July 18, 2009


Filed under: Food and Farms, Land Reform, Neo-feudalism — Russell Bangs @ 6:58 am
America needs millions of small farmers. Industrial agriculture is both socially malevolent and will not be able to feed the people as fossil fuel depletion sets in. More broadly, we must relocalize, we must have social and economic reform, an end to wealth concentration, the restoration of community, humanity, and freedom.
But nothing will work without land reform.
Every trend is currently in opposition to this. Big Ag further entrenches itself, with the help of a welter of proposed tyrannical laws currently gnawing their way through Congress (see here, here, and here). This legislation comprises a coordinated attempt to destroy the basis for social and agricultural recovery, by driving remaining independent producers out of the market, setting up insurmountable barriers to independent entry, and even criminalizing seed banking.
(Anyone who doubts the intent of legislation like HR 2749 simply has to consider two facts about this and all the other proposed laws:
1. Every aspect is purely regressive, imposing a one size fits all financial and regulatory measure which is calculated to impose hardship on small producers and would-be entrants, while being negligible to industrial producers.
2. The fact that industrial agriculture represents the overwhelming public health danger while the risks from small producers are miniscule is systematically denied by the bills. Thus the cookie-cutter regulations. This level of anti-intellectualism can stem only from ideological intent.)
These are all feudalist rent-seeking measures. They contain no shred of “innovation” or “capitalism” at all. They are overtly tyrannical – econonomically, socially, politically.
At bottom this tyranny is grounded in control of the land, through direct ownership or through economic rackets which achieve de facto control over the owners. Any solution must therefore be grounded in breaking this stranglehold and replacing it with independent, public interest ownership.
Similarly, the collapse of the real estate market has not been seen as the market passing judgement on the Big Developer model. These land monopolists are not being cast upon the trash heap of history where the market and the people clearly want to cast them. On the contrary, rent-seeking and government intervention are again the order of the day. Obama has declared his intention to “shore up housing prices”, thereby maintaining land as the exclusive playground of the rich.
[This economic crisis has stripped America of the pretense that it has a “middle class”. This pretense, we now see, was based on the smoke and mirrors of debt. Now administration policy, whose priority is to accelerate corporatist looting while maintaining social stability (as Obama told the bankers, “I’m the one between you and the pitchforks”), will try to reflate the debt bubble. It will try to levitate the simulated middle class for a little while longer.
But this cannot work for long. America is not a productive economy; it has no reality basis to restore “growth”; under Peak Oil it will be impossible to restore even fantasy growth. What was called the middle class will now have its lifestyle repossessed. This will include the land of “suburbia”, which will be foreclosed into the hands of the banks and from there to big developers and other feudal speculators. People are going to end up as slaves on a rusty treadmill, not even to pay the mortgage, but just to pay the rent.]
We see the few rational reform measures, the few rump restraints on sprawl, rolled back. For example here in New Jersey, under the fraudulent buzzword “stimulus”, the same developers who have already ravaged the state are being freed of the few existing regulations which sought to make them pay for the infrastructure burdens they pile on communities. Meanwhile, already enjoying favorable tax treatment, they are up for even more tax breaks. Not to be left out, the NJ supreme court, long a flunkey of Big Development, has absolved them of having to obey laws which would force them to provide open space to counterbalance the sprawl and crowding they inflict.
Meanwhile, as per the resource fascist playbook, developers are trying to co-opt the new enthusiasm for farming. According to this NYT article,  a new vogue is the subdivision built around a Potemkin organic farm, “as an amenity”. (The article uses the word amenity several times, each time as an adjunct to cheerleading over the “premium” the developers are getting.)
“Like-minded developers around the country are trying it on inactive farmland”. In rural areas they’re buying “big tracts of ranchland” to be subdivided. It’s just like yuppie eco-villages. The rich get to live their high-consumption, land-monopolizing lifestyles but still perfume themselves with “progressive” lifestyle ornaments. First greeniness, now a token farm left over where a vast acreage of “inactive farmland” (inactive only on account of this model for land use) has been destroyed for subdivisions.
It quotes a developer: “Agriculture can be the caboose on the train, and housing can be the engine.” Left unspoken: the train itself is antisocial concentrated profit. That’s what we’ve been reduced to in this country. Agriculture is a “caboose”.
Except for a small activist community no one thinks about it, no one cares about it. No one is concerned that the food system is monopolized by a handful of companies, that farmers are mere employees, or that vast expanses of the farmland itself have been destroyed by development.
The system has strangled all freedom and productive diversity, CAFOs are bioweapons factories looking for a vector toward extermenating us, the biotech companies seek world domination through gene and seed patents and monopoly. Economic barriers as they exist today render it impossible for America to save itself by producing the millions of small farmers we need.
It all boils down to control of the land. This is the core of the feudal property regime whose abuses and oppressions extend in every direction. Focus on this core is the best way to organize the reform struggle as a whole. Reform the land, and you can reform everything else. Leave the land in the hands of the masters, and you’ll never reform anything else.
My next post on this subject will discuss why, even according to the premise of property in land, the current distribution is invalid.         

1 Comment

  1. […] under the food bill. I’ve written before about the House bill from last year (for example here and here), which systematically seeks to destroy small food producers by imposing a […]

    Pingback by Food For Thought: We Can Have Food And Thought, Or Else Neither « Volatility — August 25, 2010 @ 5:56 am

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