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In the song Sixteen Tons by Merle Travis (and made famous by Tennessee Ernie Ford), the idea of the ‘company store’ referred to a system of debt bondage that effectively trapped workers within an unfair system designed to harvest all of their labor at very low cost.

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?

Another day older and deeper in debt

Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go

I owe my soul to the company store

       Sixteen Tons – Merle Travis

How exactly did the company store system operate?

Under a scrip system, workers were not paid cash; rather they were paid with non-transferable credit vouchers that could be exchanged only for goods sold at the company store. This made it impossible for workers to store up cash savings.

Workers also usually lived in company-owned dormitories or houses, the rent for which was automatically deducted from their pay.

(Source – Wiki)

This model was simple enough to understand.  “Pay” your workers with scrip vouchers, then sell them your marked up goods at the company store, pocketing a nice profit. On top of that, force your employees to live in company housing, too,  also at terms very favorable to the company.

Add it all up and the workers found themselves in perpetual service to their employer. No matter how hard and long they toiled, there was nothing left for their own private benefit after all was said and done.  The company succeeded in skimming off any and all  ‘excess’ for itself.

This vast unfairness eventually led to the formation of unions as well as to regulations providing protection to the workers.

However, capital never sleeps; and the human temptation to skim and take what they can for themselves is a constant in every hierarchical, post-agriculture society.  If the idea of “the company store” was too obvious, then a better method of achieving the same outcome had to be hatched.  Something with sufficient additional complexity to defeat the ability of the average worker to detect the nature of the scam.

The Financialization Of The Company Store

Which brings us to today’s so-called financial markets.  Or ““markets”” as I prefer to refer to them, because they don’t actually represent a free and fair system where prices are set fairly.  The scam today that’s enabled by these ““markets”” is every bit as egregious as the company store of old; only today’s victims are mostly blind to the way that the system is rigged against them.

It’s just sophisticated enough that it mostly evades detection.  Or is diffuse enough that even if the scam were detected by a participant, whom would they protest against?  The markets?  The exchanges? Any of the thousands of funds or private money institutions that are feasting off of the system?

It’s a genius set-up.  The harvesting is every bit of a violation as the old model, but it’s almost impossible to prosecute.

The main losers in this battle, as before, are the primary producers of value: those who labor to extract the primary wealth of the Earth and bring it to market.  The farmers, the ranchers, the fishermen, the loggers, the miners, and the refiners.

Farmageddon

Let’s illustrate how this works for farmers. Or, rather, works against them.

The price of any commodity is now set in the financial markets, principally within the futures market where paper contracts are bought and sold by three main participants: producers (the farmers), consumers (ag and food companies) and speculators.

In a free and fair world, the price of a commodity should reflect the actual supply and demand for its derived products.  We should observe some sort of relationship between the primary source of wealth – the corn, wheat and soybeans for example – and the end food products that consumers buy in the store.

I’m going to show you a bunch of commodity data that goes back to the late 1990’s.  So let’s start here: inflation has advanced 56% since 1998 according to the BLS and has increased by 60% for food as a subcomponent:

Inflation Calculator

This is a low-end estimate of how far food has actually advanced in price due to inflation over the past 20 years, as the CPI persistently underestimates inflation.

Turning now to the farmer, how have the prices received for their products fared over that same stretch of time?  In the case of corn, not one single bit.  A bushel of corn sells for the exact same (nominal!) price today as it did back in 1996:

Corn price chart

Now think of all the input costs a farmer has to pay to run his or her farm.  In 1998, oil traded at $11.61 per barrel.  Today its cost is 390% higher than that.  At our recent annual seminar (April 26-28, Sebastopol CA, replay video available), a gentleman from Nebraska informed me that the cost of a bushel of seed corn has advanced from $40 to over $400 today.

Fertilizers are much more expensive versus 20 years ago. So are tractors, farm land itself, water…you name it.  Every single farm input cost has risen strongly over the few decades, but the price of corn is exactly the same as it was 23 years ago.

Meanwhile, the consumer has seen the price of a box of cornflakes increase by 44% on average since 1998, from $2.29 per 18-ounce box to $3.28:

Kellogg's Corn Flakes price

How do the farmers survive this squeeze on their (already tiny) profit margins?  How do they cope with flat prices for corn and huge increases in input costs?

One way is by abusing their soil — using GMOs, heavy fertilizer and herbicide applications and other tricks to squeeze as much short-term productivity out of every acre they can.

But beyond these productivity improvements, which eventually hit a point of diminishing return, what else can a producer do with rising costs and flat revenue?

Well, they can go deeper into debt:

Mortgage debt chart

The above chart is of farm mortgage debt.  Total farm debt across all credit instruments hit a new record in 2018 of more than $409 billion.

Today’s remaining farmers are forced to take on more and more risk.

Here’s a table for Nebraska that details the plight.  Note that while net farm income remained relatively flat between 2002 and 2015, family living expenses exploded in parallel with total farm debt:

Farm P&L comparison 2002 vs 2015

(Source)

Expressed as a percentage of revenue, the net profit margins of farms have plunged from 6.3% to just 3.0%.  That’s a very skinny margin which leaves very little room for error. One bad season and all reserves are chewed up (and then some):

More than half of U.S. farm households lost money farming in recent years, according to the USDA, which estimated that median farm income for U.S. farm households was negative $1,548 in 2018.

Farm incomes have slid despite record productivity on American farms, because oversupply drives down commodity prices.

(Source)

See the narrative in play?  “There’s farm oversupply”. If that were the case then food prices would come down to bring supply and demand into equilibrium. But that’s not happening.

Instead, the farmers eat the losses. But the rest of the food delivery chain keeps its prices intact and pockets the difference.

Our farmers work exceptionally hard, labor-intensive jobs to produce an absolute essential input to human life. And yet somehow, when all is said and done, they’re left with barely more for their efforts than the coal miners trapped in the system of the company store.

Take away a bit of complexity and it’s the same exploitative system as before. It’s just a little less obvious. And instead of a company foreman or owner to rail against, the perpetrators are much more obscure and shadowy.

The Scam

The principle of any scam is the same as for any successful parasite: take as much as you can but leave the host somewhat alive.

Here’s how the modern ‘company store’ scam works.

First, you have to convince everyone that money has value, and that that value is very real.  Make people crave it and work for it, and take away all of their property and belongings if they run out of it.  Do this long enough to reinforce the idea that money is everything. You either have it or you don’t. It need to be regarded as tangible and essential .

At the other end of the spectrum, for the big players, print up and distribute as much digital money as needed by the big players to run their various schemes and scams.  If they ever get in big trouble, make up a fancy sounding name like TARP or TALF or QE and then talk about how you ‘had to do it’ to save the system and prevent a systemic crisis.

Next, be sure that your regulators are unable (though incompetence and/or neglect) to detect price manipulation in the financial markets under even the most egregious of circumstances.  No matter how obvious such manipulation is, it’s vital that no investigations be undertaken and, if they are, that they take many years to conduct and come to the conclusion that no wrongdoing happened.

Finally, allow an unmanageable swamp of high frequency computer algorithms to take over securities trading, creating a system that is so complex, so secretive and so ripe for fraud and abuse that nobody can unravel the complexity to detect that a scam is even happening.

Using this ecosystem of legalized theft, then have the various crooks involved monkey the prices of key commodities to levels that — surprise! — leave hardly any breathing room for the farmers, miners, loggers and refiners to live within.

Now that the scam has been exposed, the appropriate question to ask is, “if the producers aren’t getting the benefit of their labor, then who is?”  The people running this scam — the financiers, the bankers and their moneyed clients — are the beneficiaries.  They make oodles of money, while performing no real work, and taking very little real risk, same as any other natural-born parasite.

The Abuse Is Widespread

In case you think that I cherry-picked corn as an example particularly favorable to my case, I assure you I didn’t.  Here are several key commodities suffering the same abuse:

Soybeans price chart

Wheat price chart

Silver price chart

Regarding the above chart of silver, there are two important factors to note.

First, it’s practically impossible to ‘get better’ at mining silver because the ore grades have been declining each year as companies burn through their very best ores in a quest to remain alive. From that alone, we’d expect to see prices climbing higher over long stretches of time like this.

Second, the business is very energy and capital-intensive.  Yet silver is now at the same price as it was back in 2006, 13 years ago.

The orange oval in that chart reveals a decade of pure price suppression that many miners did not survive. This tells us that these scams have been alive and well for a long time.

The Bitter Conclusion

Run this scam long enough and one day we’ll discover that the banks and their proxy agents — private equity funds, hedge funds, endowments, and family offices, etc — own all of the productive farmland, all of the mines, all of the oil wells, all of the timberland, and every other means of primary wealth production.

The former farm and mine owners will be offered roles as “managers” or other types of tenant-farmer arrangements, essentially working for whatever income the labor market can see fit to provide.  It won’t be much.

At that point, the entire economy will have become a “company store”.

We’re well on our way there.  The Federal Reserve prints up oodles of money and it goes into “the financial system” which is a code phrase for “to the big banks and big money outfits.”  They in turn use these funds to make loans to the primary producers on the one hand, and to drive down the price of commodities with the other hand.

Eventually, the farmer has a bad couple of years and his farm is foreclosed on.  The land goes up for auction and bought by the highest bidder…which means the buyer with the most money.  That increasingly means a big-money type that feasts at the trough of the banking system/money-printing machine.

The next thing you know, vast swaths of farmland magically end up in the hands of those with money, which – surprise! – usually turn out to be the same entities feasting on the central bank/free-money machine that’s been operating ever since Alan Greenspan set this slow motion train wreck in process in the late 1990s:

Who really owns American farmland?

July 31st, 2017

The answer, increasingly, is not American farmers.

Today, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that at least 30 percent of American farmland is owned by non-operators who lease it out to farmers. And with a median age for the American farmer of about 55, it is anticipated that in the next five years, some 92,000,000 acres will change hands, with much of it passing to investors rather than traditional farmers.

But what about the people—often tenant farmers—who actually work the land being acquired? During the same period that farmland prices started gaining steam, many crop prices have stagnated or fallen. After hitting highs above $8 a bushel in 2012, corn prices today have fallen back to less than $4 a bushel—about what they were ten years ago, in 2007, when farmland prices first started to soar.

It’s a tenuous predicament, growing low-cost food, feed, and fuel (corn-based ethanol) on ever-more-expensive land, and it raises a host of questions. Is this a sustainable situation? What happens to small farmers?

(Source)

Ageing farmers, increasing ownership of farmland by financial investors, and utterly dismal economics – what’s not to love?

The sorry conclusion to all this is that one day, not too far away, we’ll wake up and discover that the majority of US farmland belongs to mega corporations and financial interests, most of whom came across their vast gobs of wealth as a consequence (and a predictable one at that), of the Federal Reserve policy that spurred today’s great wave of financialization.

An explosion in farmland prices really kicked into high gear with the Fed’s quantitative easing (QE) programs following the Great Recession – freshly printed money that wound up in the hands of financial firms and interests with few good ideas of where to put it.  So some of it leaked over into farmland.

The same dynamic has seen firms like Blackrock tap into ultra-cheap Fed money to buy up vast swaths of US housing stock —  just to rent back to the same people who couldn’t compete against this leviathan’s all-cash offers, using money that was 75% cheaper than the terms regular borrowers receive.

Big Money coupled to Cheap Money leads to this outcome.  Every time.

Eventually you wake up and discover, with a few clicks on a keyboard, that the bankers and financiers have taken possession of every productive asset. And everybody else has to pay into the company store.

This isn’t an accident either, which is why it really galls me to have Janet Yellen, the former Fed Chair, out there for years making the ludicrous claim that the Federal Reserve is ‘not political.’

What could possibly be more political than enabling the removal of the productive assets of a nation – it’s land, its houses, and its mineral rights – and facilitating and cheering their acquisition by a very tiny financial elite?

That’s practically the most political act there is.

More tragically, it’s just a gussied-up version of working for the company store.  We’ve gone backwards. And not in a good way.

As one tragic story in a recent article goes:

It was a Sunday in April 2017 when a queasy feeling in Darrell Crapp’s stomach sent him rushing home. He found his wife, Diana, lying crumpled on the floor of their Lancaster, Wis., bathroom. She had swallowed a handful of pills.

Overwhelmed with debt and with little prospect of turning a profit that year, the Crapps knew BMO Harris Bank NA wouldn’t lend them money to plant. The bank had frozen the farm’s checking account.

Mrs. Crapp managed the fifth-generation corn, cattle and hog farm’s books. She had stayed up nights drafting dozens of budgets to try to stave off disaster, including 30-day, 60-day and 90-day budgets.

“It was too much for her,” Mr. Crapp, 63, said of his wife, who survived the incident.

Crapp Farms filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy the next month, with a total debt of $36 million.

In a written statement, Patrick O’Herlihy, a BMO spokesman, said the bank doesn’t comment on specific customer relationships but strives to “approach every situation with empathy, and to help our customers manage challenging financial situations.” He said the bank had been working in the agricultural sector for more than a century and was committed to the industry.

At its height, Mr. Crapp and his two sons had grown crops on 17,000 acres. The farm’s last 197 acres, homesteaded by Mr. Crapp’s ancestors in the 1860s, will likely be auctioned this month.

Mr. Crapp now sells farmland for a regional realty company and helps run the family’s trucking business, which transports grain and livestock feed for area farmers. His younger son drives trucks for the company. His older son repairs grain storage bins. Mr. Crapp said he would have to file bankruptcy again—likely under chapter 12—to discharge his remaining debts.

“We haven’t won very many battles,” said Mr. Crapp. “The bank pretty much owns us.”

(Source)

That’s straight up the 2019 version of the Sixteen Tons refrain: “I owe my soul to the company store”.

What the politicians, financial institutions, and Federal Reserve are defending and supporting is a system that utterly lacks in integrity and is strikingly heartless.

If we want to create a world worth inheriting, that means we cannot afford a system that forces farmers to fight for their very livelihoods each and every year, barely hanging on, and forced to cut costs to even survive.

Cutting costs and boosting productivity means more pesticides, less soil building and a resting, fewer crop varieties, and every other measure of health and complexity upon which our very survival as a species depends.

All in service of money.

In Part 2: It’s Time To Respond, we detail why it’s so pressing right now to mobilize into action.

The opportunity, such as it is, is for us to first recognize this game for what it is (rigged), to take steps to escape the smothering squeeze of financialization being applied to all of us in today’s economy, and then to realign our own actions with the future we wish to see.

Click here to read Part 2 of this report (free executive summary, enrollment required for full access).

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20 Comments

  • Fri, May 03, 2019 - 5:44pm

    #1

    Adam Taggart

    Status Platinum Member (Offline)

    Joined: May 25 2009

    Posts: 2651

    16 Tons: Tennessee Ernie Ford

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  • Fri, May 03, 2019 - 9:26pm

    #2
    pat the rat

    pat the rat

    Status Member (Offline)

    Joined: Nov 01 2011

    Posts: 115

    debt kills us

    Greg Mannarino says that the debt  goes up the population goes up,when the debt collapse a lot of people will die. The more I learn about this the more I understand it. Become your own bank as much as possible,and good luck.

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  • Fri, May 03, 2019 - 9:33pm

    #3

    Grover

    Status Gold Member (Offline)

    Joined: Feb 15 2011

    Posts: 695

    Time For Reflection

    Have you ever wondered how the people in the fly-over States could have been duped into voting for our current POTUS? Hopefully, this article will give you some insight.

    Grover

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  • Fri, May 03, 2019 - 10:18pm

    #4
    Uncletommy

    Uncletommy

    Status Bronze Member (Offline)

    Joined: May 03 2014

    Posts: 527

    Farm subsidies? It's a SNAP!

    Who’s subsidizing who? More money to subsidize commodity products of  large producers, who in turn, provide large agribusiness to subsidize processed food manufacturers that show a gross margin of about 48%. Big Pharma only pulls in about 18% gross margins. Conagra, Nestle, ADM, Proctor & Gamble; yum – makes my mouth water just thinking about it. Oh, did you pick up your food stamps today under the SNAP program? Roughly 80% of the US farm bill goes to “nutrition”. Bread and circuses by any other name, eh?

    https://www.agri-pulse.com/articles/8934-lesson-2-the-farm-bill-math-is-complicated-and-ever-changing

     

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  • Sat, May 04, 2019 - 6:51am

    #5

    David Huang

    Status Bronze Member (Offline)

    Joined: Jan 20 2010

    Posts: 70

    Building a Better World

    I’ll post about this book one more time here since I think it’s something Peak Prosperity readers would get a lot out of, and it’s in the final few days of its kickstarter campaign.  “Building a Better World in your Backyard instead of being angry at bad guys” written by Paul Wheaton and Shawn Klassen-Koop strikes me as trying to address the 3 E’s  but looking more through the E lens of the Environment and focused on the individual or home level instead of the macro society level.  I think the ideas in it could help individuals get out from under the company store.  While I’ve only read a few sample sections they’ve posted I think part of the strategy is to shift away from financial capital being so dominant in our lives and to focus more on getting other forms of capital to directly support us.  I believe they will be talking about forms of living capital the most in the book

    From the food/agriculture angle this can be setting up permaculture systems that work with polycultures where we work with nature, encouraging microbes, insects, and animals to do the work for us, while improving the overall ecosystem, drastically reducing financial costs, and toxic inputs.

    I do hope Chris and Adam are able to get to do a Featured Voices podcast with Paul sometime.  He seems like an entertaining character, and one with a lot of ideas in the realm of individual actions to help us improve our own lives on the way to building a greater world worth inheriting.

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  • Sat, May 04, 2019 - 7:38am

    #6
    lesdell

    lesdell

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    Joined: Aug 10 2010

    Posts: 1

    I see a couple of things in this essay that need to be drilled down on a tad more. The problem with the comparison of the price of corn to the price of cornflakes brings up a couple of issues to my mind. The majority of corn that is grown goes either to animal feed or ethanol. It did not take very long to find a recent article from the National Corn Growers Association complaining about ethanol refineries and their impact on the demand for corn.

    https://www.ncga.com/news-and-resources/news-stories/article/2019/04/39-reasons-the-epa-shouldnt-grant-any-additional-small-refinery-exemptions

    Here is one of the highlights of the article:

    -5.575 billion – Bushels of corn used in 2018 for ethanol and DDG production.-

    Nearly six billion bushels of corn used for burning in engines, not food for animals or people!

    Kansas, one of the leading corn producers in U.S. has this on their website, Kansas Corn, https://kscorn.com/livestock/

    Livestock is the #1 customer of Kansas corn. Corn is a key ingredient in livestock feed and as Kansas is a leading beef cattle feeding state, the crop is of major importance to the success of this industry. The Kansas Corn Commission (KCC) actively works to build markets for livestock.

    I am not an expert on corn but from the perspective of a novice it seems to me that corn produced in America is correlated more closely to fuel and feedstock now than it is to the price of a box of cornflakes.

    The corn ethanol industry is also heavily subsidized.

    Although its a bit dated, 2015, Taxpayers for Common Sense had this to say about corn subsidies:https://www.taxpayer.net/energy-natural-resources/federal-subsidies-for-corn-ethanol-and-other-corn-based-biofuels/

    “In addition to the numerous special-interest supports corn ethanol has received over the years, including tax breaks, an import tariff, and infrastructure subsidies, a federal production mandate – the RFS – also heavily benefits corn ethanol. The maze of historic subsidies for corn ethanol has allowed the federal government to pick winners and losers, distort energy and agriculture markets, and contributed to expansion and overproduction of corn and ethanol in the industry.”

    All that I am trying to say here is that food cost inflation might not be gauged as well as one might think based on the price of corn since most of it ends up in animal feed and ethanol.

    On a more anecdotal note, I live in Missouri and this is the heart of beef country. Since moving here 3 years ago, to a man I have heard the complaints about ethanol in gasoline. Everywhere you drive you will see signs saying, “No ethanol in our premium”. I do not buy it for my vehicles or my tractor.

    Folks do not like the diesel with soybean oil blended into it either although you cannot avoid that to my knowledge. Both products are bad on engines and if you look at certain engine mfgs. they specifically recommend against using them. There is an additive you can buy to put into diesel fuel that supposedly helps.

    Looking ahead and although you hear much more coverage about fires and floods in California than you do in the midwest, look for food prices and especially beef to escalate this year. The floods that happened in March on the Missouri river were devastating to both corn producers and to beef producers. However, since beef is a commodity that’s traded in contracts, it is manipulated. If you are into this kind of thing there is an excellent Youtube channel by an insider that airs almost daily called “Cattle Market Summary”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mMHtpxt1W8

    There might be a more telling case of market manipulation and collusion in the food arena when it comes to beef and other livestock than can be made for heavily subsidized grains:

    https://www.agriculture.com/livestock/cattle/ranchers-suit-claims-packers-conspired-to-deflate-beef-prices

    Last week, several Midwestern feedlot owners, along with the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF), filed a class-action lawsuit alleging that dominant meatpackers conspired to depress cattle prices starting in 2015. The case argues that JBS, Tyson, Cargill, and National Beef strategically cut back on open market cattle bids, closed plants, and imported costly foreign cattle in order to force farmers to accept lower prices and manipulate spot market cattle values.

    These names, to me seem to really represent the company store….

     

     

     

     

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  • Sat, May 04, 2019 - 7:38am

    #7
    skipr

    skipr

    Status Bronze Member (Offline)

    Joined: Jan 09 2016

    Posts: 135

    Global Company Town

    This article reminds of a saying I used to hear in TV commercials when I was growing up: “What’s Good for General Motors Is Good for America.”  Now replace “General Motors” with “Company Town” and mix in some mind numbing Freudian propaganda and you will learn to be grateful little externalities (aka slaves).  Unfortunately the company town is now global and this entire planet is one giant externality.

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  • Sat, May 04, 2019 - 8:11am

    #8
    brushhog

    brushhog

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    Joined: Oct 06 2015

    Posts: 62

    Great, great article

    I have tried for many years to turn a profit farming and have come to the conclusion that its very difficult unless you capture a niche market [ and that requires good marketing and sales ]. Alot of dairies all around me are struggling and some are closing up. Its just a race to get bigger and bigger, going deeper and deeper into debt with the promise of that carrot leading you further and further down the rabbit hole.

    There is, however, a bright side..a way to make it work. The best way, I personally have found after 10+ years of farming, is to focus on self sufficency. I have found that the most “profitable” use of my farm is to feed my family, heat my house with wood, pump fresh water, and breath good air.
    I still bring cows to the market to help make up for costs, I do some light rotational logging for the same reason. However, most of the “benefit” is centered around what my family personally consumes. In that way, small farms are definitely “profitable”. Fill the freezer with good grass fed beef, fill the pantry with organic canned veggies, heat the house with wood, etc.. Sell your excess to make up costs of equipment, fuel, etc. I remember years ago watching a special about the royal family. Do you know that they have their own farms, whose entire purpose is to produce all the food that the royal family eats? They dont eat the stuff that we get at the supermarket. The royal family eats “special food” grown specially for them and you’d better believe they dont use round-up. Why should my [ or your ] family get any less?

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  • Sat, May 04, 2019 - 8:39am

    #9

    KugsCheese

    Status Gold Member (Offline)

    Joined: Jan 01 2010

    Posts: 844

    If corn is back at $4/bushel, why do processed foods with corn derived ingredients (its in almost every processed food) prices keep going up?   Cartel pricing!

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  • Sat, May 04, 2019 - 9:29am

    #10

    Jbarney

    Status Silver Member (Offline)

    Joined: Nov 25 2010

    Posts: 198

    Thought Provoking

    It is a good read, however, living in Vermont….I guess I am of the opinion that agriculture as an industry is too far gone to save it in its current form?  I mean the mass produced, environmentally damaging parts of it anyway.  There is so much debt woven into farming these days that when the next recession hits, it just going to be hard for farms on the fringe to stay in business.

    Anyway,  I haven’t read Part II, but am strongly of the opinion that at this point the best thing for any of us to do is to take a look at our own properties.  Pay them off and get out of debt. Start planting fruit and nut trees and learning how to garden now while resources are still plentiful enough.

    Doing these things gives you independence from the system that is surprisingly rewarding.

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  • Sat, May 04, 2019 - 10:24am

    #11
    obizzozero

    obizzozero

    Status Member (Offline)

    Joined: Jan 20 2018

    Posts: 4

    THANK YOU CHRIS

    Thank so much for this  great article. One question, though. If the price of silver is manipulated down (as that of most commodities are), why did silver get so expensive in 2011??

     

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  • Sat, May 04, 2019 - 10:52am

    #12
    MandM

    MandM

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    Joined: Apr 30 2018

    Posts: 1

    Ishkabibble

    Reminds me of a post on a forum years ago by someone with the pen name Ishkabibble whose post was titled “How to foretell the future: think like a banker”. That post laid it all out probably 10 years ago now. It’s like playing Monopoly. The banker wins.

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  • Sat, May 04, 2019 - 10:57am

    #13

    northsheep

    Status Member (Offline)

    Joined: Jun 06 2009

    Posts: 2

    Rentierism Through History

     

     

     

     

     

    This is an excellent exposée of what aware economists more generally call rentierism, that is, profit from renting out of capital or capital assets like land or anything in the built environment, as opposed to profit from the production of real wealth. So, as Chris pointed out, the rentier economy is a parasitic one, based on legalized theft.

    One of the best learning tools I find is to see the present as history – that is, as the cumulation of longterm patterns or trends. From that perspective, one of the best complements I can offer to this description of the current rentier economy is a couple of historical treatments of the subject that I think add a lot to our understanding of the phenomenon. One is the view of anthropologist David Graeber, Debt, the First Five Thousand Years. The other is research by political economist Michael Hudson, including his latest book, “And forgive them their debts”: Lending, Forclosure and Redemption from Bronze Age Finance to the Jubilee Year

    What is especially instructive about their historical works is that they both identify a long process of repeated, gradual capture of economies by rentierism, one that eventually freezes a society into total debt peonage, the same process that Chris has described happening today. They document how ancient societies learned how to break the freeze by regular decrees that erase the debt, called jubilees in scriptural and other historical accounts. The cumulative legacy of this repeated experience of rentierist calamity was the effective ban on money loaned at interest during the European Middle Ages, which the medieval Christian church denounced as usury. Islamic law put restrictions on usury for the same reasons.

    Now after 500 years of capitalism’s unlimited normalization of usury, it appears that modern society will have to learn its lessons all over again.

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  • Sat, May 04, 2019 - 12:14pm

    #14
    Petey1

    Petey1

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    Joined: Sep 13 2012

    Posts: 13

    Building a Better World

    Thanks for the link David.  I just supported this project.

    Great article Chris!

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  • Sun, May 05, 2019 - 4:18am

    #15

    mitch1

    Status Member (Offline)

    Joined: Sep 25 2008

    Posts: 1

    A program to show farmers a better way...

    These folk are really switched on … and have developed an ecological and economic alternative to industrial farming that can work for existing large scale farmers…

    https://soilhealthacademy.org/

    A clever guy called Zach Bush M.D. is involved… he would be an excellent person for you, Chris, to interview:

    https://zachbushmd.com/

    cheers

    Mitch

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  • Sun, May 05, 2019 - 10:12am

    #16

    davefairtex

    Status Diamond Member (Offline)

    Joined: Sep 03 2008

    Posts: 3227

    American Farmers Hacking Tractors

    Another harvesting technique from our fine tractor makers.  “You can’t fix anything yourself.”

    https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/xykkkd/why-american-farmers-are-hacking-their-tractors-with-ukrainian-firmware

    To avoid the draconian locks that John Deere puts on the tractors they buy, farmers throughout America’s heartland have started hacking their equipment with firmware that’s cracked in Eastern Europe and traded on invite-only, paid online forums.

    Tractor hacking is growing increasingly popular because John Deere and other manufacturers have made it impossible to perform “unauthorized” repair on farm equipment, which farmers see as an attack on their sovereignty and quite possibly an existential threat to their livelihood if their tractor breaks at an inopportune time.

    “When crunch time comes and we break down, chances are we don’t have time to wait for a dealership employee to show up and fix it,” Danny Kluthe, a hog farmer in Nebraska, told his state legislature earlier this month. “Most all the new equipment [requires] a download [to fix].”

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  • Tue, May 07, 2019 - 6:40am

    #17

    travissidelinger

    Status Member (Offline)

    Joined: Nov 17 2010

    Posts: 80

    Great article

    Thank you. Both parts of this two parter are very good.

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  • Tue, May 07, 2019 - 6:46am

    #18

    newsbuoy

    Status Bronze Member (Offline)

    Joined: Dec 10 2013

    Posts: 169

    they know what you do in there...

    https://wikileaks.org/ciav7p1/cms/page_12353643.html

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  • Tue, May 07, 2019 - 9:04am

    #19

    Mark_BC

    Status Bronze Member (Offline)

    Joined: Apr 30 2010

    Posts: 315

    This is a great piece. I’d add that this dynamic extends much further than just the so-called “productive” sectors of the economy like farming, but everywhere. We are all renters unless we are part of the fortunate few with enough wealth to live off indefinitely.

    We all either need to get a mortgage to have a house, or rent one. The assets of society are not distributed fairly so that the middle class can use its wealth to improve its life, because the middle class really has no net worth.

    Instead we are trapped in a rat race cycle where we need to feverishly work 40 hours or more a week just to get by because prices are rising while wages are essentially stagnant. Prices are rising because the elites have their own money printing press which they use to enrich themselves. This newly printed money dilutes the money supply and causes prices to rise. But the elites’ wealth grows faster than prices rise, unlike for the rest of us. This sends the rest of us into debt serfdom as we need to go into debt just to buy the things we need. And to work 40 hours to service that debt and buy food etc.

    A large portion of the labour force participating in this rat race is working towards growing the economy, because that is the only way that new wealth is being “created” to give value to those worked hours.

    Sadly this whole situation is completely avoidable, and environmentally and socially destructive. It will eventually crash and burn because it is not sustainable.

    All that’s needed to get out of this hamster wheel trap is to more fairly distribute the fruits of the middle class’ labour within the middle class itself instead of having it constantly stolen by the elites. Then the middle class would only need to work 3 days a week to get by without going into debt, due to technological automation which now does half our jobs for us. Moreover, the requirement to grow the economy would no longer exist and we could all enjoy more natural resources than we current do because those resources would no longer be wasted in growing the economy. Except of course for those resources that are running out like oil.

    Practically, the solution is quite simple. But politically it is difficult because the elites won’t voluntarily give up any of their wealth back to the middle class.

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  • Tue, May 07, 2019 - 10:03am

    Reply to #6
    devitt

    devitt

    Status Member (Offline)

    Joined: Aug 22 2010

    Posts: 2

    A history of meat packing and centralized agriculture

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/may/07/the-price-of-plenty-how-beef-changed-america

    And the trend continues to this day.

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