This week, the industry held its mid-year meeting to deal with real and substantive issues. I’m always amazed at the work of all the various committees and the dedicated volunteer leaders who serve our industry. Yet, I believe there are some disturbing parallels to the whole debt crisis scenario going on at the federal level.
If we take a look at the whole debt ceiling debate, it’s easy to pick out the winners; the irony is that they are the two sides most bitter about the deal. Republicans, and more accurately, the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, won. They got the first real cuts in the growth of government in quite some time and they got those concessions without raising taxes.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration also won in that it got the primary thing it wanted – an extension of the debt ceiling beyond the 2012 election.
Still, the whole exercise was more about political posturing for the upcoming election cycle than doing something substantive to bring the U.S. back toward fiscal sanity. All the talk about a possible downgrade in our credit rating was a joke. While several of the leading credit-rating firms had made it known long ago that the U.S. would face further downgrades if it didn’t do something to rein in spending, the figure they cited for cutting was $4 trillion. We didn’t come anywhere near that number and, in fact, that figure was never on the table from either side.
So, while the rate of the deficit’s growth may have been reduced, the debt will continue to grow under this plan. The deficit wasn’t addressed because no one was willing to seriously and legitimately consider a plan of action different than that which most of Europe has followed into crisis. Thus, the American dream will continue to be swallowed up by a mountain of debt that our leaders seem to lack the fortitude to address.
The cattle industry is in a similar position. The checkoff fiasco was and remains all about political agendas. The actions taken so far were simply the obvious ones that had to happen, and it’s nearly impossible to imagine a scenario where everyone will put aside their personal politics and start to work in the best interests of the industry.
We have real issues – a declining industry that is losing market share, for instance, and that is consolidating and concentrating as a result. We also have per-capita consumption falling to unprecedented low levels. But we continue to address smaller, singular issues that, while important, simply ignore the larger underlying problems, because they have become fodder for the partisan bickering that has taken control of our industry.
The industry’s long-range plan was supposed to prevent this type of narrow focus from taking hold. Instead, it’s now being manipulated in an effort to achieve certain political goals. How can we honestly deal with the real issues we face unless we recognize them and are honest about their causes?
Demagogues are nothing new. What’s different is that these folks have taken over the debates to the extent that the real issues can’t be addressed.