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Monday, May 29, 2006

Smaller is better

Over 60 years ago, an anthropologist working for the US Department of Agriculture did a study comparing two farming communities: One surrounded by small, independently-owned farms, the other surrounded by large, corporate-owned farms. His conclusion?
The study showed unequivocally that the town surrounded by the small farms was far superior by every measure that I could devise.
How so?
Large scale farm operations was immediately seen to take an important part in the creation of the conditions found in Arvin. Its direct causative effect is to create a community made up of a few persons of high economic position, and a mass of individuals whose economic status and whose security and stability are low, and who are economically dependent directly on the few. In the framework of American culture, more particularly that of industrialized farming, this creates immediately a situation where community participation and leadership, economic well-being, and business activities are relatively impoverished.

The small-farm community of Dinuba was supporting 62 separate businesses with a volume of trade of $4.3 million, while the large-farm community of Arvin had 35 established business establishments; expenditures for household supplies and building equipment were over three times greater in the small-farm community; Dinuba had a larger dollar-volume of agricultural production; over one-half of the breadwinners in the small-farm community were independently employed, while in the large-farm community less than one-fifth were so employed: public services in the small-farm community were far better; the small farm community had two newspapers while the large-farm community had one, and the small-farm community had twice the number of organizations for civic improvement and recreation.
Of course, the big agribusiness firms and their hired Congresscritters deep-sixed the report and ignored its recommendations. The well-being of most Americans was not their concern, and never has been.

Heather Gray, writing about this on Counterpunch, notes that this accumulation of agricultural power into the hands of a tiny number of huge corporations has gone international:
What we have witnessed in the past century, of course, is the Walmartization of the American economy and it is being applied to American foreign policy as well as through trade initiatives and the likes of the World Trade Organization. Under the NAFTA agreement, for example, the U.S. forced Mexico to change its land tenure laws allowing for foreigners to purchase land for the first time and to open up more intensive dumping of industrially produced cheap corn and other products on the Mexican markets. As we expected, the trade policies, resulted in the undercutting of prices and destabilization of small farmers. This has had a devastating impact on Mexico's excellent small farming communities and likely one of the reasons we are seeing larger numbers of Mexican economic refugees attempting to come across the U.S. borders. The "poor" immigrants are unfairly blamed for disruption when the finger needs to be pointed at corporate America and the U.S. trade policies.

Concentrated wealth is not healthy for any community--rural or urban--and is counter-productive to quality of life and democratic principles. The current U.S. paradigm of support for excessive wealth and trickle down economics doesn't work, is not good for anyone. A new paradigm of common wealth and resource distribution is necessary to let human genius have an opportunity to flourish and be sustainable. Americans need to pay attention to this and stop bowing to greed.