Lots of consensus, so why no agreement?

There’s no denying that producers’ overwhelming support of the checkoff is due to the fact that it is highly efficient and effective. But as long as the checkoff is perceived by some as a tool to potentially affect policy issues, it will continue to be caught up in a political battle.

Franz Oppenheimer argued that there are two fundamentally opposed ways of acquiring wealth: the “political means” through coercion, and the “economic means” through peaceful trade (1922). In other words, you can either steal it (the political means) or you can earn it (the economic means).

I used to boast that the cattle business was about as close to a truly “free market” as one would find under such a heavily regulated government as the uSSA. But, the more collectivism creeps in, the less pride we can justify having. — jtl, 419

by Troy Marshall in My View From The Country

USDA Secretary folds on second checkoff; now what?

USDA Secretary Vilsack accomplished what few people thought possible – he unified the cattle industry and got Congress to act in a bipartisan fashion.

As expected, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced this week that he won’t pursue a second checkoff. The combination of an appropriations bill passed by Congress specifically directing USDA to not pursue a second checkoff, coupled with strong opposition from the industry and a retreat by the National Farmers Union (NFU), left Vilsack with little choice.

Vilsack accomplished what few people thought possible – he unified the cattle industry and got Congress to act in a bipartisan fashion. So where does that leave the discussion regarding the current checkoff program?

First off, the U.S. beef industry is seemingly united around several key factors:

The industry wants to control the checkoff and mitigate the influence of government, which has resulted in appointees who have championed political agendas over the best interests of the cattle industry. 

The industry strongly supports the current program and believes it has been very successful in accomplishing its mission of building beef demand. 

The industry largely believes that the $1/head assessment in place since 1985 is woefully inadequate almost 30 years later and should be increased. 

And there is industry consensus that the task of building beef demand is a more complex issue than it was in 1985. Thus, the industry needs a checkoff that can nimbly respond to new challenges moving forward.

With that much in agreement, one would think that a consensus solution could be advanced and supported. However, there’s one big fly in the ointment – politics.

There is one big issue that resists resolution. That is that the policy side of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), which is totally separate from the checkoff side of NCBA, tends to espouse positions contrary to those of such groups as NFU and R-CALF.

While R-CALF’s influence is ebbing, both in Washington and in the country, the whole philosophical divide between free market, free trade, and free enterprise vs. the protectionist, pro-government intervention, ant-capitalist view is alive and well. These aren’t views that can be easily reconciled. They especially become problematic when one considers that it is widely believed that these opposition groups believe the best way to affect NCBA on the policy side is via the checkoff.

There is almost universal agreement among naysayers to NCBA that the organization gets too large of a proportion of the checkoff dollars. But that’s a difficult problem to address as virtually everyone also believes that the money should continue to be spent in the most effective manner possible to build demand.

For instance, the vast majority of research dollars go to a handful of land-grant universities. That isn’t because these institutions have excessive influence but because they’re best positioned to do the needed research.

Likewise, when it comes to building domestic beef demand, NCBA’s checkoff side gets the lion’s share as well. The reason is that NCBA’s checkoff side simply has the expertise and infrastructure to conduct these programs. When the cost/benefit analyses are run, NCBA tends to come up the winner.

The same is true on the export front. The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) garners the lion’s share of checkoff dollars in this venue. And the reason is simply because USMEF was created, and has the expertise and infrastructure, to do this kind of work.

In all three of the above cases, cattle producers are spending their money where it will have the most positive impact. No one disputes that; they just dislike the lack of competition.

One of the big ironies of this whole discussion hails to the creation of the checkoff program. The checkoff caps administrative expenses and puts such tight restrictions on the money that it can’t be a profit center. Thus, only certain groups have developed the infrastructure to accomplish these goals. There is no incentive for other organizations to recreate the wheel and make the investment that these entities have made; and that makes it very difficult for these other groups to compete.

The question is: How does the industry effectively spend its limited resources to continue the stellar job it’s doing with the checkoff, and not continue to allocate the bulk of the dollars to the most effective contractors? As long as groups disagree with NCBA’s policy side, there will continue to be resentment that NCBA’s checkoff division garners the lion’s share of the dollars.

There’s no denying that producers’ overwhelming support of the checkoff is due to the fact that it is highly efficient and effective. But as long as the checkoff is perceived by some as a tool to potentially affect policy issues, it will continue to be caught up in a political battle. 

Environmental & Natural Resource Economics: The Austrian View

edited by

Dr Jimmy T (Gunny) LaBaume

Is now available in both PAPERBACK and Kindle

BookCoverImageMurray N. Rothbard was the father of what some call Radical Libertarianism or Anarcho-Capitalism which Hans-Hermann Hoppe described as “Rothbard’s unique contribution to the rediscovery of property and property rights as the common foundation of both economics and political philosophy, and the systematic reconstruction and conceptual integration of modern, marginalist economics and natural-law political philosophy into a unified moral science: libertarianism.”

This book applies the principles of this “unified moral science” to environmental and natural resource management issues.

The book started out life as an assigned reading list for a university level course entitled Environmental and Natural Resource Economics: The Austrian View.

As I began to prepare to teach the course, I quickly saw that there was a plethora of textbooks suitable for universal level courses dealing with environmental and natural resource economics. The only problem was that they were all based in mainstream neo-classical (or Keynesian) theory. I could find no single collection of material comprising a comprehensive treatment of environmental and natural resource economics based on Austrian Economic Theory.

However, I was able to find a large number of essays, monographs, papers delivered at professional meetings and published from a multitude of sources. This book is the result. It is composed of a collection of research reports and essays by reputable scientists, economists, and legal experts as well as private property and free market activists.

The book is organized into seven parts: I. Environmentalism: The New State Religion; II. The New State Religion Debunked; III. Introduction to Environmental and Natural Resource Economics; IV. Interventionism: Law and Regulation; V. Pollution and Recycling; VI. Property Rights: Planning, Zoning and Eminent Domain; and VII. Free Market Conservation. It also includes an elaborate Bibliography, References and Recommended Reading section including an extensive Annotated Bibliography of related and works on the subject.

The intellectual level of the individual works ranges from quite scholarly to informed editorial opinion.


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About Land & Livestock Interntional, Inc.

Land and Livestock International, Inc. is a leading agribusiness management firm providing a complete line of services to the range livestock industry. We believe that private property is the foundation of America. Private property and free markets go hand in hand—without property there is no freedom. We also believe that free markets, not government intervention, hold the key to natural resource conservation and environmental preservation. No government bureaucrat can (or will) understand and treat the land with as much respect as its owner. The bureaucrat simply does not have the same motives as does the owner of a capital interest in the property. Our specialty is the working livestock ranch simply because there are so many very good reasons for owning such a property. We provide educational, management and consulting services with a focus on ecologically and financially sustainable land management that will enhance natural processes (water and mineral cycles, energy flow and community dynamics) while enhancing profits and steadily building wealth.
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2 Responses to Lots of consensus, so why no agreement?

  1. Rich says:

    The cattle industry – not unlike the rest of agriculture – has long been guilty of self-delusion when it comes to rugged individualism. The beef checkoff has never been anything more than a tax on the producers who were insufficiently motivated to contribute voluntarily in earlier decades. The happy (and imaginary) rationale for a USDA-administered checkoff included the myths that a) it would be “voluntary” in the sense that any dissenting producer could get his money back simply by filling out a form, and b) the industry could vote it out at any time. I’m ashamed that I persuaded a lot of very earnest cattlemen back in the late 1970’s that a legislated checkoff was consistent with economic freedom. I should have known better. The checkoff has no refund method and there hasn’t been a producer vote in decades. Has it done any good? Of course. It would be hard to prevent a positive impact from spending as many millions, but the biggest impact has been on the industry’s national trade association…once a million-dollar ANCA, today a multi-million dollar NCBA. It’s OK to defend it but don’t try to do that as a program consistent with free markets and capitalism.

    Liked by 1 person

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