Timmy elsewhere

At the ASI.

given that hill farmers make so little money this is something that we should stop doing, not something we should subsidise.

40 thoughts on “Timmy elsewhere”

  1. Well, yes. But it’s hard to tell somebody whose family has farmed for generations immemorial that he has to shut up shop and do something else. This is one of the major problems with the Third World, many of whose inhabitants stay poor because they want to carry on being small farmers as they always have been, which is a very bad way of making an income. For the good of the economy, they should switch to doing something else and have farming done on an industrial/commercial scale as we all know.

    But that means loss of a way of life. If you’re a smallholder, you have certain things you will lose in the modern economy. You won’t have any land, which people for sound reasons see as a very good thing to have; without it you are at the mercy of commercial rents, etc. You will become prone to unemployment. Your life will lose its sense of certainty of income (however low) and a home (however hovelsome). So these are real concerns that free marketeers need to address as understandable.

    The problem in a country like ours is that we are not, anyway, anything like a free market. If we were libertopia, it would be easier to glibly instruct people that this is the market, suck it up; everyone else does, after all. But we don’t live in libertopia. We live in an economy in which, increasingly, wealth goes to the State connected classes; free market capitalism is dying on its feet. The real money is in subsidy.

    I know I always say this, but as a Libertarian Nutter I feel obligated; the classic example is the City. It runs on State funding. Enormous wealth can be acquired from it as a consequence, even though some considerable but hard to measure proportion is value negative arbitrage, and rather than being “the engine of the economy” as its shiny suited denizens like to claim, the actual “engine” is government borrowing and the central bank, which between them generate a torrent of new money in which the said denizens lie masturbating furiously while pretending to be doing something free markety.

    When you have an economy in which governments pour taxpayers’ money into Goldman Sachs, to enable it to stick its legendary blood funnel into anything that smells of money, it is rather hypocritical to tell a sheep farmer on six grand that, being small enough to fail, he should go and compete with the Bulgarians for a job packing sandwiches on a windswept industrial estate.

    In a nutshell, the “neoliberal” State pours free money in at the top of the market and foreign competitor labour in at the bottom. This is not a policy from which lectures on the free market hold much credibility.

  2. Do such hills need to be managed? Thus are they providing a service for us for which they are not paid?

    Tim adds: Yes, if you want to keep them the way they are they must be managed. They’re a man made environment. And they are paid under CAP to do it.

    But I’m with George Monbiot on this. Stop framing the hills and let the native forest regrow.

  3. I m with Ian B on this one.

    In an economy so grossly distorted by statism, I would be reluctant to see these traditional ways of life go while other far less deserving individuals continue to suckle the state teat at far greater expense.

  4. Um, aren’t you doing exactly what you often berate lots of others for doing? Namely omitting benefits when considering costs (or vice versa)? The reason millions of people travel from all over the world to spend their tourist dollar in the Lake District is because of the way it looks – just because the farmers are only getting £6K of value added, it doesn’t necessarily mean thats the sum total of the value they are adding. I think you’d have to add most of the tourist value added too, which might make a considerable difference.

    Why do you think the Swiss subsidise their Alpine farmers to farm in even more ludicrous conditions and in utterly uneconomic ways (in food production terms)? Because it preserves the Alpine countryside that draws in the tourists thats why. And the same goes for the Lake District.

  5. But that means loss of a way of life. If you’re a smallholder, you have certain things you will lose in the modern economy. You won’t have any land, which people for sound reasons see as a very good thing to have; without it you are at the mercy of commercial rents, etc. You will become prone to unemployment. Your life will lose its sense of certainty of income (however low) and a home (however hovelsome). So these are real concerns that free marketeers need to address as understandable.

    How’s that different to the lives of TV repairmen, typists and telephone switchboard operators? My ancestors were generations of tinsmiths making pewter tankards and cutlery. Sometime in history, they quit the tinsmithing business, probably due to stainless steel.

    And unlike my ancestors, hill farmers have had plenty of time to make the transition – to get the hell out of it. The government has paid them to keep on hill farming, which any businessman should thank his lucky stars for, while rapidly finding something else to do.

    I agree with your points about the City, and London as a general problem, but saying that we should support one group of people doing the wrong thing because of another group is going to make things worse. Banking will be dealt with within a number of years because this absurd idea of land as an investment is going to blow up.

  6. As Jim says, need to factor in the value of the very substantial tourist benefit before telling those who preserve them to get another job.

    I understand why some might prefer to let them revert to forest, but personally I couldn’t disagree more; the Lakes are one of the most beautiful parts of the UK – forget whether or not historically natural.

  7. Tim Almond-

    I’m not advocating supporting anybody; I was merely pointing out the different treatment of different groups. Some are told to bear market forces, others are not. This is quite reasonably seen as unfair.

    The first point I made was more of a general one about understanding why third world people are reluctant to leave their penny packet farms for the uncertain world of capitalism; again this is exacerbated by the current “neoliberal” state of capitalism and has us telling poor people to bear the risks of the free market while those who are connected to the State- and are often fabulously wealthy as a consequence- are actively subsidised and protected.

  8. The rub is in the lazily used notion of ‘native woodland’. Are we talking primeval, post ice age forest; bronze age forest; Norman hunting forest; medieval mining settlements; Victorian ‘improved’ uplands or what. These upland areas have been ‘managed’ in one way or another for 5000 years, some more, some less economic. Current usage would seem to point towards tourism and leisure activities, but without management there are some ‘leisure activities’ that will destroy these areas in short order. The delicate flora and fauna will not take kindly to queues of 4x4s loaded with oafs with rifles out for a spot of deer poaching or trail bikes churning up gullies and stream beds. At the same time, unrestricted herds of deer will do as much to quell regenerative growth as sheep and cattle. Until we can decide what should be done with these areas, paying farmers to to the management seems a good option.

  9. Broadly I’d be in agreement with ianB
    But I’d go further. The UK’s a fairly benign climate & what’s being called ‘hill-farming’ wouldn’t be called much more than hillock farming in much of the world. Having had some experience of marginal agriculture on land a bit more challenging than Wales or the Lake District, there’s no reason one couldn’t carve out a comfortable life for oneself & produce enough surplus to take part in the wider cash economy. Until the overwhelming burden of the State, its bureaucracy & it’s never ending supply of rules & regulations come crashing down on you. So the subsidies from the State are hardly compensating for the toll the State extracts.
    And yes, if you want to reduce subsidies let’s start with the hordes of non & counter-productive hanging from the taxpayers teat before we start making the hill-farmers lot harder..

  10. London is not a general problem it is a specific problem. It is rapidly transforming itself into the leisure capital of the entire world, with prices to boot, that are actually strangling any chance of a real, indigenous, functional economy remaining there for any length of time and giving both a false impression to those that matter of wealth outside of London, and excessive confidence in the extent to which London itself is actually generating any wealth. I think both are grossly overestimated.

    The politicos swan around their London bubble and imagine the rest of the country is like that, dripping in the wealth of Russian oligarchs, and with affordable Prettamonjays staffed by minimum-wage poles on every corner. And that the wonderful consumption they see is as a result of production that occurs there, which it is absolutely not.

  11. Having looked at the top item on the thread, that professors of geography get subsidised to interfere in Venezuelan farming whilst farmers of British geography don’t warrant it, says everything.

  12. bloke in spain,

    And yes, if you want to reduce subsidies let’s start with the hordes of non & counter-productive hanging from the taxpayers teat before we start making the hill-farmers lot harder..

    Hill farmers are “hanging on the public teat”. Just because they’re getting some soil under their fingernails doesn’t make them any more worthy of subsidy than Rover factory workers, or a bloke doing juggling workshops.

  13. Philip Scott Thomas

    Until we can decide what should be done with these areas, paying farmers to to the management seems a good option.

    Who is this ‘we’ of whom you speak? It’s not I; I am not a landowner in the Lake District.

    Neither you nor I have any more business advising a hill farmer on the proper use of his land than the hill farmer does advising me on the proper use of my flat.

    If some to all hill farmers move out of farming to more lucrative professions the look of the Lake District may change. I can live with that. And anyway, it’s not my call what a property owner does with his land.

    Perhaps some philanthropist will buy up tracts of land and preserve them for the benefit of the public at large. It’s been known to happen. More power to him, but again, not my call.

    But I do rather resent being told it’s my responsibility to subsidise the opinions of others who aren’t as cognizent of the meaning of “private property”.

  14. With three million unemployed, on a reasonable definition, the options are hill-farming, producing food and attracting tourists, or joining the dole queue and watching daytime TV.
    So I beg to differ
    If our industries were crying out for middle-aged men with expertise in animal husbandry and no experience in modern industrial techniques then your suggestion that they go away and do something else might be a good one. In real life Britain, it just ain’t.

  15. john77, you’re assuming that hill farmers will only know one subject and can’t retrain. Humans are the most adaptable animals on this planet. Given a push, all humans can learn new tricks. They might have a hobby which they can turn into a business, they might have interests other than hill farming which they only did because it was the easy route, there are loads of reasons why hill farmers can go on to do other things.

  16. @Tim Almond
    If you read the other part of my comment, I was questioning whether they were living off the public teat.
    Why’s it so difficult to wrest a living off of some mildly sloping land? Tell you what. Could make it look a bit like my poorly soiled bit of mountainside. Bulldoze some terraces into it & market garden. Few wood cabins for the summer visitors. Run goats on the rest & sell the milk & cheese at the farm gate
    Who could possibly disagree with that business plan?.
    But, like Jim says above. It’s regarded as preferable they’re custodians of the traditional landscape. C’ept now they’re being expected to do it all out of their own pockets.

  17. bloke in spain,

    “But, like Jim says above. It’s regarded as preferable they’re custodians of the traditional landscape. ”

    Regarded as preferable by whom? If you got rid of the sheep, more trees and plant life would grow. It would become a more interesting landscape.

  18. “Regarded as preferable by whom? If you got rid of the sheep, more trees and plant life would grow. It would become a more interesting landscape.”

    Not necessarily. Deer would probably have a severe effect on regeneration and many of the most interesting flora species are, or were, there because of human activity. This was once the case on the southern Downlands, sheep grazed the turf which encouraged a wide variety of plants to grow, aided by the low fertility of the soil. Then cereal farming replaced the sheep, the landscape changed drastically and now if the crops are removed and the land left to its own devices, it just gets taken over by scrub.

    There is no definitive answer to any of this, it depends on all sorts of factors most of which have already been mentioned. A good example of why you can never construct detailed plans for optimum outcomes.

  19. Ah, but the pair of you are discussing the landscape. What’s it got to do with you? It’s the hill-farmer’s landscape. He doesn’t tell you where your desk should go in your office.

  20. Nothing of value to add, just that I find it disconcerting to agree with Tim (W) and George Monbiot *at the same time*.

  21. @ SBML
    With 3 million unemployed it doesn’t matter whether old farmers can learn new tricks: any jobs they get will be at the expense of the unemployed

  22. bis

    “Ah, but the pair of you are discussing the landscape. What’s it got to do with you? It’s the hill-farmer’s landscape. He doesn’t tell you where your desk should go in your office.”

    If he gave me 1/3rd of my income, and that income was about the environment I created I might expect him to. If we’re paying them to be custodians of a traditional landscape, then we should be making sure we’re getting something for that, yes?

  23. @john77, and now you’re assuming that people can’t create their own jobs. But I do have to admit that there isn’t much drive to do so when welfare is a nice comfy bed rather than an emergency cover.

  24. @TimA
    That’s the situation, as is & so I’d agree with you. But the suggestion was, the subsidy be removed.
    My point has been, farming on marginal land is, by definition, marginally profitable. Always has been & that’s just the actual farming. If you’re then going to impose all manner of rules, regs & other disincentives, many of which have no relation to what the farmers doing*, then you’re making it non-viable.

    *Simple example: If the farmer wishes to run a car to take the family to the town occasionally he ends up paying all sorts of taxes introduced to deter carbon emissions. Tim’s Pigou taxes. But our hill farmer doesn’t have any net carbon emissions. His land’s sequestrating much more carbon in the topsoil than he emits. It’s one of the benefits of hill farming. Soil stabilisation. Yet he’s paying taxes designed to deter city dweller motoring..

  25. Just occurred. Even better example.
    We do have marginal land. As far as i’m aware.* if we want to have goat for dinner we have to take said goat, with paperwork, to an authorised abattoir 50km away so Billy can meet his ancestors. Then cart carcass back to the kitchen. It’d be cheaper to eat at McDonalds.

    *I say;far as I’m aware.. F**ks round here are not given. Goat”s snuffed unpaperworked, cutlets are served.

  26. @ SBML
    Of course people create their own jobs but if there are only customers to keep sixty-six artisan cheesemakers and forty-seven woodcarvers and eighty-one furniture designers in business then adding an extra dozen of each does them and us no good at all.

  27. @john77
    It’s keeping those 66 artisan cheesemakers in business that’s the problem.

    Tim had a post a while back on olive oil. EU regs will require all olive oil put on the table in restaurants to be in sealed bottles rather than decanted into individual bottles by the restaurant. Olive growing is exactly one of those things done on marginal land, like hill farming. We’ve got olive trees. If we could be bothered, we could supply the small local olive press & the oil could end up on tables all over Europe. But the press bottles in litre bottles. So unless they invest in new equipment to bottle in the 25ml table size bottles the restaurant market’s closed to them. Closed to us.
    As Tim said at the time, it’s regulatory capture by the big producers.

  28. bis,

    “My point has been, farming on marginal land is, by definition, marginally profitable. Always has been & that’s just the actual farming. If you’re then going to impose all manner of rules, regs & other disincentives, many of which have no relation to what the farmers doing*, then you’re making it non-viable.”

    I have no problem removing many rules. But those rules apply to all farmers. If you lower the bureaucracy for all, you still have the discrepancy between the cost of hill and other farming.

    “His land’s sequestrating much more carbon in the topsoil than he emits. It’s one of the benefits of hill farming.”

    A forest in its place would sequestrate more carbon.

  29. I think my point would be that the economy is now so grossly distorted from a free market position, that we have a negligible idea of what is actually value productive, economically sustainable etc. So it’s largely pointless arguing about individual cases. To use a general example, there may well be businesses that in a free market would be going concerns if they could pay below minimum wage and if living costs (e.g. housing) were lower due to an absence of State-induced differential inflation, and so on and so on. The distortions due to subsidies, regulation, etc are now so profound that it is just impossible to know.

    So it’s really just impossible to use “you are not viable” arguments, like we’re in a free market, when we aren’t.

  30. @john77, but there doesn’t need to be 66 artisan cheesemakers. Why should it be just artisan craft industries, why not service industries, or even just working in factories.

  31. Ian has it exactly.
    “But those rules apply to all farmers. If you lower the bureaucracy for all, you still have the discrepancy between the cost of hill and other farming.”
    But not all farmers are farming isolated hill farms.
    You may well require planning regulations for farms in the home counties. But if our hill farmer wants to put up a dozen cabins to cater to summer holidaymakers, make some spending money, what’s it to do with anyone else.? Only person can see them is bloke who farms the opposite hill & the odd person* passing on the road in the valley. It’s not contributing to urban sprawl. Why does he have to get involved with a planning system crafted for the home counties?
    *Unless the person’s some environmentally sensitive tourist who want’s to see unchanged traditional landscape. In which case, as it’s our hill farmer’s property he’s looking at, he can contribute to the loss of revenue.

  32. Grassland sequesters carbon on a continuing basis. Forestry only sequesters carbon in the trees, once.
    Hint. You find soil accumulation (40%carbon) under grasslands. Why archeologists & digging go in the same sentence. The soil under forest is usually only couple inches deep. Try digging in one.

  33. UK Lib
    All jobs in factories are created by the people who work in them. The plant & buildings are the bit supplied by the owner.

  34. I genuinely don’t understand that. Surely the employer says, “we need someone to do X,” places the ad and interviews applicants. Or some enterprising person says, “hey, I could do this for you” and the employer says “this guy has the right stuff, let’s hire him”. You can’t be saying that an unemployed person could simply walk into a factory, make himself busy and get paid for it.

    I can understand how someone could go about making and selling cheese or start a burger van business or tart up and sell secondhand furniture he found for free. Just not creating his own job at a factory.

  35. John mentioned small furniture designers above. That’s another one. Making furniture creates a bit of dust. Has done since JC left & went into the alternative religion business. Part of it. You live with it. Until the elfin safety people come along & tell you you need 10 grand’s worth of dust extraction. And a contract with a hazardous waste disposal company because you use hazardous chemicals. Yep. Fuming nitric acid. Occasionally, from small bottles.
    So to knock out a few repro chairs you’re stuffed with the same regulatory environment as big factories.

  36. UK Lib
    A “job” is the added value created by the employee.Nothing else.
    “You can’t be saying that an unemployed person could simply walk into a factory, make himself busy and get paid for it.”
    That’s what they do, isn’t it? if you offer your services to the factory, at a rate will create surplus value for the owner, you just created a job for yourself. But not as an HR manager..

  37. I guess we’re using “create” differently. If an employer identifies work to be done and believes he needs to hire someone to do it, places an ad and interviews applicants, I think people will understand the employer to have created the job, not the successful applicant.

  38. bloke in spain,

    You may well require planning regulations for farms in the home counties. But if our hill farmer wants to put up a dozen cabins to cater to summer holidaymakers, make some spending money, what’s it to do with anyone else.? Only person can see them is bloke who farms the opposite hill & the odd person* passing on the road in the valley. It’s not contributing to urban sprawl. Why does he have to get involved with a planning system crafted for the home counties?

    I’m not disagreeing with you on that. I’d tear up most of the planning rules and replace them with a pro-planning agenda, with a few exceptions (e.g. you can’t go knocking down Anne Hathaway’s Cottage or building in Symonds Yat gorge).

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