Do You Want to Be A Farmer?

Do you want to be a farmer?  I don't.  But around 1900 there was a lot of gnashing of teeth and wailing about rising urbanization and the loss of agricultural jobs.  Of course, as we (hopefully) all understand today, the important thing was producing a lot of food inexpensively.  The "decline" of the US agricultural sector was never a reality in terms of output -- only in terms of its declining share of employment.  Agricultural workers freed up from the farming grind are today's manufacturing and service workers.

It seems crazy to lament this economic shift, but folks are making the same mistake today with the supposed demise of the manufacturing sector.  Like agriculture in 1900, manufacturing output has never been higher.  So on this basis, the manufacturing sector is as strong as ever.  The only thing that has changed is that manufacturing's share of employment has declined.  Yesterday's blue collar worker is now a service or office worker.

It is particularly odd that the Left should today be the one's lamenting the job shift away from manufacturing and expressing nostalgia for the 1950's.  When I grew up in the 1970's, the soul-sucking mindless dangerous awfulness of manufacturing work was a big concern of the Left.  They wanted nice, clean, more cerebral and rewarding jobs for manufacturing workers, but now, never satisfied, they want the opposite.


  1. Foxfier:

    I worry about the shift to things being outside of our federal control-- I don't trust our government all that much, but I trust the other ones even less.

    I also dislike how attacking manufacturing is a really effective way for really bad precedents to be set into law-- look at the environmental stuff. (Or the MSDS sheets I had to keep in the Navy, by OSHA laws-- did you know that it's a bad idea to breath in water? Yes, we had a sheet for distilled water. Oh, also, getting distilled water in your eye can sting. The sheet said we were required to wear eye protection.)

    Mechanization in general, I like-- being able to do more with less, I REALLY like. Trusting Chinese business managers to go against cultural standards and do exactly what they're instructed, when they could cut corners, I don't like.
    (Quoting directly from an expert in Chinese culture that I got to know, and simplifying a bit. Broadly, imagine a business culture built around dealing with a really cruddy, corrupt system, sort of like how some folks make a living by cheating public programs.)

  2. Micro-Farmer:

    In spite of protestations of "protecting the family farm" the US Federal Govt. has been involved in what amounts to a 30 plus year program to wipe out real farms and replace them with a captive, monolithic, centrally planned system reminiscent of the old soviet, but with the added twist of transferring large sums to favored entities. The corporatist mind set isn't to actually take over businesses, it is to co-opt and control them, while weeding out those too independent to control or too small to bother with.

    Just for fun, try stopping by a FSA or SCS office. Read the carrot and stick posters. See how long it is before they ask you where you live, what your SSN is, please sign here, etc. Those people are scary.

    If you're a big operation with time and money for lawyers and regulatory administrators and a few lobbyists on your side you can get your whole operation run for you from Washington and a guaranteed profit, IF you behave and do as you're told. If you miss any of those criteria, well, the best you can hope for is that they forget about you and you can continue to try to compete with subsidized corporations. You probably wouldn't have a chance if it weren't for the fact that they are centrally controlled and so, in aggregate, poorly coordinated, out of touch with the market, and the exact opposite of "agile".

    As a *VERY* small farmer I frequently have people throw it up to me in response to my desire for smaller government, "yeah? Suppose they cut ag subsidies, then what? huh?" My response is "Please, as soon as possible. I can stop funding my competition."

    So, I don't know much about manufacturing, but I *do* know that "producing a lot of food inexpensively." is not really what is going on. Centrally controlling the sector while producing large quantities of artificially cheap food to feed large, politically connected, urban voting blocs is the more like it.

  3. caseyboy:

    The way things are going we are all going to need to know how to farm, forage, hunt and fish.

  4. gadfly:

    Do you want to be a farmer? I cannot see any reason why not, unless you are opposed to government regulations which are conveniently offset by elimination of risk and by guaranteed profits for your farm operations. A "*VERY* small farmer" by the name of Victor Davis Hanson takes us right to the guts of the story:

    Net farm income is expected in 2011 to reach its highest levels in more than three decades, as a rapidly growing and food-short world increasingly looks to the United States to provide it everything from soybeans and wheat to beef and fruit. Yet the department this year will give a record $20 billion in various crop "supports" to the nation's wealthiest farmers -- with the richest 10 percent receiving over 70 percent. If farmers on their own are making handsome profits, why, with a $1.6 trillion annual federal deficit, is the USDA borrowing unprecedented amounts to subsidize them?

    VDH also points out that the USDA has an annual budget (above and beyond these $20 billion in subsidies and another $5 billion for ethanol) of $130 billion. The farmers do at least expose our so-called "conservative" Midwestern representatives and senators as hypocrites, since congress will not shut down this government waste.

  5. dad29:

    First off, the Intellectualoids WILL never be happy, no matter what.

    And they have done their damndest to chase manufacturing out of the country, principally through tax and regulatory costs. (The cost of direct labor is only about 5% of the cost of most products.)

    Now they wish to starve the country of energy, which renders ALL of their projects void-in-prospect.

    Consistency only in nostalgia; never in governance or philosophy.

  6. Bart Hall (Kansas, USA):

    There's a lot of stuff here I only have time to touch lightly; I farm for a living, as in I don't work off the farm, and I refuse the USDA subsidies for which I'm eligible.

    The USDA is a political creation of the first order, lumping together not only agriculture, but forestry and food stamps. Gotta cover all the constituent bases, eh? I personally believe the department should be eliminated with its constituent parts going to Commerce, Interior, and Human Services respectively. Might even be able to get rid of a bunch of GS-14s and up, too.

    Over half of all "farmers" have gross revenue below $50K and they have average net income of negative $3K. The bottom 85% of farmers depend on off-farm jobs to meet living expenses. Many of the largest farms (by income) are horticultural producers, and there are no subsidies for that, apart from the federal water subsidies to California.

    Some time when we've got about a month and a half, let's talk about how badly that distorts vegetable production across America. And alfalfa production, with huge impact on distribution of America's dairy industry, and so on.

    For now I'll leave it that I really don't appreciate having my federal tax dollars going to subsidize my competitors in California to the tune of about $1.50 per box of vegetables they ship.

  7. Gil:

    Is proof of the nostalgia for the traditional farms that of the late-'50s and early-'70s TV westerns set in the late 1800s showing happy, healthy, community-minded people?

  8. Ian Random:

    Some economist said that conservatives want to live in the 50's and liberals want to work in the 50's. Actually, as far as farming, I want the best of both. I want to live on former subsidized farm land that has been subdivided and they still mail you the check ($50/acre? basically the price of seed) thinking you still farm it.

  9. IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society:

    >>> now, never satisfied, they want the opposite.

    No, they want the end of all jobs.

    Except hunter. And gatherer.

    Those two jobs are OK.

    Postmodern Leftism is a culturally suicidal meme. It is a cancerous rot eating away at Western Civ, and needs to be exposed for the foul pervertant it actually is.

  10. IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society:

    "Civilization advances by increasing the number of important things you can do without really thinking about them."

    That's a very effective metric for whether or not something is an improvement in civilization. Some things that are "steps backwards" may or may not be necessary, but that's not the same as an "improvement", which is generally more desirable.

    Mass transit is, in all but a few cases, a step backwards -- you have to worry about when the bus is running, IF it's running, where it goes, when to get off and transfer, walking the two, three blocks or more to the ACTUAL location you aim to get to.... and if you're out to make multiple stops, the wasted time escalates as the square of the number of places. And if you would like to get packages at any of those places? Well, enjoy schlepping them everywhere. So, in general, it is anything but an improvement (and yes, there ARE places where a car can be just as much of a headache... but those are places which are very densely populated.)