Trans-continental Hustle, Or An Admittedly Anecdotal Review of Adam Tooze’s Crashed

Today I’m happy to bring you a rare guest post in the form of a review of historian Adam Tooze’s magnum opus, Crashed penned by Michelle Galimba, rancher and valued commenter here at Small Farm Future. Tooze’s book has been sitting in my in-tray for some time, but thanks to Michelle I can now let it linger there a while longer. Meanwhile, there may be another service interruption on this blog while I toil over my own opus, but I’m hoping to present some further ruminations on property and commons emerging out of my last post and my current book draft, perhaps in a couple of weeks’ time. For now, it’s over to Michelle – my thanks to her for letting me publish her review.

Adam Tooze. 2018. Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World. Allen Lane.

I have a friend who, in the fall of 2008, was working on a real estate development project that was funded through Lehman Brothers.  One day he was jubilant at having made some money off what turned out to be Lehman’s “dead cat bounce,” and another day not long after, on September 15, he was deeply depressed when his project went up in flames, along with so much of Wall Street. Lehman’s bankruptcy ended the stream of easy credit for such marginal real estate projects. “Well”, I said to him that day, as he lamented his ill fortune, “you still have all your limbs and youʻre in no danger of starving to death, so it’s not so bad!” In the ranch business, neither personal safety nor making payroll are things I take for granted. My friend scorned such peasant consolations; heʻd been living high in the glow of success that hot money bestows.  He tried, for a couple of years, to put another funding deal together with increasingly sketchy potential partners, but in the end the property was foreclosed upon and sold at auction to another real estate investment company. I strongly disapproved of my friend’s development plans – converting agricultural land into residential agricultural “estates” – so the Great Recession had the silver lining of throwing some sand in the gears of the growth machine, at least for my corner of the world.

I’ve never really understood what happened in 2008, and I suppose that is what motivated me to take up Adam Toozeʻs Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World. Iʻm not predisposed to thinking about economics, except as it relates to the practical matter of running the ranch.  I never took an economics course in college and what books I’ve read have been along the lines of Economics for Dummies.  I regretted my ignorance in reading Crashed – although Tooze explains each piece of financial machinery that plays a role in the train-wreck, the book nevertheless made heavy demands on whatever shreds of economic lore I’ve picked up along the way.  Expect to wade through many a sentence as this: “Because the collateral that was preferred by the triparty repo markets was Treasurys, in the spring of 2008 the Fed instituted another program, the Term Securities Lending Facility, under which it lent out top-rated US Treasurys on twenty-eight day terms in exchange for a variety of mortgage-backed securities, including private label.”

Although Crashed  primarily traces the financial crisis in the US and Europe during the period 2006-2018, Tooze brackets his tale of Euro-American financial implosions by sketching the “financial balance of terror” between China and the US and delineating how dangerous this ‘balance’ is.  The Great Recession and the Euro-zone sovereign debt showdowns that followed, for all their drama, were the “wrong crisis” – merely a preliminary sideshow set off by bad acting investment banks, rather than the potential Crash which still lies waiting in the financial and trade imbalances between China and other “emerging markets” on the one hand, and the “advanced economies” of Europe and the US on the other.

It is within the brackets of this larger problem that the Great Recession happened. It is a sobering thought.

I’ve read Crashed through once, and I may very well do so again.  Despite its weighty subject and imposing heft, it is an engrossing page-turner, and just about any of those nearly 700 pages is food for much pondering.  Tooze is a master narrator who can engage the reader in  “the grand sweep of global economic imbalances” and the dramatic moments of high-stakes decision-making, as well as deploy the quote juste and the well-deserved smack-down: “In the course of the crisis, the GOP had shown itself to be less a party of government than a political vehicle through which conservative, white Americans expressed their alarm at the earthquakes shaking their world.”  If anything Tooze’s narrative skills hurry one along too quickly (though I’m not complaining) in a dramatic rush of money, power, and political calculation as these morph and metastasize between North America to Europe and back again.

I could go on for quite a bit about Crashed, if my own local dramas about small animal slaughter capacity and agricultural water rights weren’t eating into my writing time, but to be very brief, (one of) Tooze’s overarching theses is that politics creates economics, which, though verging on the obvious, cannot be said often enough, especially among Americans. We don’t have to acquiesce to the neoliberal economic ideology that passes for common sense and hard-headed realism even as its inadequacy for organizing a functional, healthy society is crystal clear. The financial foolishness that led to the crises of the last ten years was enabled by a political-economic worldview whose orthodoxy could use some hard questioning. Tooze’s book, by getting into “the black box” of the Crash and showing how “ the economics of the financial system” worked clarifies how profoundly self-serving and short-sighted the “innovations” of the financial elite are, and how little they deserve the deference and even adulation they still too often receive.

Another key argument is that, contrary to a perception much encouraged by the financial industry and governments on both sides of the Atlantic, the banks that binged most irresponsibly on the American sub-prime mortgage market and who were therefore most desperately in need of American dollar liquidity from the various American bailout facilities (TARP, TAF, currency swap lines, etc.) had their headquarters in Europe.  Tooze argues that it was the American’s “bazooka” response, rather than the European “austerity” approach to the sovereign debt crises in Greece, Ireland, and Spain that was most effective in terms of quick recovery.   But whether the American approach will truly be ‘effective’ in the long term and big picture is an open question. The cost in political capital for Obama and the Democrats was considerable, spawning the Tea Party backlash, and leading to our current political nightmare.  Yes, the financial system got back on its feet, but did we corrupt our political institutions in the process and spawn a debilitating and vicious culture war to boot?

Crashed perhaps focuses a bit too much on the political personalities tasked with responding to the Euro-zone crises (although this is one of its strengths as well), and never mentions the part that depleting resources/environmental constraints played in these crises – as we run out of natural resources to devour, generating the returns to which we have grown accustomed requires the thin-air financial ‘innovations’ that led to the Crash.  Also, the book could use another run through by a diligent proof-reader, but I’m almost literally nit-picking there.  It is a great read – insightful, thought-provoking, challenging, entertaining even – and I’ll not look at the business section of the newspaper the same again.

The ironic thing is that what saved my friend after his Lehman-funded real estate deal went belly-up were the very small farmers that would have been displaced by his “estates.”  He eventually re-invented himself as a specialty coffee broker, and now makes his money consolidating and marketing the product of those same small coffee farmers, generally Filipino or Hispanic immigrants, highly capable people but with limited command of business English, to the high-end coffee market.  This global market access creates the niche product pricing (several times what a Columbian or Guatemalan farmer gets) that supports a modest first-world lifestyle for the farmers: it keeps them in trucks and fertilizer and they have some money left over to bet on the illegal cock-fights that happen nearly every weekend in a remote corner of someoneʻs orchard.

I have to wonder if the high-flyers of Wall Street and the City of London may all someday have to re-invent themselves as my friend did.  Will the gigantic bubble of speculative finance that was not dealt with but rather enabled by years of QE lead to the Mother of all Crashes in the near future? Will the Mother of all Crashes lead to a more grounded, less leveraged way of living for more people?  Hard to say.

79 thoughts on “Trans-continental Hustle, Or An Admittedly Anecdotal Review of Adam Tooze’s Crashed

  1. This is a first-rate review, Michelle — thanks for sharing it. Tooze’s characterization of the recent financial meltdown as the “wrong crisis” is sobering indeed, and it’s one more reason that I need to get around to reading Crashed sooner rather than later.

    • Aww, thanks Ernie and Joe, if you do Twitter at all, Tooze’s feed @adam_tooze is really one of the best things on the infernal machine, especially if you’re a graph geek.

      • I have never had a Twitter account (nor Facebook nor Instagram nor many others) because I spend too much time on the internet already, but your recommendation will make me seriously reconsider. I do love good graphs. They can have enormous explanatory power.

      • I do follow Tooze on Twitter, and you’re absolutely right — I’ve learned a lot from what he shares. Politics drew me into Twitter in 2015 (god that seems like ages ago), but it’s the academics (historians and political scientists, in particular) who keep me going back.

  2. I got the book when you first mentioned it in a recent comment. I started it right away, but got sidetracked by Amrita Pritam’s autobiographyThe Revenue Stamp, a much shorter read. I recommend it highly.

    I am glad to see from your very fine review that Tooze presents some solid evidence that a Global Financial Crisis II may be lurking in our near future. At a time when reports on the climate-driven necessity for rapid shrinkage of the global market economy are coming thick and fast, I will gladly grasp at any straw indicating economic collapse ahead.

    We have waited so long to take meaningful action to prevent climate catastrophe that the difference between the required voluntary degrowth, in line with IPCC recommendations, and uncontrolled collapse of global markets is becoming negligible. Since it is very unlikely that voluntary degrowth will ever happen, I am putting all my hopes for the future on economic collapse.

    When the crash comes, your coffee broker friend may lose his business, but I’m sure the small coffee growers can convert to any number of crops with a higher calorie content. Whatever happens, the need for food will never “crash”.

      • Interesting bit of history

        From Hal Borland, who wonders “where would you get all the horses?” back in 1965:

        A few weeks back, while we were in the midst of haying, one of my neigbors stopped past one evening and our casual talk came around to the poverty program. He smiled and said, “I’ve got the solution.”

        I asked what he had in mind, and he said, “Move a few million of those poor folks from the cities out to the country. Put them on the land.”

        “Don’t you read the papers?” I asked. “There are too many farmers already!”

        “Yeah, I know. In one breath they say there are too many farmers producing too much. In the next breath they say there are all these people in want, can’t get enough to eat and wear. It doesn’t add up, does it? Too much, and still not enough. Well, my idea doesn’t add up either, but it would work. I’d put these people on subsistence farms, ten or twenty acres, where they could earn their keep.”

        “Make gardeners out of them?”

        “Sort of. Give these needy families ten acres apiece, say, and a horse and a cow and a few chickens.”

        “Where would you get the horses?”

        “Never mind that. This is all an impossible idea anyway. But get them started, with a walking plow and a hoe, and a cow for milk and chikens for eggs, and…”

        “You know the answer to that, don’t you?” I asked.

        “Sure. It can’t be done. That’s the pat answer. It’s going back to first principles, so it’s impractical. It would give the kids something to do, too, keep them out of juvenile mischief. But the kids don’t want to do farm chores. Anyway, it would cost money, ten or twenty thousand dollars a family. How much are we spending on this poverty program, how many million? To do what? Feed and clothe them and train them for jobs in industry that doesn’t need them.” He shrugged. “You figure it out. I’ve got to go home and hoe up the garden.”

        Each horse is also half of a horse factory. But it takes nearly a year in the factory to assemble a new one, and then several years of post-delivery end-user education before the horse’s artificial intelligence system is fully operational.

        Better hope for a slow crash, if you’re counting on horses to take up the slack.

        • Getting enough people to train a horse would be interesting .
          Dumping ” a few million people in the country ” LOL, a days heavy sweaty work or a few freezing mornings thawing water for stock and they would be heading back to the city .

          • a days heavy sweaty work or a few freezing mornings thawing water for stock and they would be heading back to the city

            It depends on how bad things are in the city.

            Things are not yet bad enough that many people — no matter their economic status — are willing to change their ways.

          • Down here in TX there are thousands of riding horses but very few heavy horses or mules , mules are best down here they quit if they get too hot and deal with the heat better than horses but again there aren’t many of them .

    • Yes, but that will happen only if their need for food is unmet. Let me put it this way, “the per capita need for food with never crash”.

  3. Todays financial economy is just a huge casino with the taxpayer funding the gambling addicts , very few institutions are penalised for their addiction (Lehman ) the rest claim they are too big to fail , if they are then they should be broken up , the removal of limited liability laws would calm down the casino , putting the boardrooms personal wealth in the pot would scare them to death , they would become far more carefull with ” other peoples money ” ,

  4. Great review Michelle, thank you. I must admit I’m still not sure whether I want to take the time to read it. You obviously enjoyed it, and it sounds like a good way to clarify the nature of all the financial stuff that I for one am so often bamboozled by. But you dropped in a few more reserved comments that got me thinking.

    Some of the Marxist/socialist authors I follow are enamoured of Tooze (including Grace Blakeley, linked by Ernie above, and another one to watch), as he gives life to the more abstract ‘interests’ generated and demanded by capital and the quest for profitability, and in that regard I note your point about his focus on ‘political personalities’. Tooze is doubtless a very clever man, but do you think he’s too concerned with the story in the froth of financial shenanigans atop a more solid and unexplored substructure? I think I’m mixing metaphors here – in short, is he essentially an economic thriller writer?

    To scratch at this a little more, I note that you point to his neglect of depleting resources and environmental constraints – do you think this is actually a massive flaw? For example, it seems everyone’s looking at China these days (including our host!), and Tooze obviously considers it crucial to his story. I recently read a fascinating book called ‘Fossil Capital’ by Andreas Malm (highly recommended!) which explored the country’s role as the ‘chimney of the world’, including the relationships between investment in production there, the geo-temporal form of the resulting relations of production, and the evolution of organised labour among Chinese workers. All satisfyingly Marxist, but it gave me a real sense of the forces at work and how they relate to global resources and ecology. Does Tooze get into any of this, or is he just interested in the money?

    I wonder how useful it is to keep the focus on those at the top of the financial pyramid, or to persist in terminology that gives entire countries agency with regard to GDP, debt, capital flow, etc. Do I need to read Tooze’s book to get to grips with our world and where it’s headed, or will it just give me the Netflix miniseries version of the crisis? Am I being unfair to a book I’ve not read? I suppose I’m expressing a deeply felt suspicion of the ultimate relevance of the world of finance as anything more than a means for the rich and powerful to wring more money out of a truly fundamental crisis in (capitalist) production which is better understood from the fossil substrata up. I know I sound pessimistic, but I’m really interested in your view here. Do you think Tooze’s viewpoint is ultimately a really important one? If you say ‘yes’, I’ll buy the book!

    • A market more complex than neighbors bartering with each other cannot exist without a medium of exchange. The global market could not exist without money. All of the means of production, the “fossil substratum” as you describe it, could be ready for action, but without money to mediate all the transactions needed for the means of production to operate, that substratum would immediately grind to a halt.

      This necessity for global monetary coherence gives me hope. A severe financial crisis might be seen as just be an economic thrill ride, but it will have real bread and butter ramifications. Those ramifications could very well include rapid disintegration of the global market economy, failure of thousands of factories, transport systems, and all the other complexities of modern supply chains now busy extracting, manufacturing and distributing the world’s goods.

      Growth could go into a tailspin that would rapidly immiserate most of us in the rich world and lead to a rapid decline in resource consumption and CO2 emissions. This is just the thing we need.

      If Tooze’s book can show me how to understand the less visible fault lines in the global financial system, faults that might precipitate economic collapse, I will finish it up very eagerly.

      • Thanks Joe. I must admit I’m more sympathetic to your keenness for uncontrolled collapse these days, and your earlier comment about the negligible difference between that and voluntary degrowth really struck me.

        In this case I’m not so interested in money as a general medium of exchange, so much as the financial edifice that has been built on top of the actual productive economy, which as I understand it forms the main subject of Tooze’s book.

        This quote from the Blakeley article that Ernie linked to is important, I think:

        ‘As Alfie Stirling, chief economist at the New Economics Foundation, told me: “Almost by definition, shocks are caused by uncertainty over events, rather than by events themselves.” The global economy’s problem is less the inevitable downturn in the business cycle but the array of forces that may upset a delicate equilibrium.’

        The financial markets rely on the creation of certainty or confidence, and on providing a forum in which the ‘global economy’ appears to be the most important thing in the world, in which lords of finance can go and thump chests together, ‘look at me, be confident, it’s working for me’. Sociologically speaking, the whole point of the financial market, the forum of global economics, is to produce such lords of finance; it is, of course, an elite project.

        Now look at the quote in Ernie’s comment above. ‘macroeconomic juggling’, ‘hurling knives’. I mean, what does it actually mean? Whatever the real world things being referred to here (protectionist trade tariffs, investment in actual production), the tone of the comment plays into this idea that a group of ‘macroeconomic jugglers’ can fix this – that there’s a useful place for the skills of financial mediation that, in fact, I would argue are more about negotiating the solidarity of the elite than anything else. The focus of ‘management’ here is the social condition of the global economic forum, the maintenance of confidence, etc.

        One definition of power relationships that I’ve often found useful is the idea that the inferior has to spend a lot more time working out the personality and characteristics of the superior than vice versa, because they have to be ready to respond and react to new impositions, whereas the superior can treat the inferior more like a thing to be used when appropriate and otherwise cast aside. Are we spending too much time worrying about the court of the lords of finance? Surely it won’t ultimately matter? Macroeconomic management in China, however significant it is for directing investments to actual production, will ultimately run up against the fact that the country’s capitalist infrastructure is becoming increasingly optimum and yet the rate of profitability is declining because, ultimately, Chinese workers are increasingly unwilling to be the world’s cheap option. Everything else is just juggling at the circus.

        So is Tooze’s book actually useful as a predictive tool, as you intimate? Or is it an entertaining narrative of the machinations of our overlords? Without an in-depth understanding of the productive substrata, any predictions he makes are surely more about what might get said or shouted next in an elite conversation that is ultimately reactive to the more concrete issues of production on the ground.

        One caveat: the more I think about these issues, the more aware I become that the answers to many of my questions will be ‘go and read the book!’ So I will…

        • I would take exception to the notion:
          the whole point of the financial market, the forum of global economics, is to produce such lords of finance

          Financial markets serve another purpose we seem to be ignoring. Credit available to those who have an idea and a potential means to produce can facilitate such an idea coming forth in a shorter period of time. As a first born I might have stood to inherit something of sustaining value – but in little over a year my inheritance was cut in half by my first brother’s arrival. Before I was in school the fraction of any potential inheritance was a mere 25%. Now the value of siblings is (or more rightly “can be”) tremendous and I’d not trade any of mine for any inheritance… but where this next leads me then is the question of how to fund my own goals in the short period of a human lifetime. Wage labour and serious austerity with a view to save the capital needed is one way to approach this. Or, in the US where home loan interest was tax deductible (a subsidy of course, but at least one a democratic majority could support) … the time needed to establish a nest egg is shortened. Capital markets, money for exchange, and financial instruments can all be of value to the whole populace. Abuse of these, like the abuse of any resource (water, land, air) is the bad thing. So I can’t get behind a simplistic assertion that whole point of the financial market is to produce lords of finance. That this is one result and is a result we can and should have a whack at – this I can agree with.
          Next in line for consideration – if we can successfully ‘whack’ the system that currently exists – is to anticipate where the next mole will pop up. Where will the poor and malnourished turn if there are fewer (but perhaps more sustainable) financial resources to go around? By the mere circumstance of my birth in the Global North as a white male I “inherited” a better credit score than a similarly aged Somali female… before either of us could do anything remotely telling about our actual ability to manage credit. Jason Hickel’s The Divide ruminates on how this came to be. What we might do to repair matters on this front seems something valuable to consider. I’ve not finished reading The Divide, so can’t say if Jason has a solution. But I’m hopeful that a forthcoming text from a Small Farm Futurist can make some headway on this latter issue.

          • The line that this Small Farm Futurist would follow is to draw a distinction between credit and financialized capital. I’d agree that credit to get a farm business off the ground posted by a creditor who actually wants the business to succeed can be a necessary thing. But I’d say that financialized capital posted by creditors who are only interested in maximizing returns on capital wherever in the world they can get it fits more into the ‘lords of finance’ bracket. How to incentivize the former and disincentivize the latter? Well now, you’ll just have to wait for the big publishing event of 2020. But I’d say it probably has something to do with whether the state sides with farmers or financiers. And there’s only one right answer to that…

          • Just guessing here, but my guess is that in order to draw the line you are suggesting is needed will involve some sort of boundaries to capital flows. At what point would boundaries around capital flows actually be counterproductive to aspiring small farmers on developing frontiers? If she has no prosperous local creditor to draw upon, the Somali women from my earlier comment may well be VERY credit worthy, but still remain without access to credit.

            This is pointed up by the debate between Tooze and Streeck in the LRB review you pointed to (which BTW is a fascinating if difficult read: )

            In said debate I’m quite underwhelmed by Tooze’s attack on Streeck’s use of the term Marktvolk, and really like the final comment from Prendergast. In any event if there is a potential solution for the Somali female offered by either Streeck or Tooze – I’ve missed it.

        • Are we spending too much time worrying about the court of the lords of finance? Surely it won’t ultimately matter?

          It won’t matter at all, ultimately, but the “lords of finance” do have the power to destroy the monetary system. Their failures and the demise of money can affect the timing and that’s really all I am interested in at this point. I would like to have enough advance warning to gather family members together before collapse begins in earnest and travel becomes difficult.

          I’ve always thought that Korowicz had a good take on the connection between finance, markets and the physical goods supplied by them.

          • You only have to look back to the depression the government took money , real money , they forced people to sell their gold , when they collected it all they doubled the price of gold then refinanced the system .

    • Good questions, Andrew. Tooze wrote a scathing review of Wolfgang Streeck’s book ‘How Will Capitalism End?’ – a book which also barely engages with resource and environmental issues but IMO makes a good fist of explaining why the global political economy is entering terminal systemic crisis in its own terms. I think there may have been some behind the scenes scholarly score-settling going on, but it makes me think you could be right that Tooze isn’t seeing the wood for the trees.

      Thanks also for the nod to Malm’s book – I got halfway through before being distracted, but I’m impressed with his thinking and I need to get back to it. I suspect Malm’s concerns may ultimately be the more salient…

      …but in the meantime, it does seem likely that another more immediate financial crisis will soon be upon us, and it also seems likely for numerous reasons that it’ll be a harder one to shrug off this time around. I agree with Joe on the larger implications of that, but it would be good to see some solid analysis from a ‘green political economy’ point of view of what might happen when the ATMs stop handing out their cash. I’m not sure that Tooze is the person to tell us…

    • As Chris would say thank you for the additional comment and this is turning into an interesting conversation! To answer your some of your questions, Andrew: Do I think Tooze’s viewpoint is an important one? Yes. I will leave out the “ultimately” as a hedge there, so if you don’t like the book I can hide behind it. Also I think the only ultimately important viewpoints are being expressed by indigenous poets and musicians, or even in non-human language forms by non-humans but that’s, you know, my own trip. Is Tooze only interested in the money? No, I would say that he is only interested in people – of all kinds, from the Chinese peasants being drawn into the Bandurski’s urban villages to the lords of finance, and how money affects them. As for the mini-series part, I have to admit that part of my fascination with Crashed is Tooze’s fascination with Merkel. He is not very nice to her, but insightful and perhaps fair? And how a woman wields power is a deeply interesting subject, that, in my opinion, may well determine the course of so much we all have an interest in, however ambiguously per Joe.
      Agree with Chris on the SFF distinction, although in my experience the line gets blurry fast.
      So I’ve not had time to read the Streeck-Tooze fight but I see the words Frankfurt School – I’m not much for straight-up Marx but have a soft spot for Adorno and Co. – and so must go get caught up with that, before venturing any further.

  5. For those not willing to commit the resources to digest 650 or more pages of Adam’s tome, he writes extensively at a blog as well. Since publication he has posted at least 10 “framing Crashed” pieces that set up some of the background. His blog link is here:

    This is also a resource for things he’s currently thinking about – just in case he might have an opinion of what might happen when the ATMs stop handing our their cash.

  6. The line that this Small Farm Futurist would follow is to draw a distinction between credit and financialized capital… financialized capital posted by creditors who are only interested in maximizing returns on capital wherever in the world they can get it fits more into the ‘lords of finance’ bracket.

    Okay, waiting with bated breath.

    Because my experience is that so-called “financialized credit” has become so ubiquitous and entrenched that almost everyone has a pecuniary interest in it.

    Case in point: our local Transition Town group wanted to “help” local people with local loans. So they started a Transition Salt Spring Enterprise Co-op. Sounds like a good idea, no?

    So we approached them about refinancing our co-op mortgage. They said they had to get 5%, of which, 0.25% went to admin and overhead and the other 4.75% went to their “investors,” who were already giving up as much as a point of what they could get in the broader market.

    So, even a bunch of socially-conscious, environmentally-responsible people, concerned about the future, still must worship at the Church Of Growth™!

    A lot of people who are concerned about the implications of endless growth still must worship at the Church Of Growth. That includes anyone with a pension. That includes anyone who collects a government retirement fund — or plans to collect from one in the future.

    Even having divested of all financial investments, our co-op still does internal loans to an the consumer price index plus 0.25%. That’s a bargain — it means someone can finance a share of our co-op for about 2% — but it’s still homage to The Church Of Growth.

    Mike Nickerson (Life, Money, and Illusion) proposes a “net worth tax” that would go toward providing “pseudo-growth” in a steady-state economy. I know Switzerland, at least, used to have a net worth tax, but it would hardly be a popular idea in today’s laissez-faire mind-set.

    So we’ll have to wait for the book release to find out how to deal with these intractable systems we’ve worked ourself into, I guess. 🙂

    • If you really want an asset that you can’t afford to buy with cash, I would go for the terms that produce the lowest monthly payment possible, regardless of interest rate. There could soon come a time when you will be able to stop making the payments and no one would notice, a de facto debt jubilee.The only drawback to debt now is the risk that you default before the world falls apart and the worry that risk creates.

      That said, I’m an emotional wuss. Even though I have no debt, if I followed my own advice I would borrow as much as possible, buy more land and wait for that jubilee to arrive. I’ve just gotten too used to having peace of mind to do it. I would probably make the worst “master of the universe” ever. I just can’t thrive on stress.

  7. @Clem:

    “At what point would boundaries around capital flows actually be counterproductive to aspiring small farmers on developing frontiers?”

    Good question, the answer to which will depend from person to person on their reading of history and politics. My personal answer would be orders of magnitude less than current capital flows. In fact…

    “If she has no prosperous local creditor to draw upon, the Somali women from my earlier comment may well be VERY credit worthy, but still remain without access to credit.”

    …her current predicament in the camp probably isn’t going to be eased by a microfinance business loan, and her longer-term predicament probably stems in large measure from a combination of IMF loan terms and the projection of US power regionally, so I’d be looking for ways to get her back into food self-reliance beyond the ambit of global loan terms.

    @Jan: spoiler alert – I’m lacking a magic wand…or even any very satisfactory answers. But I think the church of growth may look a different place when the economy is contracting under numerous assaults and capital turns into mere money. At that point, land starts to look a better bet – which brings us back to our previous discussion, on which I’ll try to post some more thoughts soon. Thanks for another informative example…

  8. Thanks for the review, Michelle. I think that Chris makes a good distinction between local credit and financialized capital. Amidst all the bank failures during the 2008 crash, a bank in Pennsylvania had its best year ever, as a major lender to the Amish.

    This article explains that due to legal reasons, Amish farm mortgages cannot be securitized (i.e., “they can’t be turned into a mortgage-backed security or a collateralized debt obligation”), so the local (non-Amish) banker services the loans, and after 20 years and thousands of loans, he “never lost any money on an Amish deal”.

    “About the only time the Amish use credit is when they buy a farm… There are no Amish bankers, no Amish-owned banks, so they turn to local banks for help… In most banks, a man who wants to buy a farm but has no credit history, no FICO score and not even a driver’s license would be unlikely bet. But O’Brien is used to this. “I’ll find out who his dad was,” he says. “I’m also interested in who his wife’s father was. It takes a team to make a farm go.”… O’Brien knows which farms are doing well and which are struggling. He has to. When you lend to the Amish, you’re making a loan that you’re going to keep. You can’t sell that loan to some other investor.”

    • Thanks Steve, in yet another example of how regulation necessary to attempt to curb bad-acting corporations unfairly impacts small, local institutions, I’ve been on the board of a local agricultural bank, probably quite similar to the one you refer to, that is no longer viable – not because it made bad loans but because of the exorbitant costs related to fulfilling regulatory requirements. You can’t hardly get an entry-level audit from one of those fancy accounting firms full of MBAs for less than $100K. Oh wait, this year it’s $150K. And it’s not like you can just have one audit, more like a dozen per year. And then you have to keep up with technology and the new regulations, so you have to pay a whole other set of consultants for that, and then the audits on that and it just goes on and on. It’s exorbitant fees all the way down. Ranching might be hard sweaty work but at least it’s not absurd.

      • That’s disappointing for a local agricultural bank. I was hoping that new credit unions would encounter less difficulties, but it sounds similar. “Efforts to encourage new credit unions are hamstrung by a 17-step chartering process and burdensome regulations—hurdles that are too high for many potential financial institutions to clear… Small and mid-sized credit unions often cannot afford the staff needed to comply with redundant regulations from multiple agencies…”

        As Chris pointed out, a lot depends on “who the state sides with”.

  9. @Andrew I would say that Tooze’s work is decidedly more than your worst suspicions of mere overlord entertainment. It has explanatory value. Predictive value? Well, as Zhou Enlai supposedly said about the significance of the French Revolution, too soon to tell.
    Although that quote may be apocryphal it does, accurately I think, point to a very different Chinese historical horizon, and more specifically that the Chinese have certainly not forgotten the Opium War. Whereas we Americans have never even heard of it, and can’t understand why the Chinese want to defend themselves economically and otherwise.
    Tooze does explain, in ways that I find more clear and fair than your standard neoliberal shill (looking at you, Niall Ferguson), how monetary policy determines the fate of nations and the people living within those nations – how for instance the currency peg that the PRC established and maintained through massive buys of US Treasuries could cause some problems. How does that get unwound/juggled? What will the US do when the rest of the world stops funding our deficit by buying those Treasurys? How long before the goading of Trump prompts the Chinese to call the US on our profligacy? What if they pulled back from Treasurys and started to invest in real estate even more extensively than they already are, especially ag real estate or water rights?
    On the one hand you’re right, it’s all just play money and juggling. On the other hand hot money makes for distortions even in my daily life out here on one of the most remote archipelagos on Earth.

    • Thanks for your responses Michelle, I’ll certainly read the book, and I take the point that you and others have made about the effects that elite financial projects have on all of us at an everyday level. I too would support Chris’ distinction between credit and fincialised capital, but can readily believe it’s more of a worthy ambition than an empirical reality.

      There is, I suppose, an important distinction between the roles that we here would assign to the these two elements. Financialised capital is clearly an instrument of wealth creation for the overlords, and whilst I take Clem’s point that it appears simplistic to assert that the financial markets exist solely to reproduce these people, I do think that this is largely the case at the executive level of ‘macroeconomic’ management. The fact that humbler folk use them for other more agreeable purposes does not detract from their driving principle.

      More agreeable purposes – the use of credit to acquire wealth in some form (most obviously land and resources) up front for subsequent socially useful activity. ‘Credit’ seems to me the crux here, as it ultimately points to the issue of evaluating the trust that some fraction of society will put in the promise of an individual or group to undertake something for collective benefit, in order to inform a decision as to whether certain resources in which that social fraction has a stake should be handed to that individual or group. Currently we can all be flattened our into the widely recognised quantities that define a credit rating all over the world, and which, as Clem says, will tend to reproduce the inequalities between global north and south . Presumably we need to start thinking about methods of credit – of evaluating ability and promise, of working out how and whether to trust – that are fundamentally separated from the projects of the global elite, and may not even involve monetary quantification in the traditional sense.

      I find the possibilities fascinating here, as we are dealing with the ‘middle range’ of possible social forms that might exist between the kind of anarcho-liberal end of the spectrum, where small farmers might live in their near self-sufficient households, and the autocratic statist end with which we are all familiar (faux protestations of ‘free’ markets and ‘invisible hands’ notwithstanding). We yearn for the collapse of a world in which almost everything is aggressively monetised, but we will have to accept that this will raise all sorts of new problems concerned with the nature of ‘valuation’ (in as many senses as you can think of), with implications for notions of fairness (no longer so easily judged through the simple balancing of easily exchangeable quantities). What might ‘credit-worthiness’ mean in these new worlds?

      • Over the weekend I too was wondering where we might draw lines and make valuable distinctions between what is fair for credit and where the global (neoliberal global) financializatoin of credit goes off the rails. One person I ran across in the exercise is Michael Hudson. He has a couple books out in the last few years (Killing the Host, and J is for Junk Economics). I’m in the process of borrowing KtH, so no book review from me yet. Reviews and interviews of Hudson abound on the web. From the latter I get the impression one of his remedies is to nationalize the banking sector. Just typing that sentence makes me nervous… as though some Wall Street web watching bot might swoop in and threaten my financial solvency for putting it there.

        Have a peek at Hudson’s thinking and see if you find it worth delving into further. Here is one link… (there are several others):

  10. “Thanks for the additional comments” – OMG, I do say that WAY too much don’t I? On the other hand, well I AM (almost) always grateful for the comments I get here. On which point, see the current debate and revisions to my comment policy on the ‘About’ page. Additional comments welcomed – gratefully.

    Some very interesting lines of enquiry being developed above. A few brief comments/questions on just a few of them.

    Andrew’s point about the middle range between ‘anarcho-liberal’ & ‘autocratic statist’…whatever the labels, exactly so – that’s where I most want to develop an analysis. Localized agricultural banking of one form or another seems to me quite key, so the difficulties encountered by Michelle are of great interest. And are probably insurmountable until states consider the interests of small farmers to be vital … so then in what circumstances might that occur? For me, most likely when ‘supersedure states’ on which I’ve previously written arise…

    David Graeber is interesting on this in his discussions of ‘market populism’, where merchants ally with ‘the people’ against the state. For example in Solon’s Athens or in medieval Islam. But it’s a situation rife with difficulties – as hinted at by Jan, among others.

    Talking of Islam, any thoughts on Islamic banking models? No interest charged, but a stake in the business…essentially a business tax. But then who controls the bank? After all, there’s an argument, that Graeber touches on, that Islam was a key influence on the development of capitalism in Europe…

    Also in relation to Andrew’s middle-range, a shout-out for another book – Steven Stoll’s ‘Ramp Hollow: the Ordeal of Appalachia’, which I’ve just finished and that I think someone on here mentioned. Superb book, full of thought-provoking ideas – not least on the relative monetization of agrarian land and agrarian economies. I’ll try to post some more on this soon.

    Meanwhile, down on the farm…well, maybe it’s true that a lot of folk these days don’t know what a hard day’s physical work outside looks like. Though I think this is often overstated, and indeed is typically deployed as an argument against mass agrarianism along the lines ‘nobody wants to farm any more’. Except I think a lot of people do. What they don’t want to do is skivvy for someone else on crap pay. Which is what quite a lot of farm work can look like, but increasingly what a good deal of city work looks like too…

    And meanwhile too, up in the rarefied clouds of global geopolitics I think Michelle is right that China is playing a long game, and also has a long historical memory. One possible outcome is a slow turning of the screws that will terminate with the rest of the world having to pay obeisance to China as the global superpower – a process that on the upside I suspect will be less violent and genocidal than when Western Europe and the USA held those aces. Alternatively, perhaps China & the US are locked permanently together in a fossil-fueled death spiral, which is roughly Minqi Li’s argument. I’m interested in any views, of course…

    And finally horses. I’ve never thought much about their present numbers compared to those in their working past. I’d be grateful if anyone could point me to further data on this.

    • About horses, a quick search on “Pravda” indicates that present numbers in the USA are less than half of their numbers in 1900.

      “”During the Gilded Age the use of horses grew as technological change expanded the opportunities to use horse power. There were startling gains in the number of horses: the national population rose from approximately seven million in 1860 to nearly twenty-five million in 1900. Most of these resided east of the Mississippi River.They were integral in two of the great transformations of the Gilded Age – the growth of the industrial city and the mechanization of agriculture.”
      Horses at Work, Harnessing Power in Industrial America, Ann Norton Greene, Harvard Press, 2008

      From the Wikipedia entry for “Horses in the United States”:
      “In 1912, the United States and Russia held the most horses in the world, with the U.S. having the second-highest number. There were an estimated of 20 million horses in March 1915 in the United States. A USDA census in 1959 showed the horse population had dropped to 4.5 million. Numbers began to rebound somewhat, and by 1968 there were about 7 million horses, mostly used for riding. In 2005, there were about 9 million horses.
      There are about 82,000 feral horses in the western United States under the supervision of the Bureau of Land Management.”

      from “The Horse Industry by the Numbers”, by Equo, 16 Jan 2017
      (posted at the blog: Ride With Equo dot com):
      “So, How Many Horses are There in America?
      The current estimate according to a recent study commissioned by the American Horse Council Foundation and conducted by the Barents Group is 9.2 million, this includes both recreational and commercial horses. Out of the grand total 3.91M are used for recreational purposes, 2.72M for showing, 1.75M for other activities including farm work, rodeo, polo, police work etc. and 840K are used for racing.”

    • Meanwhile, down on the farm…well, maybe it’s true that a lot of folk these days don’t know what a hard day’s physical work outside looks like. Though I think this is often overstated, and indeed is typically deployed as an argument against mass agrarianism along the lines ‘nobody wants to farm any more’. Except I think a lot of people do. What they don’t want to do is skivvy for someone else on crap pay. [emphasis mine]

      I don’t know about that. we use a lot of volunteers, who get training , room & board, and support while here. Most of them are “between jobs” or taking a break between school and a “real” job. Few of them seem to resent that they are volunteers, which is perhaps the crappiest pay, possibly because they look at our life-style, and realize no one is getting filthy rich off their efforts.

      We have for some time offered an apprenticeship program, by which someone can volunteer for 10,000 hours, and then receive $100,000 worth of co-op equity, and the right to permanent residence. In ten years, we have had exactly one person agree to this, but she had second thoughts after just three months, and quit. (If you go to our link, click on the “Discussion” tab to see background information.)

      But people are too mobile these days, which is an artifact of high-energy living. People are used to not committing to a piece of dirt, a location, a job, or even a career, because “something better might come along.” Even buying a farm is no huge thing, because you can always sell it, and the assumption is that you can almost always do so at a profit.

      Which is what quite a lot of farm work can look like, but increasingly what a good deal of city work looks like too…

      We’ve heard lots of excuses for not taking on an apprenticeship agreement. “I want to travel,” “I want a farm of my own,” and the most insidious, “I have to get a ‘real’ job to pay off my student loans.”

      So, I think student loans are the new indentured servitude. They don’t bind an indentured servant to a single master, but rather to the status-quo economic system. People are forced to put up with “crap jobs” in the city to pay off their student loans, when they would rather be trying out an acting or music career, or starting a business… or taking up an offer to earn a spot of dirt and the right to live there.

      The worst situation I see are tenant farmers. They have little incentive to make improvements, because they could get kicked off, and those improvements would go to the landlord. (Indeed, making improvements might provide incentive for a landlord to kick them off the land!)

      That’s why we want to provide people with equity, so they can plant walnut trees with confidence that they aren’t just improving someone else’s land.

      • Interesting points. I agree that there’s an ever-proliferating array of fiscal instruments tying folks in to the status quo. Though here in the UK you don’t have to start repaying a student loan until your salary reaches £25k – which might incentivize a farm career!

        Obviously I can’t comment on the rights & wrongs of your specific venture – I agree with your take on volunteering, but I’d say that it’s an easy-come-easy-go thing that fits into a slightly different bracket. I also take your point about modern mobility, but I’m not sure that recalcitrance about long-term apprenticeship/co-operative agreements is a uniquely modern scourge. I’d argue that entering complex long-term arrangements with other people always poses difficulties and people generally avoid them unless the alternatives are worse – one reason why I think a lot of contemporary discussions about the commons are a bit naive. If people are saying that they want their own farms, I think that’s telling us something important. But I’ll try to write some more about this soon.

      • So, I think student loans are the new indentured servitude

        I think there is something to this… but I would caution against one of the proposed solutions I’ve heard – free college. My concern is the effort individuals will make when their commitment is so negligible. We tend not to value ‘free’ – and why should we? If a college education is valuable, then a person pursuing such should put something up to attain such. In my experience students with some skin in the game tend to work harder at their studies. And education in the final analysis is an individual affair. You can lead a student to college by you can’t make him think.

        Where I feel the system gets bogged down and hurts too many students is SO much emphasis on a college education (not everyone has to have one), and the systems whereby loans are pitched so aggressively, for profit colleges proliferating and monetizing students… so plenty to take a harder line on. But going to the ‘free’ end of the continuum – I can’t get there.

        • Well having been in management I found over the last twenty years or so a few things that troubled me .
          The level of education has dropped , having to mentor graduates for a year or so before letting them loose in the company doing a job that they were supposed to be able to do at hiring .
          Their people skills are abysmal , talking down to the blue collar workers creating friction and arrogance of failing to listen to more experienced managers and then whining to H R when they are corrected , my last employer decided to stop employing graduates and ” raise from the ranks ” qualified blue collar employees , in English parlance ” I’m it your shit ” does not fly in the corporate environment .

        • Many decades ago when I went to an all-boys high school. There were two tracks, college prep and trade prep. Even the college prep boys, like me, took hours of shop or technical class every day.

          The facilities were amazing. There was a foundry, an auto mechanics shop with 10 or so lifts and when a class went into the machine shop there was a lathe for every student. My concentration was radio/electronics, but I still took welding, sheet metal carpentry, aircraft shop and others.

          The school boasted that every graduate went to college or directly into the trade of their choice. By the time the trade prep students were seniors they were interning part of the day at local businesses. I think Germany still has something like the system I was exposed to.

          I think it is shameful that use of the hands to fabricate or modify real objects is so small a part of high school education. People still have to live in a material world and it is very freeing and empowering to be able to manage much of that world on one’s own. I came out of high school with little fear of building, wiring and plumbing my own house, which I have done twice in my life. I owe a great deal to that high school. I think there should be more like them.

          • My early days were similar , trade school then worked my way up to an engineering degree , I started three years later and was was three years older than the rest of the class at graduation but I allready had a job and was attending college and working at the same time , no debt at all , some of the stuff I learned there was allready obsolete and I told them so , colleges were not the cutting edge and are still probably not !

        • … I would caution against one of the proposed solutions I’ve heard – free college… [yet there is] SO much emphasis on a college education… and the systems whereby loans are pitched so aggressively…

          I can sympathize with your reasons for opposing free college, and yet, as you hint at, collage has become almost essential if you expect a decent job.

          So, if a college degree is “essential,” why not make it as free as the “essential” high school diploma?

          It’s either that, or de-essentialize college, and push education in trades back into high school, where it once was.

          Free college doesn’t seem to have hurt Sweden much! Nor any of the other two-dozen or so nations that have free college, which includes modern industrial nations.

          • Thanks for the link Jan.

            I’d be fine with an education system that required competence based advancement. I’ve no feel for how the countries listed at the link manage their systems – but I’ve had experiences like Daz’s where employees come into the workforce with very little real education.

            My own high school education was similar in some respects to the one Joe outlines here. At university I had several classmates who failed their way through several terms only to be sidelined for the incompetence. But many of these same students weren’t inadequate – they simply didn’t have any discipline. Mommy and Daddy wrote the checks and they partied until the school kicked them out. Maintaining grades to safeguard a scholarship is one way to enforce effort, and I was the beneficiary of some scholarships – so in a way I was similarly a beneficiary of a somewhat ‘free college’. But the notion that failure to perform meant losing the ‘free’ was pretty motivating.

            I’d not go so far as to suggest a college degree is essential. The income disparity between those with and without does tend to suggest this, but a competent tradesperson can make a good living and have work that is not readily moved overseas. Being a competent tradesperson, or any sort of employee for that matter, should mean knowing a bit more about the world than how to use a smart phone.

    • I think your expression of gratitude is perfectly graceful. Imitation and all that…
      Yes I would tend to agree that our Chinese overlords, if it should come to that, and all the best sci-fi predicts it, will quite likely be less overtly violent than the West has been, overall.
      As for horses, it sounds like, Daz, that you have a bit of soft spot for them, which I think is a fine thing in a human being. I pray that we never have to turn to them for our primary source of transportation, for their sake. There are very few humans willing to think hard enough to understand horses and treat them right.

  11. ” Localized agricultural banking of one form or another seems to me quite key,”
    Here in the boonies there are only ” local banks ” the big boys moved out a few years ago relying on internet banking , there is no way to borrow from the big banks , there is no one to talk to , even the larger employers here have closed their accounts and gone ” local ” having no relationship with the national banks , this has rejuvenated the local banking sector ,we had two national and one local bank , now we have no national but have six state banks plus a really local county bank , you want a loan you talk to the manager , he approves it, or not , not some algorithm in New York .

  12. [Clem wrote] a competent tradesperson can make a good living and have work that is not readily moved overseas

    Increasingly, the trades require some form of post-high-school education, like a two-year technical degree. Then there’s some years of apprenticeship, getting perhaps half-way between flipping burgers and the rewards that come from actually owning and operating a contracting company. The trades employees I know are getting perhaps $25/hr of the $75 that their bosses are charging for them!

    I’d not go so far as to suggest a college degree is essential.

    You may be right, but I think most young people would disagree.

    Let’s face it: trades are a limited job market these days. If it’s a choice between two years of college to become an electrician, or four years to become an electrical engineer, most young people where I live would choose the latter, because they can’t see the former as making enough money to pay exorbitant housing costs.

    It is certainly true that an independent electrical contractor (for example) can have a decent living, but that also comes with a lot of investment, and a number of years of working for other people before striking off on one’s own, unlike popping out of the college womb with an EE degree and walking into an $80,000 job. It takes a special set of extended skills to be successfully self-employed, and they don’t teach you those in high school.

    Like you, I wouldn’t “go so far as” to say college is essential. But perception is reality to a lot of young folk.

    • Thanks Daz, this is so screwed up it has to be true… no? UT made the list with Stanford – I can see that being in their future recruiting literature [U Texas hangs with Stanford and Yale; ya’ll come down now].

      March Madness starts next week – well, at least the basketball version. Seems March Madness just got underway today: Stanford, USC, UT, Wake Forest, Yale, and who else? Didn’t seen any of my alma maters on the list – sometimes being the little frog is an advantage.

      But this is the big time. This sort of manipulation plays at smaller levels as well. You can hire tutors to help your child do better on admissions tests. Your child can take the test(s) multiple times. What ever happened to plain old study while you’re in school in the first place? Is that so yesterday?? Maybe parents need to get their kids an education app. Maybe social networking sites should screen all messages for spelling, punctuation, and grammar before allowing messages to post (come to think of it, a certain head of state could use such a feature). This would at least teach language skills.

      Jan – you are brilliant. And young folk aren’t the only folk for whom ‘perception is reality’. Nothing like a felony accusation to make reality a bit more perceptible.

  13. Interesting side debate. I found Matthew Crawford’s book ‘The Case for Working with Your Hands’ interesting and relevant to the discussion (I think it was published in the US as ‘Shop Class as Soulcraft’ … not a title that’d work in the UK).

    Here in the UK, I was among the last cohorts to get a free college education in the 1980s. But back then less than 10% of school-leavers went to university, there were quite a few skilled non-graduate jobs and pay disparities were not so large. Now about half school-leavers go to university, the job market has narrowed and the pay gap widened. Seems to be so in the US too, judging by this paper linked by our friend Adam Tooze – have a look at Figure 1:

    So it’s hard to make a convincing case for free college education now under existing patterns. But part of the problem is surely the fraying of civic accord, and partly the limited opportunities for technical trades outside retail service. Long-term I think it’ll be necessary to revert to more technical crafts locally and fewer people specializing in the ‘college prep’ track. Though a wise society would find other ways for people to learn college-type stuff outside of college as such.

    • Still drifting along this tangent, Chris Anderson (former editor at Wired, and author of The Long Tail, and Free: The Future of a Radical Price) has another book:
      Makers: The New Industrial Revolution (2012). In Makers he highlights how the makers movement is making strides, how open source is catching on in some circles. Some of the makers products are pretty tech heavy (like 3D printing), but there are many hybrid articles combining techy arts wedded to good old fashioned fabrication techniques.

      The creativity aspect fascinates me most. Making do with what is to hand, solving issues, creating novelty. Apparently there are shops outside of the traditional academic or commercial labs where folks (students and the general public) can go to work on their ideas. Within the academic sphere there is a magnet school (secondary level) in Columbus, OH that hosts lab space for this sort of “making”. The Jetsons might not recognize these places (yet), and some of the tech might languish in a fossil fuel free future, but enabling the human spirit to make things with materials and tech currently present and available seems encouraging.

      • There will all ways be the need for people to fix things , but when the AC goes down no amount of high tech will fix it just some poor sweaty smuck earning $100,000 a year crawling around the pipework looking for the fault , watching the job market makes me think a degree aint worth as much as it was , case in point the local ish TX A &M insisted on a degree for a grounds person $15 an hour for cutting grass , one of their own graduates got the job owing the collage $110 ,000 debt , thats making debt serfs

    • Check your facts Daz. There has been coverage of the Nebraska (and now Iowa) flooding from ‘coastal’ news outlets. In a report I saw yesterday they were indeed talking about lost crops (winter wheat being the crop currently being lost – and the reporter also outlined how the coming growing season will be affected).

      But arguing about news sources and what is covered/not covered doesn’t move the needle toward solving what we’re getting into. This flooding is just getting started. The Missouri River still has a long path to the Gulf and there are likely many more acres to go underwater before its over. Silver lining? The Ogallala aquifer might recharge a bit. Commodity crop prices (like wheat, corn, and soy) might strengthen a bit. Beef prices could tick up.

      There will be much hand wringing over levy heights and cost sharing for repair/replacement efforts. There is already reporting about local vs federal oversight on flood control infrastructure. Simply raising levies to new heights may look good in a local landscape, but merely shove any future problem to another place.

      To Daz’s point about the global north being any different from the south when is comes to this sort of disaster… I agree – exposure to disaster won’t be different. Response to disaster might.

      • Well the news caster was complaining about the lack of coastal coverage , having no tv cant say myself .
        Interesting links in this piece
        This could get nasty if it stops spring planting and stores are wet plus the surge working its way south , many countries north and south rely on US
        exports .

      • I hadn’t fully appreciated the magnitude of the damage until I read this article:

        Farmers in the Midwest Face Decades of Recovery as Flooding Strips Away Crucial Soil

        “It’s not even just the top layer of soil that’s being ripped up and washed away. Where the floodwaters have receded, huge blocks of soil have been gouged away. The weight of the water has also compacted soil in some locations, while others are covered in sand and silt that’s been swept up by engorged rivers, neither of which is as nutrient-rich or structured as the soil that supports the wheat, soybean, and corn crops.

        “You have the good stuff moving away and not as good stuff moving in,” Andrea Basche, an agronomist and soil scientist at the University of Nebraska, told Earther.

        “That puts farmers who depend on growing these crops for their livelihoods in a serious bind. They can try to plant this year’s crop, knowing productivity won’t be as high as it was, or they can set about to the arduous task of restoring topsoil to a more productive state. The first step is just letting fields dry out, something that could take weeks or even months. Farmers can assess how much sand they’re looking at, though Al-Kaisi warned that using heavy equipment to do those assessments could disturb or breakup any topsoil that is left.

        “For those lucky enough to be dealing with just a few inches of sand, they can just churn it up into the soil. But areas with more than 24 inches of sand could be lost causes. Nebraska’s extension service suggests that farmers dealing with that situation “[c]onsider the relative costs of moving the sand and of abandoning the crop area.” Basche suggested that farmers could also use compost or restore wetlands and prairie as other possible solutions for rebuilding soil, but it still could ‘take decades to restore productivity if it is ever the same in our lifetimes again.’”

        • I hadn’t fully appreciated the magnitude of the damage

          It’s all our own doing. And I’m not talking about global warming.

          Before our modern “water management,” these rivers used to enjoy annual flooding, which would slowly move in and actually deposit rich topsoil.

          But we clever monkeys have erected levees and dikes, which keep the river out most of the time, except at catastrophic failure, upon which fast moving water rushes through and does the opposite of what flood waters have done for aeons, whisking the topsoil away to the Gulf of Mexico, where all the nutrients contribute to the growing “dead zone” there.

          • Really Jan?? Let’s think about this for a bit more than the time it takes to read the last sentence on the screen…

            Yes, these rivers would flood before we came to settle the plains. Annually? No; but regularly enough that soil would move across the landscape. And even though “annual” is an exaggeration, it did flood often enough to spur our ancestors to do something about it. Rivers are powerful forces, living next to them has rewards and risks. The current catastrophic failures are a manifestation of the risk. And I don’t mean to downplay the severity of the current flooding – it is quite ugly. But if one can evenhandedly account for the devastation, then isn’t it also possible to evenhandedly suggest what comes next?

            …fast moving water rushes through and does the opposite of what flood waters have done for aeons, whisking the topsoil away to the Gulf of Mexico, where all the nutrients contribute to the growing “dead zone” there.
            Do you seriously think the topsoil from Verdigre Nebraska will make it to the Gulf of Mexico? Some nutrients might – soluble elements… and this is indeed a factor contributing to the dead zone in the Gulf. But soil is not soluble – it falls out of the water column quite quickly. Where it falls out is an issue to be sure – lake eutrophication from sediment is a real problem. But some of the soil swept up in the current flooding will end up in other Nebraska or Iowa fields. Yes, this sediment is still an issue, any winter wheat unfortunate enough to be overtopped by even a handful of inches of sediment is doomed. And the current Midwest flooding malaise is not over. Even when the waters recede and the national news cycle moves onto the next mass shooting or Trumpian troll fest there will still be pain and suffering to deal with. Farming is a tough life – but so is living in New Orleans.

            My point is that we will get through this. Some folks will quit farming, and some fields will be difficult to farm for the next year or two. But the clever monkeys among us will have more than 98% of these fields back in production long before the ten years some of these hand wringers are predicting. It’s what we do. Starvation is such a motivating phenomenon.

  14. The Nile valley / delta are enriched every year with the annual flood , the stuff coming down from the mountains should be rich in minerals , as some have had sand dropped on their land a pass with a deep subsoiling plough will. bury it as they did in CA after floods dumped feet of sand on the soil , livestock is the problem this years crop is gone , some of next years crop will fill in the losses of grown cattle lost this year , it takes time to build up the numbers ,

      • Compared to a few of the hurricanes of recent memory the flooding in NE and IA come out a bit tepid.

        For example:
        Katrina $125B, 1,836 dead
        Harvey $190B
        Irma $100B 134 dead

        Recent flooding on Missouri River $1.5B, 4 dead.

        Hurricane stats from:

        Just for context folks, not trying to downplay the importance of the flood damage. Though I am at a loss to see why the federal reserve should start printing money for this latest storm system’s relief.

    • David Brooks is one of the best conservative writers out there, imo, but I tend to agree with many of the commenters at NYT that this piece amounts to retrotopian thumb-sucking and is a waste of Brooks’ intellectual talent. (I think he may have written it to placate the conservative gods after his previous column calling for reparations for African-Americans.) There’s a significant (although sometimes subtle) difference between idolizing white rural American small town life while barely mentioning the systemic inequalities and historical wrong-doing that have made it possible, which unfortunately I find to be the case with this column, and discovering the economic, social, and ecological foundation for a future/emergent civilization which draws on the best of our agricultural past/present, as we attempt to do here on SFF in our better moments. I know I’m being harsh on Mr. Brooks, but I have scar-tissue from being the only non-white woman among thousands of people at national agricultural conferences and knowing very well why that is.
      It’s so, so wrong.

      • Michelle:
        At the risk of going a bit wide of present matters, how do you imagine correcting what you’ve characterized as “so wrong” ?
        Perhaps I need to have a look at what some other NYT types imagine is so awful about the small town piece. I can’t speak for all Nebraskans, but there is a strong reverence for First Nations folk throughout much of the state. Indeed in Lincoln there is an organization celebrating 50 years in assistance for this population.

        Nebraska also hosts (using ‘hosts’ advisedly) a few reservations. All well and wonderful? Maybe not. But it seems a move in a positive direction.

        • why do they not go to agriculture conferences?

          I can think of two reasons:

          1) Money. Conferences require travel, admittance fees, meals, and probably lodging. There may be bursaries available for disadvantaged classes, but who is going to do the research and fill out all the forms when you don’t have any

          2) Time. I should be in the greenhouse right now, but I’m snatching a quick break between milking goats and potting-up starts and installing plant exercise machines (fans).

          I’ll bet that, in most cases, if there’s a bit of money and time available, and there’s a man on the place (white, or not), he is the one who gets to go to the conference, while the woman stays at home and keeps the farm going.

        • Breaking it down by farm size (acreage), the percentage of operators reporting one race, “White”:

          1-9 acres, 90%
          10-49 acres, 95%
          50-179 acres, 96%
          180-499 acres, 97%
          500+ acres, 98%

          Calculated from the USDA data (Table 60, linked above)

  15. Even using the data you referenced, which leaves out the option of selecting “Hispanic” or “Latinx” (40% of the farmers in New Mexico are of Hispanic ancestry), one in twenty farmers is non-white. Counting Hispanics, one in fourteen is non-white . Since women as principle operators of farms are only about 14% of farmers, only one in 140 farmers (one in 100 counting Hispanics) will be a non-white woman, but this is still a lot more that one in “thousands”. If spouses attend conferences too, then there should be a lot more non-white women there.

    Perhaps only those who run very large farms, or are wealthy (as Jan suggests), attend agriculture conferences. If so, that would reduce the number of non-white attendees significantly. But the overall numbers suggest that if attendees are representative of the whole population of farm families, non-white women should be at least a few percent of the participants.

    • Some clarifications about the 2012 Census data:

      There were 67,000 principal operators (out of the 2,109,303 total) “reporting their ethnicity as ‘Spanish, Hispanic, or Latino origin.’ Hispanic-origin operators can be of any race, but 94 percent reported their race as white.”

      Reducing the number of “White” principal operators by the full 67,000 would still result in more than 92% of the principal operators being “White alone, not Hispanic or Latino”. Minorities would thus represent less than 8% of the principal operators of farms, in comparison with being more than 39% of the population [recent census estimate].

      Whether this translates to “lots of non-white farmers” seems debatable.

      • Yes – “lots” is hardly a well defined term. But to Joe’s side of the point the trend is headed in a direction that should suit many of us in this conversation. Diversity won’t increase over night. In the course of a single generation there’s been real progress. Can’t start a fire without a spark. The challenge going forward then might be to keep the fire burning – and not allow some to rain on us. [shameless plug for]

  16. To follow on Jan and Steve L’s comments – Yes, lots of money, time, land, power, education, and last but not least a certain status in the old boy’s network of agriculture are what gets you to an agricultural conference. LOTS of all of the above. All of which are inherited from the really quite brutal history of the US (from a non-white perspective) which I hope I don’t need to recite (I probably should for clarity’s sake but don’t want to depress myself.)
    Re: old boy’s network – here is the compressed version of an actual conversation that I had with the CEO and Chair of the board of an ag bank at a dinner last year (both very nice guys who I like a lot): Me, screwing up my courage: “You guys really need to work on diversifying your board.” (All white guys except for counsel.) CEO: “Of course talent is our number one consideration.” Me: “Of course.” CEO to Chair: “You know, we could talk to Bob and see if his wife might be up for it, but didn’t she just have a baby? It might be hard.” Me: “Awesome, you work on it.” Which, in all fairness, they did and had two women on the board, out of twenty-three, the next time I saw them. Long way to go but a start.

  17. There are lots of non-whites doing farm work and managing farms, there are NOT lots of non-whites owning farm land of any significant percentage of stock, or having a voice in formulating farm policy, and that is what is both deeply wrong and potentially dysfunctional and dangerous.

    • I just left Twitter and, after reading your comment, instinctively sent my mouse in search of the “like” button. Speaking of Twitter, this discussion brings to mind a crop scientist who I follow — Sarah Taber (@SarahTaber_bww). She writes frequently about the inequities and dysfunctions of US agriculture. You might find her to be of interest.

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