The real wealth of our nation

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.

4 responses

  1. How did they acquire land in those days?

    Without land, we are slaves to the money system of the day. By now it’s been assured that most of us can barely rent enough space to sleep in.

    According to wikipedia, in 2005 there was an average of 2.1 hectares of biologically productive land per person.

    • Land wasn’t so much acquired as it was stewarded – unless you count capricious kings taking it from one lord and giving it to another. The only way to acquire land was to be awarded it by the ruling class. Those that stewarded the land were under ‘noblesse oblige’ and needed tenant staff to run the estates properly. It was a mutually beneficial relationship; the tenants got the use of the land and a place to live, the landlords kept their land productive and collected rents. Thanks to the grab for cash and the resultant destruction of the land/estate/tenant relationship, the standard of living for many dropped so precipitously by the end of the 19th century that emigration was the only possible option for a chance at a better life.

      • Sounds like the only thing that changed is now we have to pay for our food and transportation to our jobs as well.

        The “nobles” either stole the land or inherited it.

      • Well, it was a holdover from the tribal societies; the tribal leaders morphed into kings and lords. It wasn’t all that much like now, because the nobles (with a few notable exceptions) knew full well if they treated their lieges poorly they would go to the next lord over and offer their fidelity. It’s hard to work land all by oneself without the aid of fossil fuels, after all. It took a village worth of people to do it in those days.

        It actually wasn’t like now at all. People worked, according to what I’ve read, an average of maybe 30 days worth a year – most of it in spring and in summer, almost none in winter – directly for the lord doing his production tasks. The rest of the time was their own. Work as we understand it didn’t even exist, except for mercenaries. Merchants owned their own businesses and belonged to a guild which protected them – no one could undercut you nor charge outrageously more than you – but of course dickering was a part of life. The guilds mainly protected from what we now have – companies who bring in items produced in poorer countries, of questionable quality, that undercut in price and put locals out of business. Royals understood full well that if merchants went out of business, the traveling merchants weren’t going to be making up the difference in the taxes and it would directly hurt the coffers in short order.

        All in all, the main thing we have going for us now, is a knowledge of basic hygiene, principles of sanitation, and antibiotics, as well as vaccinations against childhood diseases that used to ravage families. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING has contributed more to the boom in population worldwide as those things. Everything after that just contributes to excess for rich people. We are at peak medicine as well as peak everything else – procedures get more fancy but don’t deliver better results, same with medicines.

        If I were to go back in time I would prefer to go to somewhere like Ottoman Turkey in the 1500’s or to Islamic Spain in the 1100’s. Both were on the cutting edge of hygiene, sanitation, medicine, agriculture, and literature. Being a woman I would be limited in my options in any case; I would prefer to go someplace where I could have a better quality of life, and work in a place where women actually were allowed to contribute to development of medicine and the arts.

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