David Cronin\’s nonsense again

David Cronin loves writing about the minutiae of the EU\’s decision making. So much so that he never actually lifts his eyes to look at the larger picture:

The trend whereby small farmers are squeezed out of business can be traced back to 1992.

He fails to understand that this is a good thing.

It\’s not all that many hundreds of years ago that 90% of the population scraped away in the fields to try and feed 100% of the population. And as the stories of hunger and of famine from those times remind us, 100% of the population being fed was not what was actually achieved.

These days around 2% of the population do the farming and while we may not all eat properly, there\’s certainly no shortage of food for the 100% of us. It is exactly this, the increasing productivity of agriculture, which has led to small farmers going out of business and food prices collapsing: meaning that 88% of us can now do all these things which make up civilisation. You know, music, books, libraries, science, trains, the NHS and all that.

Food prices falling and farmers going bust is a *good* thing, not a bad one.

Remember, the purpose of all production is consumption: are the consumers here getting a good and getting better deal? Yup, so we\’re on the right track then.

6 comments on “David Cronin\’s nonsense again

  1. Tim–you’ve got your explanation somewhat skewed.

    The “good thing” is that obtaining decent nutrition has become extraordinarily cheaper for everyone as the result of many different improvements in the modes of its production. One of those modes has been the development of mechanized methods, which enable far greater
    production per man involved in said production (with a corresponding drop in prices that need be paid for the produce).

    It may be, in some ways, a sad thing that a small farmer can no longer count on being able to make a living from his limited acreage but it is no different a thing than that not everyone who’d like to be a blacksmith can count on making a living from that trade or, in a more extreme example, not everyone who’d really like to be a guitar player.

    Freedom and free markets free everyone from all compulsions except those of nature, which inexorably force all to do exactly that for which he is most fit (in the market judgement of his fellow men) or to pay the consequences himself (in the form of lowered rewards for his labor and investment). Whether it’s an “ideal” system or not may be open to debate; but whether there is any other system involving less compulsion has long been settled (at least by those with any economic understanding whatever).

    The consumers are all-powerful; entrepreneurs at every level are their regents.

  2. Aren’t the figures even better than that in that 98% of of us are freed to do other things? Not a piddling quasi-Third World French-style level of 88%?

    Tim adds: Not quite, in that 10% of us already weren’t scrabbling in the fields…..

  3. Gene: is it ideal? Perhaps not. If you know of a better ‘ole, get to it. What is a better ‘ole, economically speaking? It’s a Pareto improvement. So, find one.

  4. It not only destroyed small farmers, it also destroyed a number of cottage industries, and that is bad news for people and farm animals.

    A small farmer in your neighborhood who supplies small game and poultry is not only a local food source but also has far better options to look after the welfare of the animals rather than a big farm.

    Stability comes from having many small outlets as well as a few big ones — why have one or the other, if you can have one, the other and both?

    And another thing: yes, it’s no longer possible to get craftsmen for a price a mortal can pay, which is why we put up with cheap imitations for what we’d like to actually buy from the east. I don’t think that this is progress somehow…

  5. Evelyn:

    YOU are the cause of the problem! You and many others like you (including myself, of course) who prefer to pay less (instead of more) for almost everything they buy.

    Those who wish to keep farming on small holdings alive can do so by paying the higher prices necessary to their maintenance–and there are certainly some (just not very many) who do so.

    It is also a fact that some people prefer to keep on farming on small acreage, despite the lowered outlook. That, indeed, is their own choice and beyond criticism from others; but, at the same time, it should be recognized that their more meager incomes are the outcome of their own free choice, not some injustice nor disaster.

    It is true, also, and, perhaps, unfortunate, that many conditions of older times, remembered with fondness (typically enhanced simply through passage of time) are gone–have disappeared. But in most (though certainly not all) categories in which “satisfactoriness” can be quantified, life and living are better now than in the past and promise to improve even more in the future.

  6. Gene. I agree with the point about mechanisation increasing agricultural productivity. However, an exploitative approach to natural resources has also been important in increasing production. Higher yields per area in the UK are dependant, largely, on imported fertilisers (e.g. phosphate) and fossil fuel use (as in production of the most important nutrient, nitrogen, which I believe mainly uses gas as the fuel source). Gas and phospahte supplies are limited and so there is a major question mark about our ability to sustain higher yields beyond, say, the next 20 or so years.

    Also, across the UK the overall trend is one of declining soil quality and land area. Both threaten to undermine crop production, and that’s from our current starting point of the UK having 60% food self-sufficiency. Fortunately, there are enough stable parts of the world (politically and in terms of climate) with surpluses to export. But, I don’t think this scenario justifies you saying that things ‘promise to improve’.

    Agriculture may have to move towards more careful management of natural resources. Also, the sheer ability to produce food may outweigh today’s mantra of cheapness. There will be many situations where these changes in emphasis will create a renewed role for small or marginal farmers. That’s not necessarily an argument for preserving small farmers now, but I do advocate maintaining a good skills base in food production methods that enhance or at least stabilise natural resources, rather than exploiting them.

    The above is especially true if you want to combine food production with biodiversity conservation. That further increases the need for attention to detail which is more difficult if large areas are farmed by very few people. I eagerly await lambasting for mentioning the ‘b’ word, but it’s something a lot of people get enjoyment from, so why not look after it if we can? (let alone intrinsic value and ‘what do we tell our grandkids if everything’s dead?’).

    Lastly, Evelyn makes a good point about animal welfare. Cheap chicken is produced in disgusting conditions. There was a recent BBC3 programme that took a group of 20-somethings round the raw material production systems that support fast food. They were shaken up by the experience, as would be most people when they first set foot in an intensive unit. We’re eating the products of this and similar processes almost daily, but few could stomach the reality of it.

    Affordable food for everyone is an important target. Achieving this humanely and sustainably may best be done by shifting wealth distribution and refocussing our consumer culture, rather than driving headlong for the cheapest production of edible commodities. I’m not saying that as a puritan – I love my new Kings of Leon CD – but if we don’t start looking ahead, a lot of us may end up stuffed in a bad way.

    I’d welcome further comment – I’m speaking to some students about this soon and am at the view-forming stage.

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