(Page 2 of 3)
[Veronique de Rugy, the Mercatus Center economist and Reason columnist, actually has a cameo in the Funny or Die spoof—or at least one of her slides does. Note the credits at the bottom of the chart that appears about 56 seconds into the clip.]
How might Harvey respond to the detractors and supporters of the commercial? I suspect he'd probably say much they have heard, and little they’d expect.
That’s largely the result of the fact Harvey’s own take on farming and farmers—like American farm policy today—reads like a complex and contradictory time capsule from the 1970s.
On the one hand, Harvey was well aware of a growing organic movement as early as 1971—even before organic certification bodies like CCOF and Oregon Tilth existed. And he wrote about what he called organic food’s “maximum nutritious” qualities in a 1986 piece.
But that’s just a small part of the Harvey story when it comes to farms and farmers.
In 1978, for example, the year he delivered his God Made a Farmer speech, Harvey was also busy extolling the virtues of America's technological progress in farming—from the increased use of pesticides to the spread of more modern farming equipment.
Harvey wasn't the least bit skeptical of "agribusiness"—which was and often still is seen as the antithesis of the family farm. In fact, Harvey might be one of large-scale farming's more vocal defenders.
When he spoke of "the American farmer," he was very often talking about large corporate farm owners like Archer Daniels Midland. To Harvey, big farmers were just more efficient farmers.
"As efficient small farms evolved into efficient big ones," Harvey wrote in a 1974 column, "they become irresistible targets for the centralized mass media which is by instinct suspicious of any bigness other than its own."
That same column served as an homage of sorts to then-USDA secretary Earl Butz, famous for urging farmers to "get big or get out" and who, with his “fencerow to fencerow” incantation, pushed America's farmers to plant and grow more and more crops at all costs.
In yet another 1978 column, Harvey advocated in favor of what he called "farmunism"—that's Harvey’s term for communist Chinese-style farming.
While the term suggests collective farming, the policies that underlay the advances in Chinese farming that Harvey was cheering were related to Chinese agricultural deregulation policies for maximizing food output. In this case, by privatizing some farm output, China had begun to undo many of the Maoist agricultural policies that had been responsible for millions of deaths in previous decades.
Cheering as he did for policies that maximized farm output, Harvey also revealed he had no problem whatsoever putting taxpayer subsidies behind those policies, in the form of the USDA's myriad farm programs. The only thing Harvey appeared to lament when it came to subsidies was there didn’t appear to be enough taxpayer money to hand out in order to please everyone.
"The monumental multiplicity of farm programs cannot be administered with deference to all," Harvey wrote in his Butz column, before praising the USDA secretary for spreading agricultural subsidies around to the best of his abilities.
The contradictions evident in the Dodge commercial—and in many of the reactions to it—have been ingrained in America’s farm policy since the early- to mid-1900s. This is, after all, a country in which First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt had both to request and receive permission from her husband’s USDA, which was “skeptical of amateur farmers,” before she could plant her White House garden.