The late writer and politician Harry Browne had an old saying that went something like this: “The government is good at one thing. It knows how to break your legs, hand you a crutch, and say, ‘See? If it weren’t for the government, you wouldn’t be able to walk.’” Browne’s quote would be funny, if it weren’t so painfully accurate.
On Monday, the Trump administration announced a preliminary “free trade” deal with Mexico. For example, the deal would impose strict sourcing requirements on U.S. automobiles, and even mandated that 40 percent to 45 percent of auto parts be made by workers who make at least $16 an hour to avoid tariffs, a tough requirement to meet. This is on top of other protectionist measures this administration has taken that will raise prices for businesses and consumers here at home.
Shortly after that announcement, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) revealed details of a federal aid package to farms. This includes price support payments (which USDA spins as “market facilitation”) totaling about $4.7 billion. It also includes the federal government outright buying $1.2 billion in agricultural commodities, and spending another $200 million helping the agricultural sector do advertising and research in foreign markets. They said this package will “assist farmers in response to trade damage from unjustified retaliation by foreign nations.”
Even with this aid, many farmers are saying it is not enough to undo the damage done by Trump’s protectionism. Kevin Skunes, the president of the National Corn Growers Association, lamented, “This plan provides virtually no relief to corn farmers.” Even soybean farmers, who will see the vast majority of this aid, won’t have the entirety of what they lost restored by this aid package.
Instead of ending the reckless intervention into the economy that caused the bleeding in the agricultural sector of the economy, the Trump administration decided it was best to just throw money at farmers and say that they’re helping.
The administration could open up trade talks with other countries to expand the foreign market for U.S. agricultural goods. Instead, President Trump and his administration prefer to beat their chests and implement policies that strip farmers of their independence, and leaves them squarely at the mercy of the federal government.
As Browne astutely pointed out, the administration is now patting itself on the back and cynically praising how pro-farmer and pro-rancher they are, even though they are the reason farmers are struggling in the first place. Instead of allowing farmers and ranchers to be dependent on their own labor, and their own production, they have brought an entire group of people and sector of the economy to its knees, forcing them to come begging for government handouts to get by.
Just as there is nothing “pro-farm” about these measures, there is nothing conservative about them either. Since when have conservatives and Republicans believed that the best solution to any problem was a government bailout? When have they believed that the government was better at figuring out supply levels and prices than the open market?
This administration is using the complicated web of policies it’s spun to masquerade as two things it is not: conservative and pro-farmer. It is time to pull off the mask, and criticize the government, and this administration, for breaking the legs of our nation’s farmers, instead of praising them for handing them a crutch.