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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 N. 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, 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 ... 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) ... [M]ost handouts don't go to family farms. They end up going to big farm corporations ...
Economic Nationalism, Enemy of the People, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 17 Nov 2006
Considers the outcome of the 2006 U.S. congressional elections and 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 taken 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.
Farming Is a Business, by Clarence B. Carson, The Freeman, Aug 1986
Farm Subsidies Must Go, by Sheldon Richman, 30 Apr 2004
Discusses the U.S. response to a World Trade Organization ruling on a Brazilian complaint that U.S. subsidies to cotton farmers violate WTO rules
Hypocrisy is nothing new when it comes to U.S. farm policy ... Farm subsidies have been on the rise. The 2002 farm bill boosted them to $19 billion a year ... The White House promises to defend the farmers' interests. [The] Trade Representative ... told the farmers not to worry: the appeal could take years ... 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, Freedom Daily, Jan 1999
Discusses the results of the 1996 Freedom to Farm Act after three years and further farm subsidies made in 1998
Most farm products in this nation receive no subsidy, but a handful — including wheat, corn, cotton, sugar, and dairy products — have perennially enjoyed huge windfalls. The only difference between the subsidized and unsubsidized crops is the political pull of those who raise them ... The 1996 act also contained a provision mandating that, unless Congress acts decisively to abolish subsidies by 2002, agricultural policies will revert to the 1949 Farm Act — a law that would impose severe production cutbacks and compel USDA to boost price supports for major crops to the stratosphere, thereby destroying U.S. exports.
Related Topics: Land, Republican Party
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. In every State ..., men of every race and circumstance and mind, by every possible variety of method and with many varying needs and many ends in view, raise wheat ... 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, Freedom Daily, Dec 2005
Follow-up to "How the Feds Took Over Farming", describes the policies of Hoover's Federal Farm Board, the Smoot-Hawley Act, the Federal Reserve and taxes as contributors to the Great Depression and particularly their effect on farmers
By December 1929, Farm Board officials were preaching to farmers to reduce production and abandon exports so that the government could drive their prices up for them ... The board managed to boost U.S. prices to 18 cents a bushel above world wheat prices, which led to the collapse of U.S. wheat exports. 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 because of the Farm Board's action. Its massive cache further depressed world prices ...
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
12. 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.
Letters to Mr. Malthus, on Several Subjects of Political Economy, and on the Cause of the Stagnation of Commerce, by Jean-Baptiste Say, 1820
Original title: Lettres à M. Malthus, sur différens sujets d'économie politique, notamment sur les causes de la stagnation générale du commerce
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
[T]he 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 [these commodities] 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 ...
The Many Monopolies, by Charles W. Johnson, 24 Aug 2011
Describes four ways in which markets are distorted by government interventions, explains Benjamin 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.
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 ... 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.
The New Deal and Roosevelt's Seizure of Gold: A Legacy of Theft and Inflation, Part 1, by William L. Anderson, Freedom Daily, 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.
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, Freedom Daily, Sep 1999
Discusses the consequences of establishing "parity" for agricultural prices, in the name of "fairness", as was done by the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 (and subsequent legislation)
Federal farm policy provides one of the clearest examples of the power of foolish ideas wrapped in a cloak of fairness. [It] has been driven for most of the 20th century by the notion of "parity." ... Parity measurements were concocted by government agricultural economists in the 1920s to provide credibility to farm groups' demands for federal aid ... USDA chose some of the most prosperous years for farmers in American history and then proceeded to implicitly condemn the nation for most of the 20th century because farm prices were supposedly not as high as they had been during farmers' "golden age."
Piercing through Myths, Lies, and Stupidity, by George Leef, Freedom Daily, 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."
Profiting from Misfortune, by Sheldon Richman, 5 Oct 2005
Reflects on the fairness of those who profit from the "misfortune of others", such as medical doctors and farmers, in view of gas price hikes due to the hurricanes of the 2005 Atlantic season
The case for preventing people from profiting from others' misfortune, alas, proves too much ... most of us constantly profit from the misfortune of others ... What about farmers? If we don't eat we die. That sounds like a misfortune. Think of all the money we'd save if we didn't need to eat. So farmers make their living from this unfortunate necessity. We have to buy their products or else we cease to exist. Talk about duress! Should the government take measures against farmers on these grounds? If so, that will require major policy changes, since today the government intervenes in the free market to increase farmers' incomes.
Related Topics: Fuels, Health Care, Prices
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
Trade Restrictions Show Hypocrisy, by Sheldon Richman, 12 Sep 2003
Discusses how U.S. and European agricultural tariffs and quotas, established at the behest of wealthy farmers in those countries, harm farmers in the developing world as well as others in the developed nations
A lesson in government hypocrisy ... is to be found in the agricultural policies of the rich nations ... [W]e should applaud China, India, Brazil, and the rest of the "Group of 21" for demanding that the industrialized world drop its trade restrictions on agricultural products and eliminate farm subsidies. The subsidies encourage Western farmers to overproduce and to dump their surpluses in the developing world, throttling local producers. The Group of 21 threatened to oppose new trade agreements during the recent meeting of the World Trade Organization ..., unless their demands were met.
Related Topics: Brazil, Free trade, Government


The Plowboy Interview: Karl Hess, by Karl Hess, Anson Mount, Mother Earth News, Jan 1976
Karl Hess interview in issue No. 37, Jan/Feb 1976, shortly after his book Dear America (1975) had become a bestseller, questions him about the switch from right wing conservatism to the New Left
There simply is no real efficiency in the ULTRA- LARGE production of most foodstuffs. 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 ... That whole collective agribusiness approach to farming is extremely wasteful especially of the fossil fuels which go into the manufacture, distribution, and maintenance of all the equipment, fertilizer, and chemicals that it needs.

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.