Gene Logsden at The Contrary Farmer is a brilliant man, a farmer who is one in the real sense of the word, and who is a thoughtful writer and I believe a poet at heart. He has a new post up regarding ‘self made’ farmers, or Yeomen as he calls them. I read his new post nodding to myself the whole while, but it was some of the responses to his post that inspired this one.
The day capitalism, as it is now understood, entered the farming community is the day real farming died. Agribusiness is what now exists for the most part. Farming involves being at boot level – and sometimes eye level – with TRUE wealth – the land. Agribusiness involves large air conditioned vehicles, airplanes, computer programs, subsidies, and debt.
What Chiara eludes to is tenant farming, which was a viable method of farming and small holding in Europe for many hundreds of years, and found its demise beginning as far back as the 1500’s when Henry VIII decided that a cash crop, wool, was more important to his personal wealth and power than his subjects. Of course, there was also that little bit about ‘needing’ a son and lusting after the Church’s wealth. This lust of course was fueled by the sudden influx of gold and silver to the Spanish via the New World; the resulting wealth unbalanced the power structure of Europe. The Spanish had driven the Muslims out of Spain a mere 100 years before, and had managed to decimate their country in the process. They willfully destroyed a productive agricultural and cultural system that was called, with good reason, the Jewel of the World. Of course, the destroying the agriculture destroyed the nation and it was necessary for the rulers to find another means of bankrolling the country, and FAST. Their last ditch effort was the expeditions by Columbus in the late 1400’s to find a trade route to the East that didn’t involve Muslim hands. Instead of trade routes, he found a society ripe for pillaging. And pillage they did.
These factors interacted together to destroy a system that had been mutually beneficial for both land holders and land users across Europe and indeed the entire of the Muslim empire. The end result of loving gold more than people reverberates down the centuries and affects each one of us directly today.
Even in the ‘golden days’ of tenant farming, there was no unbridled capitalism as we know it. Guilds had exclusive rights that were procured via royal decree to produce goods and services; their products were protected by law and they were diligent in making sure guild members had the skills and knowledge required to produce quality goods. They did this in order to maintain that exclusive right.
It is also worth mentioning that barter was the basic way of conducting business – A sheep herder would receive back so much spun yarn in trade for his wool; the spun yarn could be traded for fabric or goods from yet another merchant; those goods in turn could be used to pay rents or taxes to the landlord. The poor acquired permission to ‘wool gather’ in the fields of the sheep and helped with household chores in return. Money was not, for most of society, the means of trade. Everyone understood that the land was the source of their sustenance and was the source of wealth. Until the ‘discovery’ of the New World, that is. The resulting flood of precious metals into the Old World shifted the focus of the entire culture away from maintaining the land to lusting after money. Without the overarching need to protect the lands as the source of wealth, societies began to over-harvest trees for ship building for further transfers from the New to the Old worlds, which resulted in the decimation of the forests and the loss of the native wildlife. This in return meant that the average subject was pushed off the land into the cities, increasing the poor populations which encouraged disease to spread. It also meant that inventions were sought to replace what the tenant farmers and guilds had originally provided: the food, goods, and services necessary to the running of a society. It is sobering to think that the seeds of our industrial society, our current views of wealth and capitalism, were sown in the 1400’s.
It is the primacy of money over wealth that has been the downfall of our worldwide system. Capitalism, in its strictest sense, simply doesn’t work. One cannot value money over land, livestock, and people without destroying the true wealth –which is the land, livestock, and people. Only when society at large realizes this, and concurrently realizes that wealth requires work, will the disaster we face begin to be mitigated. I do not hold out much hope for that though. Not as long as there are TV’s everywhere.