Plowshares and Pork Barrels: The Political Economy of Agriculture by E.C. Pasour Jr. and Randal R. Rucker
In this edition of What We’re Reading, Dr. Nathan DeLay, Assistant Professor in Purdue University’s Department of Agricultural Economics, shares his recent read over government policy in agriculture, called Plowshares and Pork Barrels: The Political Economy of Agriculture by E.C. Pasour Jr. and Randal R. Rucker.
Those outside of agriculture are often surprised by the large and complex role of government policy in the food we eat. This influence is justified as necessary for securing America’s food system – an important concern in light of COVID-19’s recent impact on supply chains. However, the stated goals of government policy should be tested against their real-world effects on farmers and consumers.
In Plowshares and Pork Barrels, Pasour and Rucker demystify U.S. agricultural policy, examining the incentives of farm groups, agribusinesses and the politicians who represent them. Pasour and Rucker tell the “origin story” of U.S. agricultural policy starting in the Great Depression and apply economic analysis to the modern Farm Bill. Though agricultural policy has changed in the 15 years since it was written, the analysis provided in this book holds up well.
Strategy is about making choices, often while facing a great deal of uncertainty. As decision makers, we tend to limit our choices when facing uncertainty as fear of the unknown can be paralyzing. However, limiting choices also limits chances of being successful. When teaching decision making, I try to help industry professionals realize that the best alternative they can identify is one that they have identified. Can you see the juxtaposition of our desire to limit our choices under uncertainty, but at the same time, realizing we have to think of good solutions, which often requires identifying more instead of less?
I often say that in Purdue University’s Agricultural Economics department comprised of over 30 faculty members, I’m the only one who isn’t an economist; I’m a behaviorist. I came to ag econ late in life after a career in management, and I haven’t worked a day since. I love the field of behavior and understanding how human brains make decisions. Jonah Berger, author of The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind, is a faculty member at Wharton, and he is really, probably the me I would like to be. A true behaviorist with a PhD from Stanford, he’s written several terrific books on behavior, mostly in a business context. You may be familiar with his other best-selling book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On.
In this edition of What We’re Reading, Dr. Pete Hammett shares his recent read by Terry Pearce, “Leading Out Loud: A Guide for Engaging Others in Creating the Future.”