Don’t know much ’bout economics

In the transition from farm boy to student to journalist, I skated and stumbled through several academic departments at the Big U.

For example, at the height of Watergate scandal in the early 1970s, I studied political science. A visit home during fall harvest that year, however, cured me of that silliness; I missed the farm terribly — an unforeseen event — and vowed to return after college.

That led me to agricultural economics, a science as sweet as boxing and one that hurt the head just as much. Demand curves, elasticities, statistics.

Come on, statistics?

Since math gave me hives, health reasons pushed me into good, old ag science — basically, farming. That major, too, included some minor math so I sprinkled in a journ course or two each semester to keep some meat on my already skinny grade point average.

Can’t make heads-or-tails

Lately, though, I’ve regretted going over the wall on econ. I mean, I can’t make heads-or-tails about today’s markets, Wall Street or the economic measures everyone tosses about like parade candy.

For example, in the middle of October, the Dow Jones Industrial Average sat cat-like at 9885, just a tiny step away from the magical 10,000 mark it first hit 10 years ago. That good time didn’t last, of course, and the Dow later cratered into the busted tech bubble.

Amazingly, however, the fat cats re-inflated the Dow over 10K within four short years.

How?

How do I know; I’m no economist.

Then Wall Street bankers began to sell and resell (and resell…) gilt-edged paper they claimed was as good as gold. Not so and, later, a galacticly-stupid me — and you might have had some skin in this, too — loaned these rascals about $750 billion to pull their greasy fingers from the fire they had lit.

So what did these fast talkers do with our cash — other than pay themselves, according to the Oct. 14 Wall Street Journal, $140 billion in salary, bonuses and benefits?

Dropped into stock market

I’m no economist, but it appears they dropped a lot of it into the stock market to pump up both their bonuses and the public perception that the economy is recovering.

Huh. With unemployment at a 9.8 percent, a 2009 federal deficit at an all-time record high $1.5 trillion and a forecast that the feds need to borrow at least $9.3 trillion in the next decade just to keep its wobbly bicycle upright, were the first words that came to your mind when reading those numbers “economic recovery”?

Didn’t think so, but you’re probably not an economist either.

Further evidence of gaping holes in my — and maybe your — personal economic education arrived Oct. 9 in U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Crop Production Report. It noted that this year’s corn crop, estimated at 13 billion bu., will be the second largest on record and that the soybean crop, an incredible 3.25 billion bu., will be the biggest ever.

Who’d have thunk it?

And all this after the coldest, wettest planting, growing and — still-going-nowhere — harvest season most can recall. As Yogi Berra might ask, who’d have thunk it?

Well, surprise, not me and, seemingly, not the specs, scalpers and commercial traders on Chicago’s Board of Trade. Despite USDA’s estimated record or near-record bean and corn production, futures prices began to climb once the report numbers were released. Beans, the big gainer, rallied nearly 70-cents per bu. in just two trading days.

What’s it all mean?

Hey, don’t look at me; I’m no economist.

My very modest Bachelor’s degree in farming, er, agriculture, though, tempts me to say the rally likely will continue until we get some — any — of the big crops in the bin.

No economist

But like I might have noted before, I’m no economist.

About the Author

Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children. farmandfoodfile.com More Stories by Alan Guebert

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