As you’re undoubtedly aware, China’s reciprocal tariffs levied in response to the Trump administration’s increasingly aggressive trade stance have hurt American agriculture.
In fact, the situation is so dire that the government announced a $12 billion rescue package for farmers late last month. The circularity inherent in that effort was readily apparent both to lawmakers and to farmers themselves: Trump instituted trade policies that posed an existential threat to American agriculture and then, facing a severe backlash, decided to bail them out with their own taxpayer dollars. In the final insult, Trump peddled $45 “Make Farmers Great Again” hats on his website and, in a testament to the sad gullibility of the farm belt, they sold out within hours.
When last we checked in on this “deplorable” situation, Trump was busy explaining that contrary to popular belief (read: contrary to reality), farmers are “starting to do very well”.
If that’s too vague for you, allow the President to give you the details, as delivered during one of his rambling televised cabinet meetings held earlier this month:
Got that? Let’s review:
They are, I hear, despite everything, they are starting to really do well. They got out there, like they are, they’re incredible patriots, but they’re incredible entrepreneurs, and they’re selling the coin, or the, the corn, and they’re selling the soybean and they’re selling everything at levels that are soon to be pretty good levels.
To be fair, I’m not sure what prices farmers are getting these days for their “coin”, but what I do know is that the Bloomberg Agriculture Subindex is parked near all-time lows.
I also know that while you could plausibly use that chart to suggest that this isn’t all Trump’s fault, it is no coincidence that the same index has fallen precipitously since the trade tensions with China really started to escalate this year:
Oh, and I know that data released by the Labor Department earlier this month showed agricultural export prices slumping 5.3% in July from June – that’s the largest drop in nearly seven years.
But fortunately, help is on the way, because the USDA has released the details of Trump’s farmer bailout program. Apparently, signups for payments (read: welfare) start on September 4. Here are the bullet point details:
These programs will assist agricultural producers to meet the costs of disrupted markets:
- USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) will administer the Market Facilitation Program (MFP) to provide payments to corn, cotton, dairy, hog, sorghum, soybean, and wheat producers starting September 4, 2018. An announcement about further payments will be made in the coming months, if warranted.
- USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) will administer a Food Purchase and Distribution Program to purchase up to $1.2 billion in commodities unfairly targeted by unjustified retaliation. USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) will distribute these commodities through nutrition assistance programs such as The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and child nutrition programs.
- Through the Foreign Agricultural Service’s (FAS) Agricultural Trade Promotion Program (ATP), $200 million will be made available to develop foreign markets for U.S. agricultural products. The program will help U.S. agricultural exporters identify and access new markets and help mitigate the adverse effects of other countries’ restrictions.
Predictably, the USDA continues to characterize this as something that’s necessary because other countries are being unfair.
“U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announced details of actions the U.S. Department of Agriculture will take to assist farmers in response to trade damage from unjustified retaliation by foreign nations”, a press release reads.
If you think there’s something odd about the juxtaposition of the words “unjustified” and “retaliation”, you’re not alone.
Inherent in the term “retaliation” is the idea that whoever is doing the retaliating came under attack first. So while it’s theoretically possible to claim that said retaliation is disproportionate and/or not warranted, that doesn’t change the fact that the Trump administration started this and was inexplicably caught off guard when China struck back.
Naturally, China targeted the farm belt because Beijing knows that’s where to hit Trump and the GOP when it comes to communicating to the American electorate that these trade policies are a disaster. Rather than reconsider the policies, Trump has decided instead to effectively put farmers on welfare.
We would again quote Senator Ben Sasse:
This trade war is cutting the legs out from under farmers and the White House’s ‘plan’ is to spend $12 billion on gold crutches. America’s farmers don’t want to be paid to lose – they want to win by feeding the world. This administration’s tariffs and bailout aren’t going to make America great again, they’re just going to make it 1929 again.
If you’re in the mood for some propaganda, Sonny Perdue released a video earlier this month that purports to explain why all of this is actually in the best interests of everyone, including the people being bailed out.
To all the farmers out there, don’t forget to spend some of your bailout money on one of Trump’s $45 “Make Farmers Great Again” hats, because without that money, how is he going to get re-elected on the way to bankrupting you again?