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Crisis and Change PDF Print E-mail
Written by Steve Dittmer   
Thursday, 10 August 2006
AFF Sentinel Vol.3 #20

We get asked - especially by potential contributors - why we need AFF.

In the talk I give to cattlemen's groups, I emphasize AFF's freedom to be brutally honest about the real motivations and agendas of the radicals. We also point out the longer term consequences of the things the radicals advocate and their obliviousness to the unintended consequences. Unlike cattlemen's associations or government agencies, we don't have to sit down at the bargaining table later and negotiate. So we don't have to be diplomatic - just truthful.

In my conclusion, I suggest what beef chain participants can do. The greatest force for the protection of our economic and political freedoms is an informed and motivated beef industry mainstream.

How do things change in the real world?

In the current issue of Imprimis 1 , Gary Becker, a University of Chicago economics and sociology professor, made a startling statement.

"Most economists in the 1950s, ?60s and even the ?70s, were not strong believers in free markets. They may have taught free-market economics, but they didn't believe in it."

Economists then believed that centralized economic planning would result in more output, even though there would be a price in restrictions on political freedom.

I'm thinking this seemed plausible after WWII. The Allies had just achieved the impossible with a collective, centralized government war effort.

Milton Friedman was also interviewed in Imprimis, so I consulted his 1962 Capitalism and Freedom. 2 In the second preface to the 1982 edition, 20 years later, Friedman explained why Free To Choose and the PBS series based on the book - essentially the same ideas - were so much more successful in 1982 than the first book in 1962.

"The change in climate of opinion was produced by experience, not by theory or philosophy," Friedman said. The failure of communism in Russia and China and socialism in Great Britain was becoming obvious. The failure of American big government programs - welfare, public housing, support of trade unions, school integration, federal aid to education and voters discontent with inflation and higher taxes - were the persuasive factors, he said.

That's why Goldwater lost and Reagan won - with essentially the same programs and message, he said.

How does Friedman see the role of his books?

"The only person who can truly persuade you is yourself," he said in Free to Choose. "You must turn the issues over in your mind at leisure, consider the many arguments, let them simmer and, after a long time, turn your preferences into convictions."

"Only a crisis - actual or perceived - produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.

"That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable."

Crisis begets change.

Remember the out-of-fashion cattlemen who kept long, tall cattle in their herds when the conventional wisdom created yearlings that could walk under your dining room table? Those breeders were ready for a later genetic crisis.

Recall the Katrina refugees, a segment of society angry with the government for not taking care of them, people permanently dependent on government for food, housing, medical care and income. Will we someday be dependent on the government to decide who can own cattle and how big any company in the production chain can be?

The 9/11 crisis was the catalyst for consideration of the illegal immigration issue. Concern for security, coupled with images of illegal immigrants waving the Mexican flag made the issue immediate.

Crisis causes change.

The actions of radical groups in our industry are forcing many to re-examine their positions on fundamental issues.

I think economists like Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell are popular because of growing acceptance of their contentions - in the tradition of economists like Friedman and Becker's phraseology - that "economic freedom and political freedom are inseparable."

To borrow from Friedman, we see our role at AFF as leaving facts and ideas "lying around" for you. Because when a crisis comes forcing change, real action must come from citizens, as voters, as innovators in your industry.

1 The national speech digest of Hillsdale College,, July 2006.

2 Capitalism and Freedom, Milton Friedman, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1962, 1982.

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