiency and continued renewing unrealistic union contracts and handing out undeserved bonuses. Now, we’re supposed to save them simply because they’re an integral part of Americana.

President Barak Obama, in a column under his byline that appeared in select Midwestern newspapers, said the reason the U.S. government is supporting General Motors and Chrysler with loans is because the auto industry “is an emblem of America” that helped build and sustain the middle class throughout the 20th Century.

No less an expert in economic and budgetary affairs than late-night talk show host and comedian Jay Leno has come to the aid of the beleaguered auto industry, performing a free show in Detroit and telling union members that their parents and grandparents “created the middle class in America.”

What’ll happen if we merely let GM, Chrysler — and Ford, if it comes to that — stand or fall on their accord, and according to the most basic economic principles, including long-forgotten ones such as supply-and-demand, consumer preference, etc.?

It’s time we consider whether or not the current industry is worth saving. This doesn’t mean we can’t eventually have a new, improved one, but we probably shouldn’t be mourning the loss of the current incarnation of our automobile industry.

Despite the nostalgic rhetoric coming from the mouths of politicians and entertainers, the United States was not founded on the manufacture of automobiles, and it’s foolish to think the future of our country depends on the viability of the industry in its current form. They are not our identity, so giving the current manufacturers money out of a sense of saving iconic American brands is a silly notion.

Let’s not forget that Detroit’s problems are not new ones that were brought on solely by the severe recession of recent months. These companies have been struggling for many years now, with sales nose-diving long before the economy hit the skids, so what can be accomplished by pumping more taxpayer money into these sinkholes? The infusion of more government funds, in all likelihood, will result in companies that continue to manufacture vehicles that nobody wants and pay inflated salaries to union workers.

Certainly there are potentially millions of jobs in the balance as the big three U.S. automakers continue to look for a way out of this mess they’ve created. No one wants to see even more people lose their jobs in this already dismal economy. But a government bail-out isn’t a long-term solution to the problem.

And what does such a bail-out say to an industry such as agriculture, which has followed the rules and then some? Throughout the history of this country, U.S. agriculture has continually evolved and adapted to a changing environment — both a literal environment and an economic one. Farmers, in ever-decreasing numbers, have drastically improved productivity, while at the same time adopted new technology and cultural methods that are kinder to the environment.

What is the reward for following the rules? Every few years agriculture is forced into the degrading position of having to scratch, claw, plead and beg for a new farm bill that will allow growers to continue to stay in business, and to continue supplying the most affordable, safe and plentiful food supply on earth. And the cost of such a farm bill is miniscule compared to some of the bail-outs we’re seeing.

Maybe you’re trying too hard.

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TAGS: Legislative
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