The US rural urban divide

Rural development programs do little to subsidize the family farm, and those which are able to survive now receive the majority of their income from non-farm sources.[1]  The struggling middle farms are likely to transition into larger farms, into farms that do not provide a primary source of income, or out of agriculture.[2]  And the small family farm is courted by the call of suburbia.

If the rhetoric of rural development used to maintain these direct payments is true however, it is a belief in a rural lifestyle which maintains it.  But evidence shows that the family farm and smaller portions of acreage are increasingly vulnerable to the political and monetary power of agribusiness.  These family farms are unable to exist under the present system and are losing ground quickly.  For those who lobby for rural development programs to maintain them, they are lobbying a dream.

These domestic supports then become far less an economic and agricultural policy than they do social support programs.  They are economically wasteful, given that they strive to fund a society which no longer exists or can support itself under the free hand of the market, and their merit is derived only from their cultural and social implications.  The frontier ethics and the idea of stoic farm life are maintained by these programs more than their value to society as a whole.  These values are further publicized by the Congressmen and Women who espouse them and claim them as reasoning for their agricultural voting records.

Should these payments  be recognized for the social support programs they are, the lifestyle they fund would be documented through educational funding and programs for future generations.  This process insures that the rural lifestyle is maintained in the minds of Americans the way paintings and film are preserved, and viewed similarly to the way in which society insures school trips to museums and parks.  These payments would end up denoting the rural lifestyle to be nothing more than a cultural exercise.

If the US and EU are going to fund these farmers because of their lifestyle they need to at least own up to the decisions being made.  Rural development programs in the EU are no more farming support than they are payments to insure that future generations will have green space in which to walk.  They are also, granted, insurance against collapsing world markets in the future.  Environmental programs and rural development programs provide for space whereEuropecan produce its own agricultural products should it later be dependent on the current developing countries for agricultural commodities and find its needs not being met.

TheUS, however, will encounter no lack of potential farmland in the foreseeable future.  These payments are proof of the social desires of a populous who find it culturally advantageous to support a dying industry.  What is being witnessed in American political culture is a divide between a strong rural and an urban ideology.  These two sectors of society have differing solutions to every social issue from food production to cultural homogenization.  The urban sector has begun to stress its ability to produce without vast tracts of land and traditional farming.  With advancements in scientific technology and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) enough food can be grown to sustain massive urban populations within the city limits.  These processes reduce labor, land and transportation costs, and are claimed to be advantageous for the planet’s sensitive environment.

 

Rural ideology obviously maintains its superior ability at farming production.  The real dichotomy between the two comes in social policy.  Because of the space and time dividing the individuals cohabitating in these two sectors, their human interaction is maintained at different levels of social interaction.  Rural dwellers see little need for the necessary legislation required by the close proximity of urbanites.  These juxtaposed evaluations of the needs of society, without insight into the others’ society, result in opposite political preferences.  This situation partly explains the dichotomy present in contemporary American politics and increased friction during election cycles.  It would seem with the decline in the family farm that the urban lifestyle is winning in the political struggle between the two.

But given the intense lobbying that creates the agriculture policy reviewed here, perhaps the rural sector has more power than that with which it is being credited.  The ability of rural constituents to receive these ridiculous donations to their lifestyle, which are mostly funded by unaware urban taxpayers, is witness to their ability to fit their existence to a system which has been hostile to their previous way of life.  The rural lifestyle seems to be taking a stand against the encroachment of the urban sector and higher “civilization.”

The issues outlined above are in need of discussion and solution if theUSis to improve its trading position in the world.  The dichotomy presented by theUS’ political constituency cannot possibly agree to global agricultural policy under present circumstances.  Without at least minimal cohesion at home, making profitable and acceptable agriculture policy at the WTO level will be an unattainable aspiration.

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