The True cost of the Iowa Caucuses

An awful lot is being written about the true democracy being exhibited at the moment in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Admittedly, a lot of this is being written by political hacks who are being paid to hang around those States. Having experienced their people and generosity myself, I can't blame them. But there is a real price to the primary procedure that is currently, happily, derailing the Clinton, Romney, Giuliani and Thompson camps and which is promoting Huckabee, Obama and Paul to the fury of the mainstream media.

The price is the danegeld being paid to the American agricultural industry. The $9 billion annual subsidy is damaging countries all round America and the USA itself. It dosn't go to mom and pop farms, most of which are mortgaged to the hilt. It goes to agribusinesses.

I have a somewhat skewed image of farmers outside of England and Wales, I think. My grandfather was what should be described as a peasant farmer in Ireland, and when I was young and living with him in his exile in Corby, he would always turn off the TV at night and bemoan how people forgot the farmers.

American politicians every four years certainly cannot.

What are the consequences of the primaries kicking off in farm states? A Cincinnatinian affection for the rough and ready virtues of a simple republic, as the journalists from the big cities would have us believe? Well, no. I think that there is a good case to be made that the farm state primaries and caucuses are a creator of obesogenic, environmental disaster for the USA and its neighbours.

Consider the evidence from three sources. First, the promises of more and more encouragement to the production of corn and the subsidies in the form of tax breaks and special treatment awarded to agribusiness result in a huge purchase of nitrogen-rich fertiliser every year. Many Europeans don't realise that the Mississippi runs very far from the North. It carries the effluent and run off of these fertilisers down to the Gulf, and is currently creating an asphyxiating and expanding dead zone up to 8000 km square. This is killing fishing, shrimp farming and sea harvesting way off American waters every year. Will anything be done about it? Pigs will fly it will.

Second, one of the reasons for a decline in health and a rise in obesity over previous years has been the rise in the use of highly calorific corn syrup, which is a by-product of over-subsidised over-produced corn that American politicians have to love every four years. Corn syrup is why American coke tastes different from that anywhere else. It is very much richer than sugar, and has an effect not unlike eating raw fat on the body. They allow this and ban foie gras and my book of yiddish insults would say, Tsi Bistu Meshugeh?

Third, the utterly useless attempt to produce ethanol as an oil substitute, which takes more energy than oil to produce from corn and is far less effective, is a direct product of sucking up to the agriculture industry. This is a gigantic red herring in the way of replacing dirty petrol engines with something more effective, and in a rational system it would be a non-starter.

God knows Europe has its sillinesses over agriculture. At least the Appellation controlee system doesn't pretend to be anything other than a classy boondoggle, though, and if we don't have the GM fields we should those people silly enough to buy organic food have at least to pay for it. This Iowa- and Carolina-flattery though, which is utterly necessary, is a menace to any sensible food or agriculture policy. It tends to boost big agribusinesses and buy off farmers rather than letting them diversify and produce locally, and it is a direct consequence of the primary system.

I've been to the plains in winter, and I can only imagine their beauty in the summer. But this silliness should stop. At least one of my three favourite candidates this time round, Ron Paul, thinks so too.


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