Bloomberg: Farmers lack the "grey matter" needed in today's tech world

In a bitterly divided America, it takes a special talent to bring together both sides of the political aisle in criticism of a candidate. Michael Bloomberg is one such candidate with that talent. His coastal elitism was on full display when his remarks about farmers at a business school talk in 2016 came back to haunt him last weekend.

Bloomberg was a participant in a Distinguished Speakers Series at the University of Oxford Saïd Business School. A question posed to Bloomberg about the possibility of uniting people in middle America and coastal Americans produced what can be seen as a slam against those of us who live in flyover country. Bloomberg referenced what he sees as an inability of blue-collar workers to adjust to an information economy, even if they are given a subsidized education. For instance, he thinks farmers are dumb. He thinks he can teach anyone to farm, even the tech nerds in his audience.

“The agrarian society lasted 3,000 years and we could teach processes. I could teach anybody, even people in this room, no offense intended, to be a farmer,” Bloomberg said. “It’s a process. You dig a hole, you put a seed in, you put dirt on top, add water, up comes the corn. You could learn that. Then we had 300 years of the industrial society. You put the piece of metal on the lathe, you turn the crank in the direction of the arrow and you can have a job. And we created a lot of jobs. At one point, 98 percent of the world worked in agriculture, now it’s 2 percent in the United States.”

He went on to say, “The skill sets you have to learn are how to think and analyze. You have to have a different skill set. You have to have a lot more grey matter.’ A lot more grey matter. That is pretty clear – farmers do not possess the brain power for the coming technological take-over of our world. He speaks to the challenge of educating students for the future while bringing in a weird guillotine reference. Off with their heads?

“Now comes the information economy and the information economy is fundamentally different because it’s built around replacing people with technology and the skill sets that you have to learn are how to think and analyze, and that is a whole degree level different. You have to have a different skill set, you have to have a lot more gray matter. It’s not clear the teachers can teach or the students can learn, and so the challenge of society of finding jobs for these people, who we can take care of giving them a roof over their head and a meal in their stomach and a cell phone and a car and that sort of thing. But the thing that is the most important, that will stop them from setting up a guillotine someday, is the dignity of a job”

He’s telling farmers to learn to code. What Bloomberg doesn’t realize is that most of them probably already know how, at least to some extent.

It is some breathtaking ignorance being exhibited by Mr. Bloomberg. Has he never been on a farm or spoken to a real life farmer? No wonder he skipped the Iowa caucuses. Does he really think all there is to farming is sticking a seed in the ground and, viola, you’re a farmer? If education is his concern, is he completely unaware of agricultural schools and colleges?

People across the political spectrum weighed in. The Bernie Bros spoke to how out-of-touch Bloomberg sounds, and how often it happens.

“Time and again we see Bloomberg insulting the middle class and the working class, union members and not yet union members,” the organization tweeted. “Maybe it’s time for pundits to stop pretending he’s just another candidate. Bloomberg is an oligarch spending his play money to buy the White House.”

What Bloomberg fails miserably to understand is that farming is much more than planting crops. Successful farming includes chemistry, mathematics, analysis, and botany, as well as technology. Today’s farming is, indeed, high tech and requires both technological skills and critical thinking skills. The heavy equipment used on farms run on computer software to assist farmers.

Bloomberg referenced corn as a crop that “comes up” after planting a seed. Corn, by the way, is not an easy crop to grow. Anyone who has ever tried to grow tomatoes or even flowers for that matter, knows that more goes into a simple backyard garden than just planting seeds. When we grew blueberries in southern Louisiana, my husband and I learned about the balance of limestone traces in the soil, among other things. I’m happy to say we were successful.

Every American owes farmers the utmost respect for providing the food on our tables. I can’t imagine the stress they are under year after year to produce a bountiful crop on such grand levels. Small scale gardens can be frustrating enough, I can’t imagine trying to manage hundreds of acres at a time.

Maybe Bloomberg just felt relaxed at such an elite setting as the University of Oxford and was comfortable enough to expose his true feelings about working-class tradespeople. Apparently, in his mind, they are less than white collar workers. That says more about Michael Bloomberg’s intelligence than that of farmers. He should think about that the next time he sits down for a meal.