For perhaps the first time since World War II, the United States of America is engaged in an all-of-government response to a crisis.
With some exceptions, the staunchest conservative lawmakers on Capitol Hill recognized COVID-19 as a threat to the existence of the country. They went along with the passage of an unprecedented $2 trillion coronavirus rescue package.
If you visited a supermarket in the past three weeks, you might have noticed a lot of empty shelves. Cleaning products, toilet paper, soaps, etc. — hardly any to be found.
However, most of the food products were available.
And now it all makes sense.
One of the most confounding policies in the federal government is agriculture. For conservatives, subsidizing crops, or even paying farmers not to plant certain crops, defies every notion about the power of the free market.
Unfortunately, you cannot leave the stability of the country’s food supply vulnerable to the whims of market forces. There are acts of God and geopolitics that can disrupt the market — war, weather, pandemics, etc.
Panic, famine and hunger are ingredients for civil unrest. Yes, we are spoiled by the availability of food in America — a chicken in every pot, a Big Mac at every drive-thru window, a Slurpee machine on every street corner.
In America, there may be a lack of ventilators, N95 masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE), but there are plenty of boxes of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes on the Walmart shelves.
U.S. agriculture policy is not a perfect system. Still, it prevents widespread food shortages without the heavy hand of government in a planning role, but as more of an artificial market force that incentivizes particular behaviors for farmers that fit a larger plan.
Yes, there are some gross abuses within the system. Big Corn leads the way.
Since 1995, Iowa, a corn-producing state, has received $33 billion in subsidies from the federal government, second only to Texas, a far larger state.
In 2020, corn is in everything from automobile fuel to soda because of Big Corn’s ability to steer the system to its advantage, hence the imperfections.
Consider the alternative, however. One of the biggest triggers of domestic civil unrest in a country is food shortages. Look at Venezuela and the collapse of the Maduro regime’s stranglehold on the nation brought forth by economic turmoil.
A more notable historical example was the collapse of the Soviet Union. Where the United States showed it could defy the so-called gun and butter curve and have both, the Soviets could not, and that was the end of any further potential spread of communism in the world.
That brings us to China, the nation that is responsible for this crisis.
Scientists attribute the introduction of COVID-19 to humanity through the consumption of so-called exotic meats purchased at a wet market in Wuhan, China.
Such wet markets have offerings that include dogs, chickens, pigs, snakes, civets and apparently bats, where the coronavirus is believed to have originated.
Obviously, some cultures in China are fine with this selection of meat, but in some circumstances, the Chinese food supply does not have much else to offer. There’s not a lot of domesticated grass-fed beef or farm-raised catfish available in the marketplace.
Consider that China is a nation of nearly 1.4 billion, which presents some nutritional challenges given mainland China does not have the agricultural offerings of the United States. And that is why alternatives such as exotic meats are even considered as an option.
The absence of a stable and sanitary domestic food supply will create problems for a ruling government, as we now see.
It can be a national security issue as well. In this era of discussion of manufacturing supply chain disruptions because of coronavirus, the same can be true of food. If a nation is reliant on imports to feed its people, what happens when that supply chain is cut off?
People starve, and a country is vulnerable to outside threats. It was a tactic employed by Union generals in the Civil War to conquer the South city by city.
The nation’s food supply is an essential element in the federal government’s ability to provide for the common defense.
Alabama seems to be faring better in this crisis than other states. During a radio interview last week, Alabama Agriculture and Industries Commissioner Rick Pate insisted there was little for us to be worried about regarding food.
“People go in the grocery stores, and they see shortages. But I want to promise you we can sustain that, and we’ll refill that two days from now, two weeks from now, two months from now, two years from now,” Pate said. “Our food supply in this country is secure. It’s abundant. It’s safe. And the thing is, our government officials, at least around food, haven’t given me any indication that they don’t understand that — the federal USDA people, the Homeland Security people, our own state governor’s office, our own public health.
“I mean, anything is possible,” he continued. “But we’ve got a safe, abundant, sustainable food supply here in Alabama, and I would assume across most of the country.”
These are uncertain times, but we aren’t going to go hungry. Thank a farmer.
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