The Vilsack Interview

I’ve been trying to think of something to say about Ezra Klein’s brilliant interview with Tom Vilsack on subsidizing rural America.

What I’ve got is that while I don’t think that the subsidization in question is the worst thing in the world, I feel like the failure to appreciate that it’s even happening is a huge distorting influence on our politics. The issues here extend well beyond the direct monetary payments to American farmers to include trade barriers to imported agricultural products, the structure of federal highway spending, special federal programs to subsidize rural broadband internet and rural aviation, numerous targeted state-level rural development programs in mixed states like New York, and failure to appropriately price water and other natural resources. That’s what you get from a political system that says Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota, Alaska, and South Dakota should have equal representation to California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Illinois (who combine for over 35 percent of the population) and there’s nothing you can do about it.

What you can do, however, is at least have a political culture that acknowledges that this is one of the principle functions of the federal government. Rural America often seems to me to have a bad case of Keep The Government Out of My Medicare Syndrome that we could do without. Under the circumstances, I think Secretary Vilsack’s willingness to acknowledge the basic shape of what’s going on and defend it is a step in the right direction.