Don’t get excited, I’m not going to give you my opinion of the candidates or look at how they stand on issues important to the cattle industry and ag, in general. In fact, this year’s election, if nothing else, serves as a stark warning that ag and the livestock industry are simply not even on the radar screen of any presidential candidate or their party.
Certainly, exploding food prices are starting to be felt by consumers, but the response there has been disconcerting, as well. While riots over food prices have hit the streets of developing countries, and the United Nations and other groups are warning about catastrophes, the response has been different in the Washington Beltway.
The widespread perception was that higher food prices would force people to take food less for granted, thus increasing their interest in ag. But the reaction appears that the powers that be are content to allow food production to move outside our borders.
This has always surprised me from a national-security perspective. If people are frustrated over military spending and the dispatching of our soldiers to foreign lands to ensure a continuing flow of oil, just think of the implications when we’re forced as a nation to do the same to ensure the flow of food into our country.
Their argument is that ag is an evolutionary step in an economy, and that outsourcing food production will stabilize other regions of the world, providing them income and raising their standard of living. America, they say, has evolved to where it doesn’t need to raise its own food. A model might be the state of New York where the bulk of its food needs are imported, leaving the populace to focus on higher outcome activities. While this is a topic that deserves some serious conversation, it’s not the thrust of this article, however.
The potential devastation I’m talking about as a result of this extended election cycle is simply its effect on beef demand. It began with the invisible “depression” that started about eight months ago.
Any analysis of the basic underlying economic numbers of the economy showed slow growth, but it was growth. This economic downturn was created in large part by politicians and the media, as it served their political purposes.
It was a self-fulfilling prophecy – reality eventually matched the perception. Consumer confidence is plummeting. According to some recent polling data by ABC, nine in 10 Americans now give the economy a negative rating; 51% say it’s in “poor” shape. This is the worst sentiment about the economy in more than 15 years!
The thing is that, as the news coming out of Iraq turned decidedly favorable, the political campaigns saw Iraq move down the list of concerns. They thus turned to the economy. As a result, the last 60 days saw the biggest decline in response to people’s perception of the economy since the monthly poll was initiated in 1985.
In fact, one political analyst remarked that with consumer confidence falling so sharply, we could actually be in a full-blown recession by fall. What was disconcerting to me was that this person viewed that as positive relative to their election goals.
This political race, on both sides of the aisle, has largely been about change – who can best position him or herself as the candidate to bring about change. Sure, that’s been the major theme of just about every election since the beginning of the republic, but this campaign season has seen politicians not only position themselves as the candidates of change, but also focus on making the case for change – to the detriment of the nation.
And their case for change is simple – the present isn’t good. While that may be good election-year politics, it’s not good for beef demand. We need to get this election over so that we have a shot at rebuilding consumer confidence.