The Case for a Decentralized Food Supply
Written by Winter Trabex
As a leader in Soviet Russia, Nikita Kruschev wanted to shift from rule by terror- which characterized Josef Stalin’s rule- to rule by popular acclaim. One of the ways he wanted to accomplish this was by energizing the nation’s agriculture program. He created what was called the Virgin Lands program. This program was designed at plowing previously unused land for the purpose of growing grain. The harvest of 1956 was Kruschev’s only mark of success, as he had a bumper crop that year. By the 1960′s, an adherence to monoculture had stripped the soil of its nutrients. Much of the soil had turned barren to the point where it simply blew away in the wind.
This is but one example of how authoritarian societies ignore the lessons of both history and reason. These societies are often filled with hungry people waiting in lines for bread because the government has interfered too much in the marketplace. The thought behind the Soviet Union’s agriculture program was that the farmers of the country could withhold their crops from the people if they didn’t like the government’s policies. This thought supposed that farmers wanted to impoverish themselves for the purpose of making a political statement. It was fallacious, idiotic and childish- just as much of what government does is fallacious, idiotic and childish.
The situation is no different today as authoritarian states (it is impossible to separate these two words) exercise an ever-increasing amount of control over individual markets. In some states in America, it is illegal- or at least frowned upon- to grow food in one’s front yard. Big agriculture businesses have figured out that the government is the best way to ensure profits for themselves- even if at the expense of everyone else. A corporate-government relationship can only end in government planning with corporations dictating what those plans should be.
In this system, the agri-business that has the most influence will experience the most success. Even when public opinion turns against it, even when people actively boycott their products, government subsidies from taxable income will ensure the business keeps going strong. This is already the case as many agricultural concerns use the court system as a way to bankrupt their competition- local farms. They wish for a monopoly, rather than active engagement in the market.
The problem with this way of doing business is that the rest of the economy suffers as a result. The local farmer, who is pushed out of business due to regulation written either by or for the big corporation, might be forced into bankruptcy as he tries desperately to hold on to a once profitable livelihood. When the farmer stops farming, the grocery stores which sell his produce lose products they can put on their shelves. They may find replacements, or they may not. The worst case scenario here is that grocery stores will make less profit every month, particularly in summer months, when local produce is prevalent in stores.
When grocery stores are less productive than before- ie, selling fewer items overall- they will either have to lay off their employees, raise their prices, or take their lumps as they go along. Fewer profits means less expansion. The ability for grocery store chains to open up more stores is curtailed. This means employees who might have gone to work, even on a part-time basis, will have to remain unemployed or else find a different line of work.
The result is plain to see in today’s economy: more people than ever are jostling for the same jobs. There are more employees than jobs. There are more people on food stamps in America than ever before. There are people who continue using unemployment insurance for the simple reason that a position doesn’t present itself. No one actually sees the stores that don’t open. They don’t see the Wegman’s that never was, or the Piggly Wiggly that almost came into being. Nor do people see the balance sheets of big companies to tell whether they are making less money every year, or whether they are resorting to ever more creative measures to keep profits going.
This pattern, if left unchecked, will finally place American agriculture directly into the hands of a handful of businessmen who are the only legal farmers left in the country. Local farmers who operate in defiance of the new law which prohibits individual farming without an agreement with any of the big companies will be arrested, their lands confiscated, their wealth erased. This is the first step a totalitarian state takes in order to ensure that the country operates on what they will call an equitable basis- equitable for the people who already have wealth already.
What can be done about this then? Is there anything that can be done? For starters, anyone who has been an activist has been disappointed to see reversal after reversal coming down from elected officials. Each year produces ever more ridiculous and discriminatory statements from one side while the other side continues down the path of forcing everyone to accept their own particular morals, often by force. In consequence, petitioning the government for change is like trying to put air into a tire with a hole in it. The tire fills up with air. It appears to be fine for a little while. Soon enough, though, all the air comes out. The tire goes back to being what it was: something that needs to be removed for functionality to resume. Government activism presumes that by constantly putting air into a tire with a hole in it, the hole will magically disappear.
So I won’t recommend that anyone who is concerned about massive starvation and hunger to petition the government about anything. The government does not listen. They do what they want to do, regardless of the consequences. It is far easier, as an individual citizen, to plan without the government. This means that, in order to prevent starvation while local farmers continue going out of business, the nation’s food supply ought to be decentralized.
By this I do not mean that grocery stores should be shut down. I do not mean that the only people who ought to grow food are individuals. Quite the opposite: there are a great many company-owned farms which produce vast amounts of food for people, year after year. Vertical farming, the practice of non-traditional growing of food, promises in time to produce enough food to feed the world. It may even be possible for farmers- both local and international- to grow so much food that they have an excess which they donate to food banks, churches, and charities while still maintaining enough profit from their sales to continue to operate.
This, after all, is the essence of business- producing ever more goods more efficiently with less labor using less resources. A decentralized food supply in which many people grow crops, either at home, in their back yards or front yards, on the roof of their businesses, in abandoned parking lots or warehouses, in homes that don’t sell on the market, has the potential to put an end to hunger for good and all.
Of course, this does not mean that people will be able to go to a food bank or a church without some kind of proof that they are financially unable to provide for themselves. There will be two classes of people- those who eat very well with the best delicacies known to man, and those who eat moderately well with enough food on their plates. Those with money will continue to be able to buy better products than those without money. Thus, it will always be preferable to buy food rather than accept it as charity.
A decentralized food supply also has an unseen benefit: it increases the supply by such a large amount that food prices will go down, even as inflation increases. When organic kale (for example) becomes so common that it sells at a dollar a bushel, hunger will no longer be a concern. An economy left to its own devices, wherein people produce more for less, benefits both the poor and rich alike.
At present, the biggest obstacle to this occurrence is the moral hazard presented by the existence of government and its ability to prohibit behaviors it deems immoral or dangerous. Rather than protecting the consumer from corporate abuse, the government instead opens the door for corporations to abuse the marketplace, causing everyone to spend more money for the same product. This will cause consumers to choose from among a number of business that they used to support. Instead of a consumer being able to buy a bucket of ice cream, a tank of gas, and a cellphone case, the consumer who is shafted with higher prices may only choose to buy ice cream and gasoline. The makers of cellphone cases lose a sale that they once were able to depend upon. If the situation gets dire enough for those makers, their employees may be laid off. Corporate greed is not at the heart of such layoffs; quite the opposite- the company still wants to make as much money as it can, but it can no longer do so as people are forced into buying the necessities of life. Electronic accessories will become a secondary consideration.
Suppose then that the food supply does become decentralized with everyone producing more food than ever. The innovation of individuals provides enough food for everyone. The opposite will then occur: people will have to spend less on groceries with the result that they will be able to support the makers of cellphone cases once again. Businesses who are treading water will see an increase in profits. When their profits increase, they will be able to afford to hire more employees. When they hire more employees, they will produce more products, thus increasing supply of their product. When the supply of their product increases, the prices will go down. People who bought a bucket of ice cream, a tank of gas and a cellphone case will now be able to afford a book. Publishers see their profit margins go up. And so on it continues throughout the economy.
Food, as the one product that everyone consumes, is the most important product of the marketplace. It is thus the product that should receive the least government interference. The choice is between one of two options: poverty and hunger with ideological purity or wealth and full stomachs with market competition. Luckily, each person gets to make their choice as to which one they want to choose. Grow food, support those who grow food, or support government regulations and restrictions which prevent farms and farmers from making more products for lower prices. Whichever manner of society emerges will be the result of individual choice- nothing more and nothing less.
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