Obama’s Ag Policy: Corporate Business as Usual

Obama Picks Cabinet

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Even before taking office, we can draw certain conclusions as to the sort of administration we can expect from Obama, based on his cabinet selections.  Barack Obama was elected on the promise of “change.” Socialist Appeal has explained that this is nothing more than an empty vessel that honest supporters have used to fill with their own content, with what they want to see in him. Now a concrete picture of what can be expected is emerging. So do any of his cabinet selections actually represent anything that could seriously be called “change”?

Hillary ClintonMost people understand that Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, clearly does not represent change. But what of the other, less high-profile choices?  Bill Richardson was initially selected for Secretary of Commerce, which is, as The Economist points out, “a low-profile job often given to unremarkable cronies of the president.” A prophecy fulfilled, as the unremarkable Richardson has already had to step down even before taking office, amidst accusations of corruption in his home state of New Mexico.

Arne Duncan, the head of Chicago’s public schools, will be the new Secretary of Education.  Obama has promised his big business constituents that Duncan will not counterpose school vouchers to “the status quo,” guaranteeing that public money will continue to flow to charter schools (perhaps even increase!).  This is what Mr. Obama calls “not being beholden to any one ideology.”  None of these picks represent a fundamental (or even cosmetic) break with the pro-business policies of the administrations that proceeded Obama’s.

Things are no better when we look at the Obama team’s environmental strategy.  John Kerry, unofficially representing the incoming administration at a recent UN climate meeting in Poland, stated that the U.S. would only sign on to a new treaty if China and other poorer countries did the same, which is a virtually identical position to that of the Bush Administration.  This is merely an excuse to maintain business as usual during a period when clean energy has receded from the political map.  As oil prices fall, incentives for the private sector to develop cleaner alternatives have faded, as bourgeois cost-benefit analyses merely take into account fiscal quarters rather than future generations.

Enter Tom Vilsack, Obama’s choice for Secretary of Agriculture, whom the Washington Post correctly identifies as a “strong proponent of ethanol.”  Vilsack’s state of Iowa is the largest recipient of agricultural subsidies and a leading producer of corn ethanol, an extremely inefficient form of fuel that causes more hunger and starvation than clean air.  The Des Moines Register online points out that Vilsack will be “an agricultural secretary who’s sympathetic to big agribusiness that dominates Iowa and a believer in biofuels and agricultural biotechnology … In short, Vilsack is not likely to shift the U.S. Agricultural Department in a radical new direction as many of Obama’s liberal supporters had hoped.”

Passing the TorchSo what does Obama really offer?  More of the same, as he places the fourth largest cabinet agency, with a budget of over $100 billion, in the hands of a so-called “centrist” shill for corporate agricultural interests.  Agriculture in the U.S. is largely concentrated in just a few very wealthy hands.  2 percent of farms produce 50 percent of all agricultural products; 98 percent of poultry production is done by corporate farms; 80 percent of beef processing and 60 percent of pork production are controlled by just four corporations.  Vilsack’s record shows that these are the very people that he represents.

In a rational economy, organized along democratic lines, corn or other produce would be used to feed the planet.  Today, instead, huge corporate agricultural firms are subsidized through federal tax dollars for an entirely irrational usage of farm land, often for producing nothing at all, while millions go hungry in the U.S. and overseas, not because there is no food, but because capitalism is unable to sell the plentiful food that is produced at a profit.  This is the “status quo” that Obama and Vilsack defend.

Is this the “change” millions of people voted for?  Any policy that does not address this concentration of corporate power cannot solve the problems facing humanity.  That is to say, the only solution is the nationalization of the agribusiness giants, placing them under democratic workers’ control, allowing modern industrial, agricultural methods to be put to the task of feeding the human race rather than lining the pockets of the Farm Bureau.  Agriculture and food policy in general should be planned rationally as part of a general plan of production for the whole of the economy, in harmony with the environment.  This is the change that we really need.


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