The business of agriculture

Agriculture is the cultivation of land and breeding of animals and plants to provide food, fiber, medicinal plants and other products to sustain and enhance life. Agriculture was the key development in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that enabled people to live in cities. The history of agriculture dates back thousands of years; people gathered wild grains at least 105,000 years ago and began to plant them around 11,500 years ago before they became domesticated. Pigs, sheep and cattle were domesticated over 10,000 years ago. Crops originate from at least 11 regions of the world. Industrial agriculture based on large-scale monoculture has in the past century come to dominate agricultural output, though about two billion people worldwide still depend on subsistence agriculture.


Along Pennsylvania Avenue, by Murray Rothbard, Faith and Freedom, Dec 1955
Discusses the perennial "farm problem" reviewing the various agricultural policy interventions going back to 1929 to the one to be passed in 1956, then cautions those who may want government repression of "left-wing" foundations
"And thus begins the 'farm surplus' problem. For thousands of years, people bought and used farm products. No one ever talked about 'surplus.' Now, suddenly, a surplus appears—a surplus which couldn't sell at the new monopoly prices. What's more, the farmers, attracted by the government's high prices, rush to produce even more of the supported goods—more production builds larger surplus. Larger surplus sends government farm subsidies shooting skyhigh. Skyhigh subsidies snatch more food out from under the consumer's nose (he's deprived of the other foods the farmers had produced before)."
Related Topic: Government
Billions Served: Norman Borlaug interviewed by Ronald Bailey, by Norman Borlaug, Ronald Bailey, Reason, Apr 2000
Topics discussed include his current projects, Africa, roads, DDT, biotech, crossing genetic barriers in nature, biodiversity, monarch butterflies, organic produce, Lester Brown, Paul Ehrlich, India and the Green Revolution
"In 1960, the production of the 17 most important food, feed, and fiber crops–virtually all of the important crops grown in the U.S. at that time and still grown today–was 252 million tons. By 1990, it had more than doubled, to 596 million tons, and was produced on 25 million fewer acres than were cultivated in 1960. If we had tried to produce the harvest of 1990 with the technology of 1960, we would have had to have increased the cultivated area by another 177 million hectares, about 460 million more acres of land of the same quality–which we didn't have, and so it would have been much more."
Confessions of a Welfare Queen: How rich bastards like me rip off taxpayers for millions of dollars, by John Stossel, Reason, Mar 2004
Discusses the National Flood Insurance Program, subsidies to farmers and farm corporations (such as Archer Daniels Midland) and Donald Trump's attempt to use eminent domain to expand a casino in Atlantic City
"Today's biggest welfare queens are probably farmers—once, in their glory days, the most self-sufficient of Americans. ... Subsidies are supposed to help farmers recover from low prices caused by overproduction, but the subsidies lead farmers to plant more crops, creating more overproduction, which lowers prices, making farmers even more dependent on handouts. The programs wreck the lives of farmers in poor countries because they can't compete with ... American farmers (or with even more-subsidized European farmers). ... most handouts don't go to family farms. They end up going to big farm corporations ..."
Economic Nationalism, Enemy of the People, by Sheldon Richman, 17 Nov 2006
Explains the benefits of free trade and the perils of protectionism and economic nationalism
"Once nearly every working American was involved somehow in farming. Today only a tiny fraction are. Does that mean we produce less food now? Of course not. Many fewer farmers, using highly productive machinery, methods, and materials, produce much more food than before. People left the farm because they weren't needed in that kind of work anymore. The change may have been disruptive, but consumers were willing to pay more at the margin for manufacturing labor than for agricultural labor. The incentives provided by the price system signaled the change."
Examining Reagan's Record on Free Trade, by Sheldon Richman, The Wall Street Journal, 10 May 1982
Analyzes several actions by the Reagan administration that belie Mr. Reagan's alleged pro-free trade stance
"The Agriculture Department joined the dairy lobby in asking the International Trade Commission to decide whether imported casein, a dairy derivative used as a substitute for milk, 'harms' either the industry or the price-support program. (The ITC said no.) The dairy lobby argues that people substitute casein for nonfat milk, costing the industry sales and the government money, since the government buys any milk that can't be sold at the supported price. Why isn't casein made in the U.S.? Because it isn't covered by the price-support program."
Related Topics: Free Trade, Ronald Reagan
Farming Is a Business, by Clarence B. Carson, The Freeman, Aug 1986
Farm Subsidies Must Go, by Sheldon Richman, 30 Apr 2004
Discusses the response to a World Trade Organization ruling that U.S. subsidies to cotton farmers violate WTO rules
"Farm subsidies have been on the rise. The 2002 farm bill boosted them to $19 billion a year. Both political parties are at fault. ... The real injustice caused by the subsidies is not to Brazilian cotton growers, but to American taxpayers. Why should they have to cough up money for rich cotton farmers? If cotton is so important, it'll be produced without compulsion. Not all crops are subsidized. How do unsubsidized farmers manage?"
Related Topic: Brazil
Freedom to Farm Washington, by James Bovard, Future of Freedom, Jan 1999
The results of the 1996 Freedom to Farm Act
"... if congressmen truly wanted to help worthy farmers, Freedom to Farm is a miserable failure. A 1998 USDA study found that most of the benefits of the act are going to landowners – often absentee landowners – not to the people who actually sow and harvest. Landowners responded to new subsidies by raising the rent farmers paid."
Free-Market Farming, by W. M. Curtiss, The Freeman, Feb 1956
Give Me Liberty [PDF], by Rose Wilder Lane, 1936
Originally published as an article titled "Credo" in the Saturday Evening Post; describes her experiences in and history of Soviet Russia and Europe, contrasting them with the history of the United States, emphasizing the individualist themes
"An American raised wheat, but he was not The Wheatgrower. ... Men raise cotton, men grow oranges, men plant soybeans; they are not Agriculture. Agriculture, used as a word applied to human beings, means a class of men attached to the soil. There is no such class in America. Excepting only the old landed aristocracy of the South, which was already vanishing when Lincoln was born, there has never been such a class in this country."
Hoover's Second Wrecking of American Agriculture, by James Bovard, Future of Freedom, Dec 2005
Follow-up to "How the Feds Took Over Farming," describes the policies of Hoover's Federal Farm Board
"The Farm Board was certain that a world shortage of wheat was imminent and that importing nations would soon come begging to America. Instead, Canadian and Argentinean farmers reaped windfall profits ... Its massive cache ... depressed world prices, since every grain dealer in the world knew that the United States would eventually dump its surplus on the market."
How Much Do You Know About Liberty? (a quiz), The Freeman, Jun 1996
A 20-question quiz (with answers) on various topics related to liberty in the history of the United States
"How did government devastate farmers during the Great Depression? ... Taxes hit Depression-era farmers harder than anything else, costing more than farm mortgages. State and local governments got most of their revenue from property taxes which remained high even though farm commodity prices declined during the Great Depression."
Karl Hess: Presidential Speechwriter Turned Homesteader, by Karl Hess, Anson Mount, Mother Earth News, Jan 1976
"The Plowboy Interview", shortly after Hess' book Dear America had become a bestseller, questions him about the switch from right wing conservatism to the New Left
"It appears to be more efficient to squeeze twenty little farmers off the land, lump their small spreads into one big corporate farm, and then work it with giant machines and heavy applications of fertilizer, pesticides, and irrigation water. But, in real terms, it's not more efficient at all. Quite the contrary."
Letters to Thomas Robert Malthus, on Several Subjects of Political Economy, and on the Cause of the Stagnation of Commerce, by Jean-Baptiste Say, 1821
Series of five letters from Say to Malthus, written in response to the latter's criticisms in Principles of Political Economy (1820); the letters were translated from the French by John Richter
"In the natural order, the production of alimentary commodities is more rigidly limited than that of furniture and clothing. Although mankind stand in need of a much greater quantity, in weight and value, of alimentary goods, than of all other sorts of produce together, yet commodities of this description cannot be brought from any considerable distance, for they are difficult to transport, and the care of them is expensive. As to those which may grow upon the territory of a nation, they are confined within boundaries, which the improvement of agriculture, and increase of capitals engaged therein may certainly extend, but which will always be sure to exist."
Mises: Defender of Freedom, by George Reisman, Mises Daily, 29 Sep 2006
Written on the 125th anniversary of his birth, describes several of Mises' contributions to economics theory and other areas, along with some of Reisman's personal reminiscences
"Mises demonstrated that competition under capitalism is ... in the positive creation of new and additional wealth, from which all gain. For example, the effect of the competition between farmers using horses and those using tractors was not that the former group died of starvation, but that everyone had more food and the income available to purchase additional quantities of other goods as well. This was true even of the farmers who 'lost' the competition, as soon as they relocated in other areas of the economic system, which were enabled to expand precisely by virtue of the improvements in agriculture."
Objectivist Ethics in the Information-Age Economy, by Nathaniel Branden, Navigator, Feb 2001
After reviewing human progress, from hunter to farmer to laborer to thinker, argues that what he calls "Objectivist ethics" are more relevant to current society
"The basis for civilization began only with the change from a nomad existence to village agriculture--between ten and twelve thousand years ago--when groups of human beings settled in small areas and learned to extract their sustenance from the earth. Now began the agonizingly slow process of inventing the early agricultural tools. ... The cultivation of wheat, the invention of the plow, the domestication of animals, the development of wheel and axle, each a landmark in our cultural history, are achievements separated by many centuries."
Parity: Bureaucratic Tyranny by Moral Fraud, by James Bovard, Future of Freedom, Sep 1999
Discusses the consequences of establishing "parity" of agricultural prices, in the name of "fairness"
"After the enactment of the Agricultural Adjustment Act in 1933, bureaucrats used the doctrine of parity to dictate how many pounds of peanuts each farmer could sell, how many acres of tobacco he could plant, how many boxes of oranges he could ship, and where he could sell his milk. Parity provided a noble-sounding pretext ... to justify the arrest of thousands of farmers for planting or selling more of their harvest than the government permitted."
Related Topic: Technology
Piercing through Myths, Lies, and Stupidity, by George Leef, Future of Freedom, Aug 2006
Review of Stossel's Myths, Lies, and Downright Stupidity (2006)
"Farmers and the politicians who pander for their support have built up a stout wall of myths to protect the programs that compel the taxpayer to subsidize the growing (or not growing) of crops. Stossel interviews two brothers who own a 12,000-acre farm ... and receive government price-support payments. They claim that their costs have risen faster than prices and they wouldn't make any profit without the subsidies. Stossel replies, '... "So what?" Not making a profit doesn't entitle them to our money.' The farmers can only retort that the government has decided to help them, 'so we're winning and you're losing.'"
Richard Cobden: Creator of The Free Market: Cobden broke down protectionist trade laws in England, by John Chodes, The Freeman, Mar 1993
Examines the Corn Laws, Cobden's success as a merchant and his activism in favor of free trade
"The Corn Laws are not merely things of the past. Their spirit exists in most countries of the world. In the U.S. today, agricultural products are subsidized and stored, to the tune of tens of billions of dollars annually, to keep the price of food artificially high. This enhances the farmer’s income but it also prevents the poor from eating as they should."
Related Topic: Richard Cobden
The Many Monopolies, by Charles W. Johnson, 24 Aug 2011
Describes four ways in which markets are distorted by government interventions, explains Tucker's "Four Monopolies", examines five present-day monopolies and discusses Tucker's libertarian views
"The Agribusiness Monopoly encompasses the New Deal system of U.S. Department of Agriculture cartels, surplus buy-ups, subsidized irrigation, export subsidies, and similar measures ratcheting up prices, distorting production toward subsidized crops, and concentrating agricultural activity in large-scale, capital-intensive monoculture. These, inevitably enacted in the name of 'small farmers,' invariably benefit large factory farms and agribusiness conglomerates like ADM and Tyson."
The New Deal and Roosevelt's Seizure of Gold: A Legacy of Theft and Inflation, Part 1, by William L. Anderson, Future of Freedom, Aug 2006
Discusses the economy of the United States in 1933 and the measures taken by the Roosevelt administration in an effort to reduce unemployment and preventing deflation, namely restricting production and destroying crops, as lead-up to inflating the dollar
"In February 1933, a month before Roosevelt took office, the nation’s overall rate of unemployment stood at 28.3 percent. ... Farming communities were devastated, as commodity prices fell drastically, making it impossible for farmers to pay their debts and crippling the small rural banks that held the mortgages. ... The Agricultural Adjustment Act, while aimed at keeping crop prices high, did so by ordering the mass destruction of crops, as well as animals such as pigs and chickens. In order to pay for the destruction of crops, the Roosevelt administration had Congress enact a tax on agricultural products."

Cartoons and Comic Strips

1621 ... Squanto Teaches Pilgrims How to Grow Corn!, by Chuck Asay, Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph, 20 Nov 2007

The introductory paragraph uses material from the Wikipedia article "Agriculture" as of 24 Oct 2018, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.