The President Speaks Truth

New York City still remains hostage to the plague of locusts that descended upon it earlier last week in the form of the United Nations World Summit and anniversary. Just last night I overheard one patron in a bar complaining that the most immediate economic impact was that the hundreds of politicians in attendance had bid up the asking price of prostitutes throughout the city. While I can not verify the claim empirically I have no reason to doubt that something so untoward is transpiring as I write this. Nonetheless, triple-parked government SUV's, security personnel of all nationalities who seem to think they have jurisdiction in a foreign city (which is also foreign to a good many Americans but in a different sense), and persistent gridlock continue to make my life miserable. But just as it is always darkest before the dawn it appears that a silver lining may have appeared in the aforementioned cloud of locusts.

Saturday's Financial Times reported that South African President Thabo Mbeki, speaking at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting, called for the United States and the European Union "to end farm subsidies within three years." The paper went on to add that President Mbeki accused the US and EU of engaging in "empty rhetoric." Like a misbehaving three-year-old the US childishly responded to President Mbeki that it would end subsidies, but only if the EU did too. The exasperated President Mbeki sighed, "So nothing moves."

Allow me to speak for the rest of the American electorate in saying "Welcome to New York and Welcome to America President Mbeki!" That is how things work in our putative constitutional republic. But all is not lost and I am hereby addressing the following comments to the honorable President Mbeki. While I am physically unable to deliver the attached letter to the South African head of state I am hoping that since he has a latent yearning for free markets he might at some point stumble upon and read it there.

September 17, 2005

Dear President Mbeki:

It was with great pleasure that I read of your comments in the Financial Times this Saturday imploring the US and EU to end farm subsidies. If it's any consolation, my friends and I have been making the same request for years. While we don't have a similar soapbox from which to send our message, we like to think that our ideas go to an audience who cares about what is best for our country, the citizens who care enough to research the issues and vote accordingly, while you delivered your message to the caudillos attending the Clinton Global Initiative meeting. But I quibble. If we can align our efforts – you speaking to those ignoring the wishes of their subject populaces while I inform my fellow Americans of the damage government interference exacts in the sensitive workings of the markets – perhaps we can effect some positive change. At this point, as I am sure you will agree, any progress would be a victory.

First, a little history. You may not be aware of a few premises that are vital to understanding American socialist agriculture policy. In the US farms, farming, and farmers are all sacrosanct. One would have better luck pulling souvenir teeth from a live shark than finding an American who would badmouth a farmer. For the first hundred years or so of my country's existence we were an agrarian economy. However, as time passed, agriculture began to shrink as a percentage of our GDP as industrialization spread rapidly. Nonetheless the sustaining myth of the "nation of farmers" expanded in inverse proportion to agriculture's shrinking share of the overall economy. During that same time period we had a war between several of our states. When the bloodbath ended, states did not really exist in the same manner as before and most of the ruling power ended up in the non-state of Washington, DC (which I fear you know firsthand).

Anyway, farmers not only occupy a lofty aerie in the American hierarchy but they often get treated better than the rest of us by the government. And it's not just in the areas you mentioned. For example if an American were to die in 2005 with something greater than $1.5 million dollars in the bank, our federal government would confiscate a large portion of what he was planning to voluntarily leave to his heirs. But if that same American were a farmer, or to be more legally punctilious, his entire estate were comprised of a farm, then he would not have to pay any tax upon his death. I know, you are probably shaking your head incredulously and muttering, "So one guy has $3 million held in a bank safe deposit box and the other guy has a $3 million farm and only the first guy pays this so-called u2018estate tax' of yours? That makes no sense." Trust me, I am not making this up but I am trying to buttress our case. I just wanted to make sure you knew how insidious our common foe is.

I noticed that your country produces a lot of corn, wheat, and sugarcane and I am sorry to inform you that you could not have picked more politically charged commodities with which to start this fight. You see, we love our corn so much that we now use it as a substitute for sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup. Despite the fact that it does not taste as good as pure sugar and is quite a bit less salutary too, our Secretary of Agriculture under Nixon, Earl Butz, convinced the government that it was a better way to sweeten things. "Better" in this case essentially means more lucrative for Midwestern corn farmers who needed to expand their markets in the early 1970's but let's not split hairs as the American waistline expands faster than the national debt. You can read all about it in Fat Land by Greg Crister.

Wheat too is one of our main agricultural products and sugar is a nightmare sui generis. Suffice to say that if you bump into anyone from America's first family of sugar, the Fanjuls, during any of your fancy political shindigs (they attend many of them regardless of who's hosting), you might take the conversation off-line with them and plead your case. I can guarantee that if you go the usual route of talking to our elected officials and waiting for them to check with the Fanjul's lobbyists, several crop cycles will have passed. The family's heart does seem to be in the right place though. Several years ago one of the brothers lost his dog here in NYC and was gracious enough to offer a $5,000 reward for its return. Seems a little less genuine when most of us view it as a chance to get back some of the corporate welfare they grab from us annually.

Lastly, word has it that your country is producing some excellent wines. We just had a fight about that here. Believe it or not, wine producers in some states could not ship their wine to buyers in certain other states despite the fact that our "states" are nothing more than administrative offices of our Federal Leviathan. Our Supreme Court stopped the shenanigans but all is still not well. So hold off on the wine unless the Fanjuls encourage you otherwise.

President Mbeki, I think we may be on to something. While the authorities probably find most of my threats to be as menacing to the status quo as a nursery school revolt, the two of us together might have a chance. It is not a high-probability chance but it is a chance nonetheless. In reality sir, no American has been able to break the stranglehold that the agriculture lobby exerts on those of us who just pay taxes but don't hire fancy lobbyists to steal some money from that bottomless trough that the Leviathan funds through confiscatory taxation and its currency printing presses. I have a spare bedroom in my apartment so next year you can stay with me while you fight the dastardly forces that make Americans historically pay roughly double the world's sugar price at your unseemly UN confab. And if we can get the US Constitution amended in time to allow for someone not born in the United States to be our President, there could still be time for you to run in 2008. Heaven knows you speak more economic sense than anyone currently in office here in the States.

Sincerely, Mark G. Brennan

September 22, 2005