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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Jeffersonian Ends Through Hamiltonian Means

That's an expression used by Herbert Croly, founder of The New Republic, to describe the ostensible approach of big government liberalism (in reality, of course, the ends as well as the means were quite Hamiltonian). It's an approach that's still alive and well, unfortunately.

At the Grist Mill, Tom Philpott puts the spotlight on yet another big government "progressive" who wants to implement human scale economics through the leviathan state. Philpott links to David Kamp's review of Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma.

Kamp, Philpott says, generally shares Pollan's critique of the U.S. food system.

But to the big-picture problems presented by Pollan, Kamp demands big-picture solutions. And here is where I think Kamp, like many commentators on the vast-scale environmental troubles plaguing our culture, goes astray.

Kamp takes Pollan to task for his "too-nice" portrayal of of Joel Salatin, the pioneering Virginia farmer whose "beyond organic" methods make him the hero of Omnivore's Dilemma. (A while back, I reviewed Salatin's own book here.)

Although Kamp approves of Salatin's sustainable farming methods, he chides him for not getting on board to implement such methods as part of a "national solution." For that thoughtcrime, he is labelled an "off-the-grid crank." This, despite the fact that Salatin is

a successful small businessman who supplies 400 customers -- including restaurants in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Washington, D.C -- with beef, pork, chicken, and eggs. He has transformed his 100-acre plot into an important source of delicious food for his area -- all the while expanding its biodiversity by refusing to use chemical inputs.

And rather than withhold his farming wisdom from the broader world, Salatin is eager to share it....

In other words, Salatin has knit his farm into the economy that directly surrounds it, and documented his innovative techniques in hopes of inspiring other growers.

Kamp, on the other hand, favors a "national solution" in which the federal government (of course) plays a leading role.

Kamp yearns for big answers; he wants Pollan -- or Salatin, or the Justice Department -- to come up with a grand, sweeping solution to the environmental, social, and public-health disasters being wrought by our food-production system.

Yet such thinking merely mimics the industrial logic that currently dominates food production. Chemical-intensive agriculture arose -- with significant government support -- to solve the problem of rural labor shortages and rising urban populations. Genetically modified crops are now being flogged as the "solution" to the environmental problems caused by chemical ag.

"As one problem is being solved, ten new problems arise as a result of the first solution," writes E.F. Shumacher in his landmark Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered (1973), a much-admired, little-read book whose observations are now honored mostly in the breech.

Salatin may have the answer, after all. The problem with our global-scale food production system may be scale itself. And the solutions (note plural) might lie in leveraging local knowledge and grassroots efforts to recreate local- and regional-based food-production networks.


Blogger Unknown said...

Hello Kevin:

If interested Organically Speaking a Seattle base website has released a conversation with Michael Pollan podcast (audio conversation). Interesting tidbits on farmers markets, CSAs, and more!

Some Podcast Show Note Questions:

Q) Why the price difference between conventional food and organic and how do we go about bringing down organic food prices?

Q) How can small local organic farmers remain local in a capitalistic system?

Q) What is the "Food Web" you briefly touch on in your book, The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals.


All the best,

Holistic Conversations for a Sustainable World Who Share Your Passion for:

* high quality organic food
* natural, sustainable lifestyle
* ecology
* holistic health

August 04, 2006 5:29 AM  
Blogger Doc said...

highly interesting post - local food solves so many issues - as does local control of government function. horizontal hierarchies seem to be a Salatin flowform, while vertical command and controll hierarchy is Kamp's way of life. If we could only get the sheeple media to recognize the framework, my guess is that most of the sheeple have had it too. Then again, i don't think like a sheeple, so my guess could be way way howdt there.

August 04, 2006 7:27 AM  
Blogger donald said...

With agriculture it seems there is the rather big problem that government policy does help giant toxic operations, giving a certain disadvantage to people like Salatin, right?

And while I believe whole-heartedly that this sort of farming would erupt without government intervention, the government has been intervening for decades, especially in the last 50 years.

If we removed all subsidies immediately, the transition time would be catastrophic.

It seems that there does need to be a sort of "national policy" about it, but only to diminish the scale and scope of the current national policy incrementally until crop subsidies vanish completely. Is there a way to craft a platform on this so that it continuously decreases over time? Say a constant net reduction of crop subsidies over a decade or two but within that period a refocusing on support for decentralized initiatives- basic things, like setting aside public land for farmers' markets and small-plot greenbelts around cities. Things like that.

August 05, 2006 12:13 PM  

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