I'm reading through Wendell Berry's latest book, What Matters Most: Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth, and I find his commentary on our current economic woes as insightful as any I've read. He laments that the economy has become disconnected from the land and is so out of whack that it's hard to see how it can be fixed.
There is no good reason, economic or otherwise, to wish for the "recovery" and continuation of the economy we have had. There is no reason, really, to expect it to recover and continue, for it has depended too much on fantasy. An economy cannot "grow" forever on limited resources. Energy and food cannot stay cheap forever. We cannot continue forever as a tax-dependent people who do not wish to pay taxes. Delusion and the future cannot serve forever as collateral. An untrustworthy economy dependent on trust cannot beguile the people's trust forever. The old props have been kicked away. The days when we could be safely crazy are over. Our airborne economy has turned into a deadfall, and we have got to jack it down. The problem is that all of us are under it, and so we have got to jack it down with the least possible suffering to our land and people. I don't know how this is to be done, and I am inclined to doubt that anybody does. You can't very confidently jack something down if you didn't know what you were doing when you jacked it up.
He goes on to offer some suggestions for ways to re-anchor the economy in land and natural resources.
...Help young farmers to own farms...We should set appropriate and reasonable acreage limits, according to region, for family-scale farms and ranches. Taxes should be heavy on holdings above those limits...There should be inheritance taxes on large holdings; none on small holdings.
...Phase out biofuels as quickly as possible.
...Phase in perennial plants - for pasture, winter forage, and grain crops - to replace annual crops requiring annual soil disturbance or annual applications of "no-till" chemicals.
...High water quality standards (enforced) and a program to replace annual crops with perennials would tend strongly toward the elimination of animal factories. But let us be forthright on this issue. We should get rid of animal factories, those abominations, as quickly as we can. Get the farm animals, including hogs and chickens, back on grass. Put the animals where they belong, and their manure where it belongs.
...Animal production should be returned to the scale of localities and communities. Do away with subsidies, incentives, and legislation favorable to gigantism in dairy, meat, and egg production.
...Encourage the development of local food economies, which make more sense agriculturally and economically than our present overspecialized, too-concentrated, long-distance food economy.
...Study and teach sustainable forestry...Help and encourage small-scale forestry and owners of small woodlands.
In conclusion he says;
Would such measures increase significantly the number of people at work in the land economy? Of course they would. This would be an authentic version, for change, of "job creation." This work would help our economy, our people, and our country all at the same time.
Picture: Wheat ripe for harvest on Orchard Prairie