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FARM AND FOOD

By Staff | Apr 10, 2009

Former General Motors boss Rick Wagoner evidently did not understand the meaning of the Biblical admonition of those who live by the sword often die by it.

It’s easy to see why. Detroit has owned Washington, D.C. for, well, forever: no increase in car mileage standards since the Pinto; no new fuel technologies since Henry Ford poured ethanol into his Model A; gazillions for interstates, peanuts for public transportation.

Now, however, the roles are reversed and Washington owns most of Detroit. As such, the auto oligarchs are shaking in their wood-paneled offices and crying in their parked private jets.

And they should.

Golly, would you expect to keep your job if, as in the case of Wagoner since 2004, the company you ran lost $82 billion, had its marketshare hacksawed from 33 percent to 18 and its stock price from over $70 to $4; while the biggest brainstorm you had to quell the growing calamity was the Hummer?

Hey, only Wall Street bankers and Capitol Hill lawmakers can sport such a sorry record and still keep their jobs. You or me – and now, Wagoner – couldn’t.

On the bright side, President Obama’s canning the GM chief should give us a hope that he might have the courage to reverse the Big Biz takeover of government that makes you and me mostly powerless, and increasingly poor, functionaries of that buyout rather than individual owners of a shared democracy.

Indeed, writes Simon Johnson in the May issue of The Atlantic, America’s future lies with bold, new leaders pushing Washington to clean up the mess it helped create. (The story may be found at www.theatlantic.com/doc/200905/imf-advice.)

Johnson, most recently the chief economist for the International Monetary Fund, knows what he’s writing about; he swept up similar heaps of hubris around the world – Ukraine in 1994, Indonesia in 1997, Russia in 1998. The common thread for those financial near-collapses, he notes, was oligarchies.

“Typically,” Johnson said, “these countries are in a desperate economic situation for one simple reason – the powerful elites within them overreached in good times and took too many risks.”

The governments, Johnson added, “and their private-sector allies commonly form a tight-knit oligarchy, running the country rather like a profit-seeking company in which they are controlling shareholders.”

Sometimes such partnerships bring benefits like jobs, a growing economy and political stability.

Sooner or later, though, “these masters of their mini-universe” will “start making bigger and riskier bets. They reckon – correctly, in most cases – that their political connections will allow them to push onto the government any substantial problems that arise.”

While this is creepily similar to today’s Wall Street debacle, to anyone even half-awake in agriculture this is just deja vu. Farmers and ranchers already know the costly consequences of agbiz oligarchs dictating farm and food policy through the disguises of campaign cash, 24-7 lobbying and revolving-door jobs.

The oligarchy and its government partners have:

  • pushed market risk onto taxpayers by direct farm program payments;
  • eliminated antitrust enforcement (the top four beef packers now control 83.5 percent of the slaughter, and the top three soybean crushers control 80 percent of its market share);

o ensured global seed and fertilizer oligopolies and mostly watched as rural communities, as measured by health care, unemployment and poverty, fade.

The best chance to regain our nation and economy is to fire oligarchs. Wagoner them and their Capitol Hill partners.

Good grief, the folks who created this mess, and got rich doing it, won’t lead us out of it.

Just ask a farmer or rancher.

Guebert is a syndicated columnist from Delavan, Ill. Reach him by e-mail at agcomm@sbcglobal.net.

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