Tuesday, May 06, 2008

"Only 2 Percent..."

It seems like lately I have been coming across a lot of quotes that have really made me think about agriculture in America these days. The latest quote that got me thinking was from an odd source, "AAA Living Magazine". In an article about the Living History Farms here in Iowa (great place) the author wrote, "Now in the United States, only 2 percent of people work in an industry related to agriculture. Even in heavily agricultural Iowa, only 9 percent of people work in that industry."

That really got me thinking ... especially since I had recently come across this quote from Thomas Jefferson, "I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries; as long as they are chiefly agricultural." When you put two and two together you realize that since only 2 percent of our nation is involved in agricultural pursuits our government is not virtuous. Wow, did I just say that out loud!

In my recent post, "Hog Farmers Feeling the Pinch" there was some good discussion in the comments about going back to more family farms instead of our reliance on the industrial farm model. If you take a look at the comments you will see that the feeling was that it could be done, but that we just had to want to do it.

Wanting to ... that has been something that has been coming up a lot in my ministry work with students. And, the conclusion that I have come to and that we have been discussing a lot is that we just need to begin the change. Instead of waiting for hundreds or thousands to join together in the change we just need to make the change now and then help encourage others to come along with us ... it's applicable in politics, it's applicable in faith, and I believe it is applicable in agriculture.

So, buck the trend and make your small family farm thrive. It will be difficult one all fronts, but it will help lead the change so that we can start inching up that pitiful 2 percent figure!

7 comments:

Rich said...

"Now in the United States, only 2 percent of people work in an industry related to agriculture. Even in heavily agricultural Iowa, only 9 percent of people work in that industry."

Those kinds of statements by "experts" always strike me as funny. Without agriculture (or if we somehow become dependent upon imported food), I seriously doubt that many industries would be able to continue. Seems like it would be difficult to have a productive workforce in any sort of industry if nobody had anything to eat.

I hold the position that 100% of industry is related to agriculture, and as soon as more people recognize this viewpoint, we will start moving closer to achieving Jefferson's view of a virtuous nation.

Yeoman said...

To expand this out a bit, Jefferson's view was directed particularly at a yeoman class, which he himself was not part of. None the less, his views ring very true.

Jefferson believed that a self governing republic depended on independent freeholders. That is, men who made their living on their land, which they owned, and who derived much of what they needed from that land. That described a large number of Americans in his day.

Even by the time of the Civil War the number of Yeomen had declined, and ironically their political power had been greatly diminished in the South, although not so much in the North.

What Jefferson particularly feared is a society where a large number of people were employees, wage servants if you like, of other men, in the cities. He felt that this situation bred disconnect. In what amounts to one of the all time great instances of political vision, he also feared that these classes became idle, and if they had the vote, they tended to vote for the government to give them things.

This is pretty much what we have today, except that we are so used to it, we can hardly recognize it. I'm very far from being any sort of political radical or Libertarian, but we really cannot deny that that the fact of American urbanization, which is really something that came along in the 20th Century, has created a creeping social welfare state, and encouraged a type of democracy which is less participatory, and more benefits driven.

In reaction to all this, most people will say "we can't go back". True, we can't go back to 1789, but we can recreate a modern yeomanry. We can do this partially with agriculture, as it's very clear that certain types of policies would boost the number of farmers. And farmers are necessarily for any sort of modern sensible society.

We can also do this in an urban setting, however. And we have before. Anti-trust statutes, which were designed to defeat big trust so that small business can work, was part of efforts of that type. Now nearly everything we buy comes from a chain, but at one time the opposite was true. Small stores, small grocery stores, etc., supported middle class families where today they only pay minimum wages. If we took steps to stop the Walmarts, Sam's Clubs, and the like, we'd still have stores, they'd just be owned by urban yeomen who would be your friends and neighbors.

Dave_Flora said...

Absolutely great thoughts! I particularly liked reading about the Yeoman farmer ideal. Centralization of just about anything becomes exploitive. When I see a new Mega-Wal-Mart, I don't see an industry providing jobs to a community, I see a minimum-wage slave factory with huge amounts of local cash flying out of the county. The thing is, no one cares. Americans in general are so tied into cheap convenience that they will willingly sell their souls for it, it seems. As industrialization creates a larger and larger working-class poor, fewer long-term decisions can be effectively made. I mean, how concerned can you be with next year, when you're not even sure you'll have enough money to pay the bills?
The ONLY chance for change is to provide alternative examples of how to live. Make a decent living on the farm without killing yourself, and people are going to start to consider that it can be done. Maybe, maybe then, instead of voting for another factory to be moved in, there can be a push to help local people create their own income.
Maybe.

-Dave

Rich said...

"...the fact of American urbanization, which is really something that came along in the 20th Century, has created a creeping social welfare state, and encouraged a type of democracy which is less participatory, and more benefits driven..."

"...Anti-trust statutes, which were designed to defeat big trust so that small business can work,..."

I think you will find that the Progressive policies that started in the 1920's (and continue today in forms like the New Deal and the Great Society), used methods like anti-trust statutes solely for the purpose of creating the welfare state that is so destructive to freedom loving people.

I fear that new anti-trust statutes enacted against urban industries would only hasten the demise of the few remaining urban yeoman. Instead, we need to roll back, not expand, the reach and scope of the Progressive policies contained within almost every piece of legislation to stop the expansion of the welfare state.

The modern welfare state has started to create the view that food is a fundamental right and farmers are obligated to provide it for the masses. If food is a fundamental right of every person, and farmers are obligated to provide that food, how profitable can they be allowed to be?

Yeoman said...

"I think you will find that the Progressive policies that started in the 1920's (and continue today in forms like the New Deal and the Great Society), used methods like anti-trust statutes solely for the purpose of creating the welfare state that is so destructive to freedom loving people."

Oh no, I very much disagree.

The trust busting policies of the Theodore Roosevelt administration arose in the Progressive Era, which had very brief run. The hallmark of these policies had nothing to do with the social welfare policies of the New Deal and later eras, other than that New Dealers recalled them to the extent that they wanted to claim the Progressives as their predecessors. But they were not.

In looking at it, I think you will find that the business policies of the Progressives, to the extent they were represented by TR (there were other Progressives, with other policies) were directed at busting up or regulating big business. The expressed fear of the Progressives was that modern industry had, by necessity, created business units so big that the traditional recourse to the ballot was ineffective against them. The goal was not to eliminate the businesses, but rather to cut them down to size and require that they still would have competition. That is why a pro businesses senator like Sherman could lend his name to the Sherman Anti Trust Act. I see no similarity between those policies and the New Deal era at all.

Late in the Progressive Era, after the initial round of Progressive reforms had taken effect, there was an evolution towards New Deal type policies. But this was only very late, and by that time the movement was splitting. It had already largely jumped party lines by that time, and it fractured the GOP into two parties briefly. After the failed Progressive Party run of TR, most of the less radical Progressives came back into the GOP, which became quite conservative (but not in the current sense). The more radical Progressives either left the Progressives entirely and migrated towards more radical parties, like the Socialist party. The left Progressives who could not reconcile themselves to a return to the GOP, entered the Democratic Party, which had co-opted the Progressive movements main stream while the GOP was split.

Anyhow, early on, it would simply be untrue that the business polices of the Progressives were their predecessor to the polices of the New Deal.

New Dealers actually took their policies from whatever they figured would work. Keep in mind at that time a variety of political influences of a relatively radical nature had been around for awhile. In some regions, such as Wisconsin, there were serious Socialist parties which had been around since well prior to WWI. Indeed, the Progressives thought of themselves as a counter to the radicals, who they feared would appeal on an ever more increasing basis to the blue collar class. A common Progressive claim was that they were reformers who would not destroy business. By the Great Depression, there was enough desperation to try almost anything, so people were willing to accept a much more extensive government role in everything than they ever had before. There was some Progressive thought in that, to be sure, but there was also some Socialist thought, and corporatist thought. The big emphasis was to try what would seem to work.

Once that was done, people got used to it, and we've lived with a government somewhat modeled on that ever since. People can argue whether that is good or bad, but for the main point here, the emphasis of the New Deal and its later influences accepted largeness of all things in a way that had not previously been accepted. The Progressives wanted to bust up big monopolies. The New Dealers wanted to keep people working. Progressives, at least at first, were hopeful that smaller business could keep going. The New Dealer wanted people to work wherever they could work, and for the government as a last resort.

Of course, part of this has to do with the eras we are attempting to refer to. You've noted the policies of the 1920. But the progressive era really died out, in its original form, prior to that. It probably really died out by the second Wilson administration. By that time, Wilson had had a run of Progressive reforms, and the country went into the politically conservative 1920s, which was not a decade of political action or reform.

The Sherman Anti Trust Act itself was passed in 1890, and signed in to law by President Harrison. It saw little use until Theodore Roosevelt used it to bust the Northern Securities Trust. President Taft used it to bust the American Tobacco Company. But all that was prior to 1912. Therefore, I'd argue that at the very most, the Sherman Anti Trust Act was a very early Progressive era act, well before any New Deal type policies were popular or thought of, and was used most notably in these examples by two Progressive Republican Presidents, but both in ways that were not emblematic of New Deal type actions.

Yeoman said...

By the way, for what is worth, 1919, which would be on the tail bitter end of the Progressive Era, was the last year in which the average farm family had economic parity with the average urban family.

That might not mean much, but that is the last year it happened.

A person might be tempted to extrapolate that this means the Progressives, those being Theodore Roosevelt through Woodrow Wilson, were farm friendly. That'd be partially right, but the 1914-1919 era is not reliable as an indicator here, as World War One boosted farm revenues. The TR administration had generally been a good one for farmers, however. Having said that, TR generally saw that the nation's populace was becoming more urban, and he was much more concerned with the impacts that was having, rather than trying to keep the country rural.

Rich said...

Yeoman, after your comment and doing a little reading on my own, it appears that I was a little mistaken laying the blame on the Progressive Era, I guess I was referring to the New Dealer types that misappropriated the Progressive label and then corrupted Progressive policies to suit their own ends, although I still think most of the problems that agriculture faces are due to the attempts to create a welfare state.

As an aside, after your clarification about the Progressive Era actually occurring between 1890-1920, I remembered some farming literature I once read from that time period. The information was surprising sophisticated and useful, detailing the economics of growing certain crops, managing the nitrification cycle, designing crop rotations, etc. In contrast, other literature from the following decades seems to be less "technical" and less useful, mainly stressing consulting "experts" for suggestions (like planting Kudzu for erosion control).

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...