Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Are Michigan Farmers the Next Target?

The agriculture community enjoys a great deal of government support, so it only seems natural that the forces who have made a career on attacking the government would get around to farmers eventually. As we have seen time and time again, first it starts with a media campaign to discredit the group's importance to society... from the DNews this morning:

"Critics debate farms' impact on Michigan"

Title says it all, don't you think? The use of the word "critics" indicates that a number of people are being, well, critical, and more often than not the word is taken with negative connotations nowadays. Now, to lay out the groundwork to bring question to the reader's mind:

Michigan's farmers and the state department overseeing them champion agriculture as the state's second-largest industry, but federal statistics show it is closer to being the second smallest.

The issue has emerged as Gov. Rick Snyder, who was endorsed by the Michigan Farm Bureau, is targeting agriculture for more assistance and refers to it as the state's No. 2 industry.

Mention the state government. Mention the state government has implied "assistance". Pit the sides of the "debate" against each other; in this case, a study from MSU that encompasses all the side industries such as ethanol production, etc., vs. the federal statistics that don't take those things into account. Next, call upon the usual suspects to weigh in on the issue. In Michigan, that can only mean one thing.

Agriculture's No. 2 status "is definitely a myth," said James Hohman, a fiscal policy analyst with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a think tank in Midland.

"Agriculture is nowhere near as large as most Michigan industries," Hohman said. "You drive through the state, you see a lot of agriculture. But when you start adding it up, it doesn't account for as much as you might expect."

The debate about agriculture's economic punch may not change its status in Lansing.

"The agriculture lobby is pretty strong, and they have a fairly positive image," said John Truscott, president and principal of the Truscott Rossman public relations firm in Lansing. "I don't think reality would change their image much."

It's a myth. It's a myth that defies reality. Wow, didn't know that, did you? What a revelation. The surprising part is that the agriculture industry has definitely been an important constituency for the Republicans (and some Democrats too, but for the most part you think of rural areas as being a big part of the R base), and here is the right-wing blowing up the image. Is it possible that you would see the extremist forces start to split farmers off from herd? Sure. Just look at what is happening with the freshman teabaggers vs. the remnants of the old Republican guard on Capitol Hill. Why wouldn't they target this spending next?

The article follows the traditional "he said, she said, he said" style. First we hear from the Mac Center, then we hear from the state and MSU with a rebuttal and explanation, and then we instantly segue back into a paragraph that instills more doubt by showing that Ohio and Indiana use different stats. Who knows what to think. And then, we are right back to the Mac Center, with a side order of the paid economists at the Anderson Group, who lean more right than not. Just to drive home the point.

But critics say agricultural advocates rely on a statistical approach that inflates the numbers.

"Not being specific about what industry is being discussed is a source of the confusion," said Hohman of the Mackinac Center. "The people that use the study are not careful in reporting the findings."

Scott Watkins, a senior consultant with Anderson Economic Group in East Lansing, said the federal statistics encompass most aspects of agriculture. The category also covers forestry, fishing, and hunting, which are not traditionally associated with farming.

The fact that the MSU study also measures portions of other industries such as transportation and manufacturing is "fairly misleading," he said.

Kind of settles the "debate" right there, doesn't it? The story ends with the Mac Center agreeing that agriculture has been a "bright spot" in the Michigan economy, "but it's just not that big of a bright spot".

It only follows that they don't need any government "assistance" then, right? Case closed.

First the came for the poor, then they came for the public employees... we will see if the heat starts to turn up on the farmers next. In the meantime, watch for that pattern in any argument surrounding government spending; negative, rebuttal, stronger negative that reiterates the first point. It's a classic tactic when it comes to the "fair and balanced" crowd.