Don Curlee: Blind leadership frustrates farmers, red-baiting 1950s style the answer

Visalia Times-Delta columnist joins in the Red Bating fad  as though that will solve anything

Farmers have no monopoly on honesty, because that character trait is rooted in the country’s founding principles. But those roots have grown strong and deep in agriculture. Farmers are wondering why honesty doesn’t have a higher priority among political representatives.

If Marxism is a politician’s ultimate destination, he or she ought to be forthright enough to say so. Don’t count on it; saying and doing what is expedient instead makes them more electable.

Many politicians are taking large numbers of people with them to their secret collectivist destinations. Very few farmers want to go there.

via Don Curlee: Blind leadership frustrates farmers | | Visalia Times-Delta and Tulare Advance-Register.

Geez “marxism”, “communism”, “socialism” – is red-baiting in the red states and counties going to be the rule of the day for a while? I am sure that is a great tactic to get your own people elected and listened to.

If farmers are such great capitalists and free marketeers, how about they look at the industry structure that they have wrought over the last 100 or so years since this land was settled? If they are so transparent, how about they share what they have learned?

The problem is that farmers have dug themselves a hole at the bottom of a heap of a distribution channel, and a complex supply chain, and as such they have no (or limited) economic leverage.

Take a look at the recent raisin price it was announced that farmers will get for their crop this year – divide the dollars by ton to get a price per ounce, then go to your favorite retailer to see what the retail price per ounce is. The difference is what the market perceives as the value added in all of the steps of the supply chain beyond the farmer. It is a lot – what is the farmer doing to capture that value for himself or herself?

The same is true of any crop.

Similarly, take a look at the risk of the capital the farmer invests in his or her crop. Are the returns earned a fair return for the risk? Has the risk changed? Most likely they have.

But the same local red-baiters are also the anti-scientists who refuse to acknowledge climactic shifts. Now are upset at political shifts too, they are not likely to find a solution in economics, science, or business and finance. They are quick to see and seek the hand of God in all their local political endeavors, when there is an opportunity to restrict someone else’s rights. It is more than a little bit surprising that they don’t see the Hand of Providence in their own fate.

However despite the prevalent “know-nothing” political approach prevailing in the Valley,  there are in fact various techniques available to them to restructure the capitalization of their industry, so that the farmers receive what they perceive as the true value they provide from the end user (if in fact they don’t already get it).

These techniques DO NOT include calling people Marxists or Communists when they are representing their own interests in a free market. Quite the opposite – doing so merely tags those who those claims as fools not capable of understanding their own situation,  let alone innovating their way out of it.

They DO  involve a careful and honest assessment of the situation and how it came to be.  In the past,  the Valley has been represented successfully from a farmer’s point of view with regards to water – they were given everything they asked for: Witness former Senator Sheridan Downey’s book of character assassination documenting his plan for the water projects that now run low and dry called “They Would Rule The Valley”.

Yes, this is the most productive farming area in the country, perhaps even the world.  But it does not live in economic isolation – there are limits to the resources available to make things grow, and increased efficiency can’t go on forever , in this or any other field of human endeavor.

It may very well be that without innovation in industry structure and capitalization, that growth and efficiency have peaked, and that water is not really the limiting issue at all.

So when I see folks calling “commie” or “marxist” as is increasingly frequent locally and in the media, I expect a recognition that these are economic terms being tossed around. If the speaker does not want to be ridiculed for using words as epithets without even knowing what they mean, then I would expect a serious analysis of the industry structure to follow.

Yet somehow it never does.

But why would that be a surprise from  anyone in a region that, according to a recent Congressional Report, compares unfavorably in just about every regard  with our other poorest region of the country, Appalachia?

Posted in Agriculture, Choose Porterville, Food Channel Development, Food Economics, Restoring Science Watch, sustainability.


  1. Hello, I read your response to the VTD article. I’m not a farmer and haven’t been involved much in the history of farming in the valley. Most of what I read in the response above doesn’t make much sense. I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way, your writing is awesome. What I mean is, for a reader not familiar with farming and its history, it is difficult to follow what point you are trying to make. What is red-baiting? Did farmers say they were transparent? Seems like most folks who are in business tend to keep the knowledge they have learned over the years to themselves, so they have an edge over their competitors and over those who might try to steal their best practices? I don’t understand the lesson or point you are trying to make with the raisin example? Are you trying to say that there are too many middle men in getting the product to the supermarket and that is why the price is too high? Do you have something against God or are you upset with farmers? I guess my point is that you write very well but the content is too vague for those who don’t have a history of farming or politics. The article also “sounds” like you have a grudge. Maybe if you gave some specific examples your point in the article might be a little clearer. Or, maybe I should just read up a little more on the history of farming and politics here in the valley. Thanks for the blog post.

  2. Hi Gilbert,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response.

    You are right that my post is incomplete and makes a lot of assumptions of the reader. It is really just an outline and introduction to a much deeper series of essays I am preparing. I posted it because my thoughts are precisely on topic as a response to Curlee’s article.

    My schedule is kind of hectic the next couple of days, I will try to address your comments in more detail soon.

    But for now, let me quickly explain what I meant by “red-baiting” because I think that is the one point that a reader should know upon and can in fact act upon.

    “Red baiting” is a scurrilous and cowardly act. It refers to the process of accusing someone of being a communist or socialist or marxist as a means of discrediting him or her politically.

    This is always done without offering any evidence that the person is in fact communist or that the target’s ideas are not worthy of discussion regardless of political affiliation.

    It is simply an attempt to garner power by innuendo and rumour.

    There is a sad period of American history, peaking and then finally ending in the 1940s and 1050s with Senator Joe McCarthy holding hearings in the Senate parading people, many if not most of them Californians, and good Californians at that, insinuating that they are Communist and Anti-American and destroying their careers.

    Today, this is seen as nothing more than a witch-hunt and is seen as one of the most shameful episodes of American political history.

    Shameful, but it is far from forgotten. That is why it is odd that locals, in their attempt to build a political consensus outside their local area, or even inside their local area, would stoop so low.

    For Americans, there is no lower one can stoop politically then red-baiting, yet we are seeing a revival spurred on by the likes of Glen Beck on TV and others in the media, and picked up on by local farmers and their advocates such as Don Curlee, much to their discredit.

    And discredit it is, ,make no mistake about it.

    We can all see and hear “red baiting” when it happens, and it is happening increasingly.

    Your task as a listener is to associate anyone using such tactics with the truly unAmerican and thoroughly discredited Senator Joe McCarthy, and ask why anyone would use such a technique?

    Ask yourself as a listener, or a reader, if that is the best chance of persuasion that the speaker of writer has.

    If it is, then you should immediately discredit the rest of the argument, because the speaker/writer’s true intentions are already revealed – to associate with rumor-mongerers and innuendo-makers in a grab for power and influence.

    If it is not the best method of persuasion, then you should also discredit the rest of the argument because there is never any need for red-baiting rumor-mongering when making a solid argument – the red-baiting only distracts from a good case, it never helps it.

    So there is never any good reason to engage in red-baiting.

    I also want to touch on your question about transparency here.

    This is a multi-faceted issue as well, but with regards to red-baiting, the typical Valley political position is one of self-sufficiency and free markets. The legacy of Ronald Reagan if you will.

    They will also preach that, in government matters, less is better, and that what government there is should be transparent. Meaning ordinary citizens should be able to access all matters of government for whatever reason they want to.

    But their own practices, they (local folks involved in politics, not just politicians) engage in rumor-mongering and innuendo of the most scurrilous type know to America. The long and short of it is, they don’t practice what they preach.

    So that is another reason to discredit them completely, even if the topic they are discussing is important to discuss, as it certainly was in the case of the Curlee article.

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