#tbt–Rural People and a Values-Based Public Policy

This week the Center for Rural Affairs bids farewell to Jon Bailey, director of our Rural Public Policy Program. Since his first days here, Jon has had an immense impact. Today, we look back to one of his first writings on rural people and public policy from 1999.

The annual Nebraska Rural Poll that year had asked rural Nebraskans about their preferred future and the one they actually expected to experience. Looking at the results, Jon noted “they prefer a future long espoused by the Center for Rural Affairs – vibrant rural communities where wealth, economic power, and asset ownership are distributed among a large number of people, and where institutions are strong.”

Yet, “they expect a future of dying communities where business and agriculture are concentrated among a few and where social institutions will be weak or non-existent.”

Sounded pretty bleak, didn’t it? A rural economic recession was making life difficult for many. But in a characteristic drive to look deeper, Jon mused there was something “more profound than circumstance-driven pessimism.”

He noted, “Recently, the Center attended Husker Harvest Days [a big annual farm show in Nebraska]. Hundreds upon hundreds of people talked to Center staff about ideas and strategies to save their farms, ranches, businesses, and communities. These people are not resigned to an unwanted future. They are fighters.”

“Rural people,” he said, “seem to realize one truth in the government of turn-of-the-century America – public policy is failing them, and they do not expect it to improve.” Jon took that as a challenge to all of us to make sure the grim 21st century predicted in the rural poll did not come to pass.

He said, “Without expressing them as values, the preferences expressed in the poll are precisely that. Rural people prefer that their lives, their economies, and their communities be built on:
•    Responsibility
•    A balance of self-interest and the common good
•    The worth of rural people and rural places
•    Opportunity
•    Diverse ownership of the assets that create wealth
•    Widespread prosperity
•    Stewardship of natural resources

Jon referred to these as “traditional, rock-solid America values that have served rural America well for generations.” He called on rural people to rededicate themselves to making sure public policy reflected them.

And that’s what he has done in his 17 years of service to the Center for Rural Affairs and to rural America. For that and much more, we owe him a debt of gratitude. Thank you, Jon!