The American Consumer Grows Up

An article in Politico on Monday looked at the declining influence of agriculture in DC (I wish), comparing the touching/nauseating Chrysler ad paying homage to the American farmer that was aired during the Superbowl with the relative lack of political attention given to farm programs. How come people feel all warm and fuzzy when they watch the ad, and yet poor little agriculture can’t get any love?

Trying to sell Ram trucks, Chrysler made a splash in the Super Bowl this month with a two-minute television spot celebrating the American farmer — a montage of handsome still photos and a vintage Paul Harvey speech all ending with the pitch: “For the farmer in all of us.”

Nine days later, the picture was very different as President Barack Obama skipped over farmers entirely in his State of the Union address, never mentioning the yearlong farm bill stalemate in Congress nor even including “agriculture” among the thousands of words spoken that night…

“Agriculture has become so efficient, so few people actually raise the food … the American consumer has become almost like high school kids,” [House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank] Lucas said. “It’s always been there, it will always be there. Dad can I have the keys to the car? Does the car have gas in it? Oh, it will always have gas in it, right Dad?”

Are American consumers like teenagers? Are they spoiled, and taking agricultural production for granted? Is that why the farm bill is such a heavy lift? Or perhaps, just perhaps, the American consumer is growing up, questioning the cost and necessity of farm subsidies, and no longer falling for myths about the need for farm subsidies to prevent mass starvation. My colleague David Boaz, in a 2011 blog post, summarised the reasons why folks might oppose spending programs. As I read the Politico article and, specifically, the whining by the agri-industrial complex and its political backers, David’s second point came to mind:

We know that many wonderful things, perhaps including truly fast trains, could be created at massive cost, but that you always have to weigh costs and benefits. Children say, “I want it.” Adults say, “How much does it cost, and what would I have to give up to have it?”