High Country Cry Babies

Gareth MorganEconomics

Gareth Morgan, Director of Gareth Morgan Investments

The kerfuffle whipped up by Rob Storey over Mobil’s refusal to accept differential pricing of petrol, highlights another policy contradiction. The same Cabinet is considering a public enquiry to establish why NZ Post do insist on differential pricing of their mail deliveries to rural addresses. The government won’t accept leaving farmers as victims of differential pricing but don’t mind making urban dwellers pay extra.

What is it about farmers’ behaviour – the world over- that mesmerises the rest of the population so we tolerate the most inane antics and irrational economic behaviour from this sector. Whether it’s NZ farmers struggling through the snow chasing sheep, or objecting indignantly to the removal of their mail delivery subsidy, or bawling on television over the consequences of making lousy investment decisions as the bailiffs move in; or whether it’s overseas, such as in France where farmers frequently misbehave with antics like murdering Irish lambs in transit, or tipping fruit over highways, or blockading towns with their tractors – these sort of tantrums from any other sector would be the subject of derision. But with farmers we stand back spellbound, not willing to scoff or use ordinary law and order remedies to send them packing, and waiting for kid glove political compromises to defuse their dissension with authorities. Farmers are too “precious” to be subjected to the same rules as the rest of us?

Our reverence for the people of the land knows few bounds. Over the last fortnight we have witnessed, even glorified in our media, the irrational behaviour of farmers plodding through snow to rescue $5 winter ewes, tossing out $4 bales of hay imported from the North Island and using up god knows what on helicopter support. A trip down to the Addington saleyards to buy replacement stock would have been more rational. And the press focussed on the tears of farmer joy at the outpourings of assistance. In economic terms the episode was inane.

It’s romance isn’t it ? The secret yearning we all have to be lord of our own pasture, to be master of the little lambies, to embrace nature. The denial of an unsoiled life on the land haunts us all, so we allow the heart to command the mind on issues rural, kowtowing to the farming lobby’s demands for special treatment and dispensations from market forces. It’s pathetic. Farmers avoid the ordinary laws of economics, and the obsequiousness of policymakers that promotes their escape isn’t unique to our agriculturally-based economy.

Consider the Europeans and their attitude to farmers as enunciated via the C.A.P. It’s ironic we get frustrated at the lengths they go to protect village life and rural tranquillity, but we need look no further than our own attitudes to people pastoral to see why economic rationality has such a limited role in the rural realm. Farmers are different – we ensure they don’t have to dance solely to economic pressures. This bestowed nobility affords them the luxury of tugging our heart strings, having us do the dancing.

High Country Cry Babies was last modified: December 15th, 2015 by Gareth Morgan
About the Author

Gareth Morgan

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Gareth Morgan is a New Zealand economist and commentator on public policy who in previous lives has been in business as an economic consultant, funds manager, and professional company director. He is also a motorcycle adventurer and philanthropist. Gareth and his wife Joanne have a charitable foundation, the Morgan Foundation, which has three main stands of philanthropic endeavour – public interest research, conservation and social investment.