Just sit and take it

EDITORIAL

BY ART CULLEN

In America, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told Wisconsin dairy farmers last week, the big get bigger and the small go out. That’s the way it goes. No tears for the vanquished. Another ethanol plant just shut down in Sioux County, in part because of the trade wars with China and Mexico, in part because of broken Trump promises, in part because production overshoots demand as the corn industry does so expertly. Oh well. John Deere is laying off 160 workers in the Quad Cities because of steel tariffs and slack demand as world trade screeches to a halt. They could just move to where the jobs are in, say, San Jose. This is no rose garden, kids, so buck up. Creative destruction.

The last of the independent dairy farmers are pulling the plug, driven out by a glut of milk brought by the big getting bigger by design. The same thing happened in Iowa in 1998 when consolidators ramped up sow production to bury the feeder pig trade. The small go out. We have nearly forgotten that pain. We very nearly got over it. You can get a job working for the Chinese in that confinement.

The workers at the Sioux County, farmer-owned ethanol plant are idle hoping for a better market. The farmer-owners don’t know how long they can pay workers to sit. No doubt, John Deere wonders how or if foreign markets will rebound anytime soon.

More people and capital drain from the rural Midwest, along with better prospects for us all. Spray some more anhydrous and watch the Gulf of Mexico die. It is the natural cycle.

Perdue speaks with a sort of resignation that is all too familiar to sons and daughters of Iowa shoved out of the door by their parents for the suburbs of Chicago.

It shouldn’t have to be this way.

John Delaney believes otherwise. He noted during a visit to Storm Lake on Saturday that 90% of capital investment goes to 50 counties on either coast. That’s the giant sucking sound we have heard over the past half-century. Delaney believes that capital flows can be reversed. He thinks it will come through investment in battling our climate crisis. He believes those ethanol plants can produce at zero emissions to negate their sizable carbon footprint, and truly be renewable. He argues that the rural Midwest can enjoy the fruits high-tech productivity through re-investment in infrastructure and education.

Delaney is joined by fellow Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, another presidential candidate registering low in the polls, and Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., who is not running for President this cycle but who is putting his shoulder behind transferring digital jobs from Silicon Valley to western Iowa. If we don’t, Khanna said, the chasm between have and have not will grow only larger and threaten the very idea of America. He believes that. So apparently does Pillar Technologies, a California software firm, which worked with Khanna, Iowa Central Community College and the community of Jefferson to start a “forge” that will train digital coders and put them in high-paying jobs in Jefferson. The program could be easily templated in Storm Lake, with Iowa Central’s largest satellite campus, its symbiotic relationship with Storm Lake High School, and Buena Vista University.

Ryan thinks that Appalachian Ohio and rural Iowa can lead the way in creating the new solar energy sector that will fuel electric cars of the future. China has the bulk of that business now. Youngstown should have it. Pocahontas could get a slice if the business and investment were directed this way. We can dream — at least, we can afford that.

Delaney says he intends to shift the emphasis of his campaign to rural entrepreneurship.

We need that sort of thinking in array, cast against the gloom that Perdue promises. Maybe the fortunes of Sac County, or Calhoun, could be turned around from steady depopulation, eroding markets and frustrated ambitions. Or we could just roll with it.

Most of the trade bailouts are going to the very largest farmers — in fact, to land owners who don’t know a cornstalk from an ox tail. The small are left to fend for themselves. The ag economists are now shuddering at the thought of Elizabeth Warren and supply management in agriculture, because it will make planted acreage go down and corn prices go up. Who wants that? The Chinese are used to stealing our corn to feed their hogs through Smithfield. The big have their rights, too.

Our health insurance premiums went up 24% last year. The small get smaller, for sure. And, our property taxes for mental health services will go up 33% next year because the state took Medicaid private at an additional cost of $300 million per year. Two insurance companies get the booty, you get the boot from the nursing home. That’s how it works.

We can turn it around. First, we need to shed the mental yoke that we are just coincidentally here, and should not expect to make a go of it, because nobody guarantees us anything in the world according to Sonny Perdue. There is no right to health care, then, or a fair price in a regulated market, or protection from Bayer’s latest soybean poison. No free lunch in America, by gum. Or a living wage where you can rent something where the roof won’t leak in Varina. We could make a different choice.

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