This is a phenomenal interview by Ezra Klein with Secretary of Agriculture (former Governor of Iowa) Tom Vilsack.
"TV: I think we would have fewer people. There’s a value system there. Service is important for rural folks. Country is important, patriotism is important. And people grow up with that. I wish I could give you all the examples over the last two years as secretary of agriculture, where I hear people in rural America constantly being criticized, without any expression of appreciation for what they do do. When’s the last time we thanked a farmer for the fact that only 6 or 7 percent of our paycheck goes to food? We talk about innovation and these guys have been extraordinarily innovative. We talk about trade deficits and agriculture has a surplus.
EK: I feel like I hear a lot of paeans to the good people of rural America. I feel like politics is thick with tributes to farmers and to the heartland -- and that’s fine with me. Which isn’t to say I doubt what you’re telling me. But I guess I’d offer a hypothesis: Some of the frustration you hear is because of the subsidies that go to rural America. If rural America wasn’t getting these subsidies but was flourishing, they’d get more of the respect you’re saying they deserve. But as long as they’re heavily subsidized, people are going to feel that there’s something wrong.
extraordinarily innovative. We talk about trade deficits and agriculture has a surplus.
TV: I don’t know if it’s that. I think one of the reasons that there’s a safety net for American farmers is that we don’t really want to be so dependent on other countries for our food. How much more do we spend on the military in order to protect our ability to get oil? I make the same argument on immigration: One reason we need immigration reform is that 50 percent to 75 percent of our food is, at some point or another, touched by immigrant hands. Growing our own food is important. That’s where I come from in my attitude that there should at least be some acknowledgment of the role that farmers and ranchers play in our country. You may be right that politicians speak up for these folks, but I have a hard time finding journalists who will speak for them."