Friday, January 12, 2007

Pillar fight!...

I have long maintained - somewhat humorously, somewhat cynically - that the Four Pillars of American Farm Policy were:
  1. The cotton program
  2. The NE Dairy Compact
  3. The Iowa caucuses
  4. The Senate debate rules
My contention was that if these powerful institutions were to collapse, farm policy as we know it might finally change.

Well, let's do an update.
  • The cotton program: Let's see, the WTO has ruled it unsportsmanlike conduct, the cost per farmer has raised all kinds of eyebrows, and cotton farmers are voting with their planters on their predictions for this venerable program. In addition, it doesn't have any conservation or energy glamor. Pillar Strength: 45% .
  • The NE Dairy Compact: I have no idea what this was about. All I know is whole bunches of politicians of every political faction from very populous states supported it. It expired in 2001. Pillar Strength: 0%
  • The Iowa primary: Iowa residents take very seriously the job of selecting the candidates for president by flocking to caucuses in January. Unfortunately, that is not their unique Constitutional duty. The "momentum" theory of the modern nomination process and examples like the "Dean Scream" exaggerated the importance both of Iowa voters and farm issues. The best explanation of this phenomenon in my opinion was a series of episodes on "West Wing" and dealt with how candidates are forced to take positions they would avoid otherwise to prevent being blown out in the IA voting. This emphasis is being challenged by candidates choosing to skip the caucuses and by other states moving their primaries earlier. Pillar Strength: 40% but dropping fast.
  • Senate debate rules: These gentlemanly rules came close to being altered by the Republican majority during heated judicial appointment squabbles. Although they went to the brink, maybe Majority Leader Frist had a prophetic vision about losing the Senate last fall. Pillar Strength: 100%
Bottom line: Farm program structural integrity I measure at about 51.3% (margin of error +/- 82%). It could go either way, but we haven't seen conditions this conducive for change ever before.

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