Dark Side of Farm Personalities

Luther Tweeten is back at it again! For years now the Ohio State University professor emeritus of economics has been delivering his wrong-headed views on populist measures. The most recent effort is in a Farm Press Daily article by David Bennet.

As John Hansen, the president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, rightfully points out, "no matter how dead the patient, Luther Tweeten and his ilk will continue to sing the praises of how well the surgery and treatment went. Tragically, many of the free trade ideologue economists that have done rural America and family farm agriculture the most damage and disservice come from rural communities and farm families."

In the Farm Press Daily article, Tweeten, former Oklahoma State University regent's professor of agricultural economics, comes out against legislation forbidding captive supplies by beefpackers, against country of origin legislation (COOL), in favor of "free trade" agreements, against European Union farm programs, in addition to urging the "phasing out" of US ag subsidies.

Such stands by Tweeten should not come as surprise. In 1986, in the midst of the farm debt crisis, Tweeten wrote, "That farmers are poor, that they could not survive without government programs, that food supplies would be inadequate without the programs, that corporations would take over farming without the programs, that the family farm has got to be preserved because it's essential for democracy, or that programs are essential to preserve the rural community: All of these things, all of it is myth. All myth."

Through the years, for Tweeten, destroying the nation's family farm system has become a holy and righteous crusade.

By denouncing farm activist groups "on the left" who "eschew violence but espouse conspiracy theories, scapegoating and onerous forms of farm fundamentalism," by declaring that "democratic principles do not inherently extend to any sector the right to vote on its economic destiny" and by admonishing farmers that "their social contract with society" demands that they "accept without violence and with respect for due process, a system that alternatively may provide rich rewards and at other times economic setbacks, even bankruptcy ..." Tweeten, in short, advocates a type of agribusiness fundamentalism based on what Jesse Jackson once so aptly described as "economic violence."

By portraying what he calls the "farm political activist movement" as a small group of protesters ("mostly family farmers rather than large industrial-type farmers or part-time small farmers") enslaved to what he calls the myths of the "dark side of the farm personality," Tweeten clearly reveals the contradictions of a corporate agribusiness that mounts a pseudo-defense of family farm agriculture while at the same time attempting to destroy the very bedrock upon which that system is founded -- the family farm.

The "self-reliant and independent" corporate-inspired myth of family farmers has been traditionally supported by four other related myths, namely, the work-ethic myth, the free-enterprise myth, the efficiency myth and the equal-opportunity myth.

Increasing corporate economic concentration in the farm and food sector and the failure of the "free enterprise" system to maintain a fair price for commodities, plays no role for Tweeten in America's chronic agricultural crisis.

This concern among family farmers that commodity markets do not favor them and that unless the family farm system of agriculture is preserved the nation's food production will fall into the hands of a few large corporations who would then have the ability to both control and raise food prices, Tweeten labels as "overblown and inconsistent rhetoric."

Tweeten seeks to explain his position.

"First, farmers are too independent and numerous to congeal into the tightly-controlled bargaining organization required to affect farm economic outcomes. Second, the auto and steel labor unions have demonstrated that even powerful bargaining groups are unable to preserve jobs and earnings when domestic industries operate in an open global economy.

"Third, given that a facilitative public policy is required for farmers to bargain collectively, the public is unlikely to give any group arbitrary control over food supplies. To do so would place the public at risk and at the mercy of groups whose first concern would be self-interest rather than safe, abundant, quality food supplies at reasonable prices."

By insisting that the family farm system does not suffer from federal neglect and that farmers do not need more economic and political bargaining power, Tweeten only demonstrates the validity of a major concern of the agrarian reform movement of a century ago -- that the nation's "communities of economic interests" remain unalterably opposed to farmers organizing for their own economic and political survival.

Tweeten emphatically rejects such notions as economic democracy.

He argues that "activists," in pressing not only for "an encompassing family farm bargaining organization but also for unionization of all farm workers, presumably motivated by a concern that hired workers are disadvantaged and exploited," would, "however well intentioned ... deal a serious blow to the economic fortunes of the most disadvantaged workers -- an outcome opposite that intended by activists.

"The effect would likely be displacement of thousands of farm workers by mechanization and by production (especially of fruits and vegetables) shifting to foreign sources. Alternative employment opportunities for displaced low-skill farm workers are few and there is little reason to believe that they are currently employed in other than their best alternative."

Perhaps the most intriguing characteristic of Tweeten's "dark side of the farm personality" is what he calls the "intense social and economic ties by families to farming than ties by others to their industries."

Tweeten observes, "A basic sense of superiority coupled with a belief that merit is neither recognized nor rewarded by society, leads to frustration. Activists are not revolutionaries -- they mostly believe in the American free enterprise economic system, representative democracy, the constitution, and a pluralistic society. That an important contribution to society goes unrewarded despite a basically sound socio-political system must mean a conspiracy exists to thwart prosperity."

Many farmers today do, in fact, rightfully blame their plight on a "conspiracy" -- certain "communities of economic interests" successfully adopting and implementing those "policies and manipulations" to satisfy their own selfish greed.

"Adherents to the political-economic conspiracy theory generally hold that the competitive market system is inherently just and superior in performance to other economic systems but that it has been hopelessly infiltrated and corrupted by those who would exploit the farmer for their own political and economic advantage," he observes.

"Low farm prices have been blamed alternatively on a conspiracy of merchants, bankers, futures markets, railroads, a multinational grain cartel, agribusiness corporations, some ethnic groups, the Rockefeller cabal and the Trilateral Commission."

The fact is that despite what Luther Tweeten and others would have us believe, it is precisely these very same "communities of economic interests" (excluding "some ethnic groups") that are indeed the very ones who through "policies and manipulations" that have for decades been relentlessly "orchestrating myth and reality to promote self-interests" while at the same time exploiting "the farmer for their own political and economic advantage."

A.V. Krebs is director of the Corporate Agribusiness Research Project, PO Box 2201, Everett, WA 98203. He publishes a free email newsletter, The Agribusiness Examiner; email; website

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