I was struck, therefore, by the following observations by Tocqueville
(Democracy in America, 1835; trans. George Lawrence, 1966). He is talking
about a hypothetical man, neither very rich nor very poor, in a democracy
without rigid class distinctions and barriers to moving among occupations.
Our man has formed a taste for physical pleasures; he sees thousands
around him enjoying them. . . What is he to do? To cultivate the ground
promises an almost certain reward for his efforts, but a slow one. . .
Agriculture only suits the wealthy, who already have a great
superfluity, or the poor, who only want to live. His choice is made;
he sells his field, moves from his house, and takes up some risky but
lucrative profession. . . Democracy therefore . . . leads men to . . .
a distaste for agriculture and directs them into trade or industry.
Even those who choose to remain in farming are affected, says Tocqueville:
Almost all the farmers in the United States have combined some trade
with agriculture; most of them have made agriculture itself a trade.
It is unusual for an American farmer to settle forever on the land he
occupies. . . A farm is built in the anticipation that, since the state
of the country will soon be changing with the increase of population,
one will be able to sell it for a good price. . . In such fashion
the Americans carry over into agriculture the spirit of a trading
venture, and their passion for industry is manifest there as elsewhere.
I don't know what to make of this observation -- made more than a century
and a half ago, long before the major transformations of American
agriculture -- but I can't help thinking that once again Tocqueville is
perceptive and insightful. Any comments?