Don't get excited, I won't give my opinion of the candidates or look at how they stand on issues important to the cattle industry and agriculture in general. In fact, this year's election, if nothing else, serves as a stark warning that agriculture 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 warn 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 agriculture. But the reaction appears that the powers 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 dispatch of U.S. soldiers to foreign lands to ensure a continuing flow of oil, just think of the implications when our nation is forced to do the same to ensure the flow of food into our country.
Is ag an evolutionary step?
Some argue that agriculture 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.
The potential devastation I refer to 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. Our current economic downturn is largely the creation of politicians and the media, as it served their political purposes. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy — reality eventually matched the perception that was built.
Consumer confidence is plummeting. According to some recent polling data by ABC News, nine in 10 Americans now give the economy a negative rating; 51% say it's in “poor” shape — the worst sentiment about the economy in more than 15 years.
The economy replaced Iraq
The thing is, as the news coming out of Iraq turned decidedly favorable, the political campaigns sensed Iraq was moving down the list of electorate concerns. Thus, they turned to the economy. As a result, a 60-day period ending in mid-April 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's disconcerting is this person actually viewed that condition as a 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.
Troy Marshall is editor of Seedstock Digest and a weekly contributor to BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly, a free weekly newsletter delivered by email every Friday afternoon. To subscribe to BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly, which provides timely news, opinion and analysis of events and trends of particular importance to the cow-calf production segment, visit www.beefmagazine.com.