Circle 046: Tom Harkin and Sarah McClendon, Farm Issues, March 23, 1987

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Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) tried to give 100 New Englanders, many of them city slickers, an education in farm economics. Harkin appealed for support for a bill he is co-sponsoring to assure that small farmers, instead of big agricultural businesses, get the most help. Without relief, big business would take over more of the land from financially strapped small farmers, and "the price of food will just skyrocket," Harkin said.

Harkin led the discussion at the 46th meeting of the New England Circle. Sarah McClendon, the veteran Washington correspondent, moved the discussion along and leavened it with humor. Most participants had difficulty grasping the details of the Gephardt-Harkin bill and groped to link farm problems to matters with which they were familiar. Gephardt-Harkin is complicated indeed. It would impose mandatory production controls that would raise prices of grain, milk and other products. Its proponents say that because of higher prices, farm incomes would rise and federal farm subsidies would be much less.

Mel King, the Boston politician who introduced several pieces of farm legislation during his tenure as State Representative, suggested "regional economic development" in which all the people would be involved in developing a plan for the overall economy.

Harkin called on the U.S. government to focus on the people who make the economy work, to maximize human capital not economic efficiency. Participants probably came away convinced of the severity of farmers' difficulties but hazy about solutions. Harkin came away with a reminder that problems on the farm still seem very distant from the cities.

by Tom Gagen (Editor, Op-Ed Pages, The Boston Globe)