>Blank's fundamental arguments for the End of American Farm are based in the
>premise that economic considerations ultimately will prevail over all other
>considerations - industrial agribusiness replaces family farms because they
>are "more efficient" and American agribusiness eventually will be displaced
>by "more efficient" producers elsewhere in the global market.
It also assumes that establishment of American levels of agricultural
infrastructure (which would be required to develop American levels of
"efficiency") will occur without affecting labor, land, and capital
costs now prevailing in most other areas of the world. Having spent a
fair deal of time on farms in the developing world, and even in Central
Europe, I need to point out that in such areas it is currently
difficult to find an O-ring within 300 km when you need one, leave
alone anything even slightly more esoteric like shear pins and V-belts.
Low labor costs and the absence of social programs are not sufficient
to make agriculture more "efficient." American style corporate
intensive agriculture depends upon a complex distribution system for
many of its inputs. Most other countries aren't even remotely close to
> Economics has become the
>dominant "religion" of our American society, and it is being rapidly spread
>around the World.
Back about 600 or 700 years ago, it was *religion* that dominated the
intellectual and social framework of the era. It gradually became clear
that in themselves the religious understandings of the era were
inadequate to explain assorted important phenomena arising at the time
(bubonic plague, for example). Economics today is in a very similar
position, and equally inadequate.
Some of the major responses to the inadequacy of then prevailing
religious thought were (ironically) the development of economics to
understand the cash economy that developed in response to
plague-induced labor shortages. Another was the Reformation, which
could be described (in part) as a democratization of religion by making
the original basis of the faith (ie scripture) available to the people
in their own language.
That same two-pronged approach (develop *additional* understandings and
democratize the old ones) would seem to offer some promise of
ameliorating the very conditions forming the assumptions on which Mr.
Blank's thinking appears to be based. In this case such an approach
would add a social/environmental component on the one hand and help the
average farmer better understand the bases of economics on the other.
>Economics is fundamentally incapable of dealing with relationships among
>people, or between people and their environment. [snip] Are believing, trusting, sharing, caring, and serving just
>empty words? Do faith, hope, and love have impacts on our quality of life,
>or these just illusions of the human imagination?
Ironically, both prongs of the response suggested above would fit quite
comfortably within Judaeo-Christian precepts of stewardship. The Old
Testament has some six dozen pertinent references to land care, to say
nothing of abundant Old and New Testament references to caring for each
>When one ignores relationships among people and between people and their
>environment, the economic arguments are logical. If one values
>relationships, with people or with the earth, then many economic arguments
>quite simply do not make sense.
We should not rule out the role of government in worsening the problem.
I think you can make a reasonable case that government demands for
revenue are partly responsible for having led us down this path of
economically defined agriculture. The more times agricultural inputs or
outputs are handled, processed, moved, sold, and resold the more it
requires an industrial approach --- the more tax revenue it can
generate for the government. Of course it all requires a bigger
bureaucracy to supervise the transactions, along with another
bureacracy to deal with the social wreckage. Which requires more
revenue, etc. etc.
I suspect government would be very reluctant to see food production go
offshore because it would greatly reduce the number of key transactions
that could be taxed. Nor should we overlook the current accounts impact
of food exports. While I do not support present export-focused ag
policy, it must be admitted that food exports make our trade deficit
situation somewhat less ugly.
The bottom line is this. Over the long term, the well managed
medium-sized family farm will probably out-perform (in a *fair*
competion) the consolidated corporate operation most of the time. There
is an historic ebb and flow of agricultural concentration that runs
through centuries. A hundred years ago we had "Bonanza" farms of up to
75,000 acres that eventually failed because they couldn't be managed.
Nearly a century before that there were immense plantations that
struggled to maintain themselves even before their slaves were forcibly
set free. Ditto in 15th century England. As far back as the prophets
Micah and Isaiah (750 BC) it was written "Woe to you who join field to
field and land to land ... until there are no inhabitants left."
Right now we're in another consolidation phase, but I don't expect it
will be any more permanent than any of the several dozen previous
consolidations. Mr. Blank's argument would seem to depend on conditions
that are neither particularly long-lasting nor stable.
>Sustainability, as a new model or paradigm for human society, simply makes
>more sense that does conventional economics.
The agronomy of sustainability, however, is not yet as well developed
as it will need to be in order to supplant current systems. Since we
are not presently starving, *now* is the time to experiment and develop
these new systems. The abundance of our food supply is not guaranteed
forever, and arguments that we should do more of the same, only
someplace else, are not particularly forward-looking.
Even if all the economics behind Mr. Blank's logic were correct, his
assumption that current conditions will prevail indefinitely flies in
the face of several thousand years of human history, to say nothing of
the dynamics of natural systems.
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