You know those annoying songs that get stuck in your head, playing and replaying, defying your best efforts to stifle them, clogging up your brain like sludge? My latest brain sludge is a ditty I haven't heard in a decade. It's the closing stanza of "Nowadays" from the musical "Chicago," in which two murderesses celebrate the brazen immorality of the 1920s in that Gomorrah on Lake Michigan known as the Windy City:
"In 50 years or so
It's gonna change, you know
But oh, it's heaven
Why do these lines cling? Partly, I think, because I've always smiled at the smirking satire in the "heaven" label for an era of bootleg booze, marital infidelity and a legal system that let the manifestly guilty get away with murder. But it's also because "it's gonna change" fits the seasonal mood. The dawning of a year is a natural time to muse on the nature of "change," especially the dawning of a year that brings a new administration to Washington.
The 50-year estimate for change in the ditty borders on quaint. In a post-Industrial Revolution world, nothing takes 50 years to change. The 1920s Jazz Age in Chicago was over by the 1930s. Modern agriculture, like all modern businesses, is changing all the time. Seeds, chemicals, equipment, computers -- the product cycles are measured in months and years, not decades.
Politics and policies are constantly changing, too. Tumultuous change in one direction followed the 2008 presidential election. Tumultuous change in another seems likely now. Farmers are eagerly anticipating some of these changes, like the squelching of the Waters of the U.S. rules. They're nervous about others, including trade policies that have the potential to boomerang and hurt ag exports.
Not all changes are created equal. The leap from the horse to the tractor mattered more than the upgrade to 32-row planters from 16. The Trump revolution in 2017 America will probably not prove as significant as the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 Russia.
Still, with populism sweeping Europe and the U.S., this year will almost inevitably bring memorable change. With nonfiction books about turning-point years in vogue, I'm confident someone is already scribbling away on a tome with the overblown title, "2017: The Year That Changed Everything."
And, be prepared: The president-elect is signaling he's going to move fast to change things. The sludge line in my head may soon mutate to:
"In 50 days or so
It's gonna change, you know"
With commodity prices cratering, not many farmers would second the sludge-song's closing sentiment, "It's heaven nowadays." No one can say for sure whether they'll like the changes 2017 brings them any better. The best anyone can do is wish them, as I do here, a happy, prosperous and brain-sludge-free year.
Urban Lehner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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