Friday, July 25, 2008

The Life of a Serf

One of the hardest things that we will have to come to grips with is the imperative that in the next two or three generations, there are going to be a lot more people in America working on farms. Consider this little blurb
  • In 1945, it took up to 14 labor-hours to produce 100 bushels of corn on 2 acres of land.
  • By 1987, it took just under 3 labor-hours to produce that same 100 bushels of corn on just over 1 acre.
  • In 2002, that same 100 bushels of corn were produced on less than 1 acre.
  • In 1890, 42% of the US population listed farming as their occupation. (Ref. Here)
I would not be surprised if the percentage isn't back around 40% within 50 years. The cards are stacked this way, and the deck is frozen cold. Unless someone comes up with a way to violate the second law of thermodynamics with inpunity, a significant minority of our children and grandchildren will be laboring on farms.

Now, there are a bunch of you out there who will be delighted by this prospect. "A return to a natural way of life", "Living in harmony with the earth and seasons". All kinds of mindless drivel like that.

Screw that. I grew up working on a truck farm in Northern Utah. The work was backbreaking and endless. Any jackass who likes to think that he would seriously enjoy this is more than welcome to grab a hoe and go out to weed an acre or so of beets or tomatoes. Try it the rain for a couple of days. Or go and spend a day harvesting tomatoes. I can almost guarantee you that the work will begin to pall after a week or so. After a summer of work, going back to school was a grand relief. The thought of staying on the farm kept me focused through a four year tour in the infantry and the GI bill to get through college so that I didn't have to stay on the farm.

Folks, there is a reason that we hire Mexicans to work as agricultural workers. We in America for a short time were so rich and so resource wealthy that we could throw energy and money at the problem of agriculture to allow us a generation or three of respite. Those of us who took advantage of this break should fall on our knees and thank God for the gift of leisure that we have been given.

But no, what we have is a bunch of spoiled idiots thinking that the luxury that they have been blessed by is a natural right and all we will have to do is call our elected officials in Washington to have them do something about it. But at the end of the day, not even our vaunted representatives in Washington can do something abut a system that is going to become more and more energy constrained.

Right now we have geared our agricultural system around
  1. big farmers driving around in expensive machines burning oil,
  2. massive injections of fertilizer made from natural gas,
  3. bringing in lots of Mexican migrant workers so that the agribusinesses and big farmers can screw Mexicans instead of paying a decent wage to Americans,
  4. Americans (like me) desperately searching for any means whatsoever to avoid an honest day of labor and ignoring the first three points because it does keep them off the farm.
So, old gomers like me can probably dodge the bullet, but I think that my children's children will have a radically different set of choices ahead of them. But they can handle it. If my Grandparents can make it being coal miners and farmers in the 1930's, my grandchildren can handle something similar.

But don't blame our descendants one little bit for thinking of us and our profligate ways as "those jackasses who got us into this mess".

3 comments:

Survivalist News said...

I see this happening within the next several years. Debt slavery...you work off your debt on the corporate farms.

Anonymous said...

Hi Degringolade, Lurker again.

Did you see this silverbear article?

http://www.silverbearcafe.com/private/7.08/dissonance.html

Kinda blew my mind but this would definitely be a worthy, and logical headfake of our betters to keep us living in luxury.

I don't understand the technicals, but the idea of intentionally making oil unaffordable to consolidate under much more constrainable nuclear makes sense.

Lingda said...

There is a great alternative to this by using open source machines to create 'neo self sufficient' intentional communities without high capital requirements.

see http://factorefarm.org/ and search google videos

buildings at 43c per sq foot
Lifetime Design Buildings at Forty Three Cents Per Square Foot

http://www.youtube.com/user/marcinose