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Demagoguery Beats Data PDF Print E-mail
Written by Steve Dittmer   
Tuesday, 02 May 2006
AFF Sentinel Vol.3 #9

"Demagoguery beats data."

So said former House Majority Leader Dick Armey. Noted economist Thomas Sowell recently quoted Armey in trying to explain the modern, widespread habit of disregarding facts when discussing public policy. ("Demagoguery trumps data in most public policy decisions." Gazette, 4/06/06.)

"People who have made up their minds and don't want to be confused with the facts are a danger to the whole society," Sowell said. "Since the votes of such people count just as much as the votes of people who know what they are talking about, politicians have every incentive to pass laws and create policies that pander to ignorant notions, if those notions are widespread."

In just two sentences, Sowell explained the reason national politics are in such a sorry state today. For cryin' out loud, it's a numbers game! Only statesmen -- as opposed to politicians -- would react differently to the realities when they need votes. And we have a serious statesman drought in America.

Pandering to widespread illogical beliefs, feelings and frustrations also explains the current appeal of some radical organizations in the cattle industry. There are ranchers and farmers happy to believe demagogues telling them they shouldn't have to change -- nor should they allow anyone else to, either. And because enough of them are vocal, populist politicians happily tell them what they want to hear, in order to get their vote.

R-CALF's new president Chuck Kiker has provided another perfect -- though none too classy -- example.

"If you hear a sucking noise when your [sic] outside don't let it worry you, it's just the packing and retail industry taking back all the profits they felt like you unduly received for your cattle the past three years," Kiker said. "They are back to sucking the life right out of rural America again. If someone tells you it's just the normal cattle cycle and we all knew cattle prices had to go down, spit in their eye for me because that's the biggest bunch of bull#$%* ever told."

We've never heard any packer -- though unhappy with negative margins, short cattle supplies forcing curtailed operations and large losses -- claim cattlemen profits were "unduly received."

As for the cattle cycle, we weren't aware R- CALF had had it outlawed. Who'd they sue to stop the laws of supply and demand? To our knowledge, cow/calf operators have responded to good market prices by expanding their herds faster than consumer demand has grown.

By the way, Kiker's comments were not blurted out in an unguarded moment. They were published in the Southeast Texas Independent Cattlemen Association newsletter.

Economics is not a game invented by packers and retailers with rules specifically designed to destroy those who supply the crucial raw material. We don't believe any packer, no matter how hard a bargainer, has as a mission to "suck the life right out of rural America."

Assigning evil motivations to economic principles is not easy, even for demagogues. So they attack humans -- or collections of humans organized as corporations -- in order to generate rage toward companies who have worked hard to get into position to benefit from the normal workings of the economy.

Just as Disney's animation has created an unrealistic picture of how "human" animals are, demagogues have attempted to create evil-minded villains out of corporations responding to customer desires. Since American demagogues have trained certain people to respond to emotion, not fact, it is a short step to get them to respond to symbols like Pavlovian dogs. Yell "Wal-Mart" and they howl. Yell "corporation," "capitalist pigs" or "packers" and the appropriate audience will sit up and howl. Just watch the demonstrators on television or certain people at an R-CALF or OCM meeting. The emotions are right at the surface.

Kiker's labeling of the cattle cycle and supply & demand as bull is typical of this emotion-driven, fact- starved approach. The same goes for his encouragement to "spit in their eye" as a weapon of argument. We fail to see how such leadership can take the beef industry forward in a tough, competitive, real world.

Next time: Kiker accuses packers of using Canadian cattle to break the market.
Last Updated ( Saturday, 24 June 2006 )
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