Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Tom Vilsack, Ezra Klein, and Assured Mutual Idiocy

I'm not certain I can write coherently about this, because I am so angry. It might be better to just read this blog post on "Blog for Rural America" entitled "What are the rural subsidied that Ezra Klein and Tom Vilsack are debating?" And even more: "The Myth of Rural Subsidies."


Ezra Klein, obviously on some sort of buzz following a reading of Edward L. Glaeser's self-congratulatory and parochial book Triumph of the City, wrote a blog post entitled "Why We Still Need Cities," a title which implies, like the Religious Right's mythical "assault on Christmas," that there is some sort of assault on cities underway that he and Glaeser need to defend against. He concludes his superficial piece of a superficial book with a superficial conclusion:
The overarching theme of Glaeser's book is that cities make us smarter, more productive and more innovative. To put it plainly, they make us richer. And the evidence in favor of this point is very, very strong. But it would of course be political suicide for President Obama to say that part of winning the future is ending the raft of subsidies we devote to sustaining rural living. And the U.S. Senate is literally set up to ensure that such a policy never becomes politically plausible.
What???? 
   First of all, there isn't a "raft of subsidies" devoted to "sustaining rural living," there are subsidies devoted to sustaining corporate agriculture, and that is something else entirely. As is noted in CFRA blog post linked to above, "USDA investment is [badly skewed] toward very large farm operators and away from investing in programs that build a future for all of rural America. The report found that the USDA spent nearly twice as much to subsidize just the 20 largest farms in each of 13 leading farm states examined as it invested in rural-development programs to create economic opportunity for the 3 million people living in 1,400 towns in the 20 most-struggling rural counties in the same 13 states." Sort of like the arts funding distribution system: the rich get richer. Subsidizing Archer Daniels Midland is NOT "rural living." In fact, it is subsidizing the killing of rural life. Plus, more is spent per capita in urban areas than in rural areas.


Vilsack, rightly feeling that Klein's post was a "slam on rural America," takes part in an interview with Klein four days later in which he defends rural areas in what seems to me the most stupid terms possible. People may remember that I took Rocco Landesman to task for his insulting comment about Peoria when he first took over at NEA, but that was nothing compared to Vilsack. Basically, Vilsack says that we need to subsidize rural living because rural areas supply 44% of the military, and because the people there have good values. WTF??? Rural areas should be supported because they raise all-American cannon fodder?

Here's the problem: Vilsack can't really deliver a smackdown to Klein because he'd have to own up to the actual subsidies that are going to corporate agribusiness, which he can't do because he is bought and paid for by agribusiness, and always has been. And so he is incapable of defending rural areas because he thinks of them as great big storage units to be mined for food and water. 


All it would have taken was a glance at the Amazon comments on Glaeser's book to be able to kills Klein's urban buzz. Here is something from Louis C. Nuyens:


Before we are too quick to unquestioningly praise cities, we should remember that today's cities rely unsustainably on fossil fuels, even if we believe the concocted attributions contained in Glaeser's fascinating but sometimes fantasy-based analysis.

The inconvenient truth is that the sustainable carrying capacity of the Earth might be a lot closer to one billion than to seven billion or more, and sustainable land-use -- which might increasingly require that food, water, construction materials, and energy supply come from locations near to the people who use them -- might look a lot more like semi-rural small towns than like medium-to-large modern cities in which nature is paved out of existence, human activities are disconnected from awareness of the limits of natural resources, and virtually all essential food, water, energy, and materials must be delivered from remote locations.
When Klein stops eating food and drinking water from rural areas is when I'll start listening to his ideas. 
   And what about all that money that goes to pay for urban problems. What percentage of the prison system is taken up housing urban criminals? What percentage of the war on drugs? What percentage of arts funding goes to urban areas? What percentage of urban planning money goes to urban areas? The list could go on and on.


Makes me so damn mad...


And while you're at it, take a look at this:"Well-Being in Rural Congressional Districts."

1 comment:

Joe Patti said...

Scott-

When I saw Ezra Klein's 3/8 column and Vilsack quoted as saying he took Klein's earlier column as a slight to rural America, I was going to send it to you with a note that Vilsack had your back.

Then I read on and realized Vilsack wasn't really doing rural America any favors with his reasoning and closed my browser.

I grew up in rural area surrounded by farms and chasing cows out of our garden. I was hoping Klein's notes or characterization of Vilsack's comments were incomplete because I was a little dismayed that this might be the best the Secretary of Agriculture could do.