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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks and other Republicans have criticized President Joe Biden for not yet fixing the infrastructure for handling immigrant people at the southern border. They have not been mentioning the roots of the crisis in conservative foreign policy and farm policy. Neither have Biden and the Democrats said much about this. While some have referred to the long-term causes, they seem to have left out the root causes, especially in the politics behind our foreign policy affecting Central America and our farm policy affecting Mexico.
For decades the U.S. has taken strong actions in support of dictators in Central America. The “School of the Americas,” for example, has trained them in how to abuse their citizens for political gain against democratic processes. During the 1980s the Reagan administration’s support for dictators and for groups such as the Contras is a classic example. We heard then of abuse of the citizens by these dictators and by death squads. Money flowed in to affect the results of elections. The World Court also found the U.S. guilty of “unlawful use of force” toward these goals.
These are policies of realpolitik, which has mistakenly been branded “realism.” It’s really fatalism, a perverse kind of naiveté, seeing the world through smoked glass to serve partisan goals, such as funding for the military industrial complex that, in turn, funds congressional campaigns.
We see the same thing in farm policy, where Congress has ignored the chronic farm problem, where free markets chronically fail, leading to cheap prices on crops like corn. Iowa corn has then been exported at below our farmers’ full costs of production to countries like Mexico, where several million farmers were run out of business, fueling the immigration crisis. Multinational agribusiness firms benefit.
This too was a product of the policies and programs supported by Republicans and conservative Democrats. Congress rejected the Harkin-Gephardt farm bill, which would have raised farm price floors above full costs. Corn and other major farm prices have been below full costs, as measured by USDA’s Economic Research Service, most of the time since 1981. A study by the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute found that the Harkin-Gephardt bill would have brought in a lot more money on farm exports, even as it would have greatly reduced government costs, by eliminating the need for any subsidies on these crops.
By 1995, farm price floors were very low, and then they were ended in 1996, with strong opposition from former U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin and other rural populist Democrats. In the 21st century, however, Harkin and the others joined Republicans, and we’ve seen a series of “bipartisan” farm bills that are really, at their core, Republican bills. They ignore free market failure in agriculture, and its consequences on farmers, such as in the subsidization of CAFOs and the continued loss of livestock. Today only a small fraction of Iowa farms have any value-added livestock or poultry.
Paradoxically, the failure of Republican policies to support the values of decency and democracy for Central America and Mexico have led to increasing support, especially in rural areas, for Republican politicians like Miller-Meeks, as the immigrant victims have flowed toward our southern border. We’ve seen the same thing in Europe, where the failures of naively fatalistic foreign policies have fueled massive immigration into Europe, and stimulated support for the very kinds of conservative politicians who caused the problems in the first place.
Our political leaders must do better.
Brad Wilson of Springville has worked on farm issues for more than 35 years as a farm organizer for Iowa CCI and as a board member with the National Family Farm Coalition.