Rural gentrification Part III: of locals and migrants

My last post concerning rural gentrification led into the wider issue of future migration patterns, which I’ll address briefly here. I haven’t got much to say about it that I haven’t already said either here or in my book but maybe a little repetition is warranted.

As I see it, human movement within and between countries is likely to be a massive reality in the years to come, and the ‘rural gentrification’ trend among contemporary neo-agrarian homesteaders discussed in my previous post is merely a straw in the wind presaging it. Globally, estimates from international agencies suggest that anywhere between 200 million and a billion people could be displaced from their homes and potentially on the move over the next few decades as a result of climate change. Independently and in concert, changing economic realities seem likely to be another large impetus.

At a more granular level, some researchers question such headlines on the grounds that even when prompted by ‘natural’ phenomena like droughts or floods, migration always involves multifaceted human responses that modulate expected scales and directions of movement. Such caveats are always worth bearing in mind, especially when the idea of impending large-scale migration is so routinely used to stoke fear and generate all kinds of political mischief. All the same, in view of the climate, energy, water, soil, political and economic realities before us, I find it hard to imagine that the human world to come won’t involve migrations of a different order.

Initially, much of that migration seems likely to be relatively localized and inter-urban or rural-to-urban. Long-term, it’ll be urban-to-rural. The brute reality is that current global settlement patterns are based on flows of energy, water and money that aren’t sustainable in the long run, so those patterns will change. Given that reality, change wrought by large-scale human migration within but also between countries looks like the least disastrous way that it will happen.

I’ve sometimes been criticized for being ‘pro-migration’ – not least in the Twitter thread that generated this mini-series of blog posts. But in the face of what’s to come, saying that one is pro or anti migration is beside the point. You might as well say you’re for or against the weather. Like it or not, it’s going to happen. The real question is how you respond to it.

To state my position: I’m not especially ‘pro’ migration, but nor am I anti-migrant. In an ideal world, I’d like it if people didn’t routinely have to travel in large numbers far from their homeplace to make a livelihood. So, rather than being pro-migration, I’d describe myself as pro the right not to have to migrate. The challenge is how to make it feasible for the majority of the world’s people to exercise that right. In one of the essays that generated this blog mini-series, Anarcho-Contrarian suggested various income and property tax measures to help keep people rooted to their homeplace. I largely agree with them, but I don’t think they’d be enough to do the job in the present global moment. I’d suggest the following three policies in the wealthier countries, starting tomorrow, might to the job:

  1. A ratchet tax on fossil fuels, perhaps something of the order of an extra 5p per litre of petrol retail per week (that’s about $0.26 per gallon of gas in US units, if I’ve got my sums right) levied across the whole supply chain
  2. A 100% death or inheritance tax above a small cutoff point, say £5,000 (US$6,750) cash or one acre of farmland (farmland is currently selling at about £9,000 per acre in England at present – though another view would be that farmland isn’t currently selling in England)
  3. According rights to national and local governments worldwide to limit the inflow and outflow of capital within their jurisdictions

No doubt there’s scope for a few tweaks to these policies, but without something like them the combination of climate breakdown and the concentration of wealth will be such that a lot of people will be on the move in the coming years in search of a decent livelihood, or even of bare survival. My sense is that a lot of localist objections to in-migrants of various kinds are basically objections to the social and economic hollowing out and decline of place which results more from the flow of money than the flow of people. Certainly, there’s no prospect of reducing the latter without radical change to the former.

But sadly, I doubt such policies will be enacted anywhere. Much more likely is the proliferation of border walls and border militarization of one sort or another (US-Mexico, India-Bangladesh, N/W-S/E Mediterranean etc) the result of which will be a lot of death and suffering on the outer side of the borders and increasing civic degradation on the inner side to the point where in some places it may become debatable whether life is really better on the inside than the outside. And at the end of it all, in history measured by decades or centuries, I doubt it’ll do much to stop the redistribution of the global population that would have happened if the borders had just stayed open. Better to address climate change and capital migration now?

Those of us who live in a rural part of a high-latitude country where the future prospects for food production remain reasonably good can expect to see a lot of in-migration in the coming decades. I don’t doubt this will cause frictions, but I’m not especially sympathetic towards attempts by the existing residents of those places to keep the migrants out. Such residents have been the beneficiaries, albeit not usually the main beneficiaries, of the capital inflows and greenhouse gas emissions fuelling the migration. Those in glasshouses should not throw stones.

The same cliché probably serves yet more so for ex-urban sophisticates with a tendency to disparage the countryside and country folk, if and when they join the exodus from the cities. Get your acre and learn to homestead. Who’s the bumpkin now?

But I don’t want to get too oppositional about this. Anarcho-Contrarian wrote of the “legitimate grudge” that rural people may hold against urban-modernist narratives that tell them “you are not good enough; your place is not good enough” and whose “children and grandchildren were functionally confiscated from them”. I agree, but their children and grandchildren will soon be coming home, and they will not be the same kind of people they would have been had they never left.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing provided the returnees don’t come back with a sense of innate superiority – which is less likely if they’re returning in the face of urban crises and meltdowns. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with spending some time away from home and learning new things on other stages. Perhaps other societies outside the modern western one have done a better job of melding the so-called ‘great tradition’ of urban literate ‘high’ religious culture with the ‘little tradition’ of rural oral culture. In The Shepherd’s Life, James Rebanks recounts his alienating high school education that forced ‘great tradition’ culture down the throats of kids grounded in the practicalities of local farming life, his later enthrallment with the world of books that took him to Oxford University as a mature student, and then his return to sheep farming. There’s scope for more people’s lives to take such a course, ideally without each chapter involving such grating disjunctions.

Likewise, the pressure of in-migration to productive rural places may be positive inasmuch as it forces new patterns of more sustainable land use and landownership (ie. small-scale, self-reliant homesteading or smallholding), an argument I propounded in Part IV of A Small Farm Future. There are those who want to frame such changes in terms of class struggle, which may turn out to be the case in some places. But it seems to me unlikely that these class struggles will bear much relation to anything presaged in Marxist thinking about the class conflicts that fuelled the emergence of modern capitalism. A different and more populist lens is required. I aim to write more about it in due course.

So I guess I’m not in step with the two main stories about migration emerging respectively from the political left and right. Or maybe I’m partly in step with elements of each. I dislike the racialized stoking of fears about ‘floods’ of migrants heading from Global South to Global North or from the city to the country purveyed on the right. But migration does seem to me to raise critical social issues. It’s not just a moral panic stoked by the right, and extreme geographic or labour mobility are not intrinsically good things. ‘Floods’ of migrants has the wrong connotations, but the weather and the tides are definitely changing and unless radical policy measures are taken we’re going to see large changes in human population distributions. We’ll probably see them even if they are taken. Managing this well, avoiding individual or out-group blaming and trying to use the changes to generate positive political outcomes are important challenges. Difficult ones too.

27 thoughts on “Rural gentrification Part III: of locals and migrants

  1. Point #2 in your list – a 100% death or inheritance tax with a modest cutout for an acre of land… that could use a bit of fleshing out.

    These tend to be called ‘death taxes’ here Stateside… and the Federal government has tended to walk away from such (they still exist, but only a teensy tiny few have to be concerned). Not necessarily the case for individual states in this particular Union. There are important distinctions between an estate tax and an inheritance tax (here anyway) – so some care is worth tending – but without further warning have a peek at this list:

    https://www.kiplinger.com/retirement/inheritance/601551/states-with-scary-death-taxes

    Here at least is one area where the 50 U.S. states act as 50 independent laboratories for working out governing principals. The link has a bias against such taxation, but it has links to the individual state tax policies and short descriptions about the taxes which can give one a taste for the experiments the states are conducting and their motivations.

    A follow on point to attempts at controlling generational wealth accumulation is what comes of the taxed bounty? Who decides how it is used? How long will such taxes exist (once generational wealth is destroyed, what then)? Will migration occur toward tax havens?

    Those nasty details…

    • In the ballot of the TX election is a measure to remove property taxes altogether within ten years , no income tax to replace it ( which it does not have ) all taxes based on sales tax only .
      ( they banned raising property taxes two years ago so the counties re assessed everything and increased taxes that way ) this I entirely agree with as the highest paid person in this county is the high school football coach , we have two $ multi-million oil companies here that pay their CEO less than the coach !

  2. I’m surprised you don’t include anything about
    increasing remote work opportunities in your proposals to keep people rooted in their homeplaces.

    Most movement (I suspect) is in pursuit of jobs/more money – as it is now clear that most office work can be done remotely, imagine would happen if all those office job salaries were flowing into rural areas? There would/will be some rebalancing of property prices between rural and urban places for sure, but also rebalancing of non-office work opportunities, and a potential transition pathway to a much more attractive and sustainable future.

  3. I think it would be important to study the history of migration (in the context of food shortages) to see how likely it is that there will be an urban-rural migration as cities start to decay. I have not done so, but maybe there others who have. A cursory look for examples of urban to rural migration shows little. Even during the Landcashire Cotton famine of the 1860’s very few people migrated out of urban areas to the countryside. There are lots of examples of rural to urban migration during times of economic hardship or famine, but not the other way around. Any suggestions?

    • I suspect that people dont migrate back to rural areas in difficult times because they cant get hold of land.

      Look at what has just happened in the UK, the rich were able to leave the cities because they could pay for land and houses but the poor were if anything expelled from rural areas

    • As people left the land machinery replaced them , the mowing machine , seed drill , binder and thrashing box took thousands of jobs out of the country .

  4. There should be a good deal of history concerning the emigration from Europe to the US after the opening of the Midwest (1830 onward). And I’m not thinking of the Irish flight but of Scandinavians, Poles, Serbs, Germans, folks whose politics, religion, or economic status had become difficult in their specific location and that opportunities on the other side of the world looked interesting – even with the inherent difficulty of making such a trip in those days.

    Moving from New York City to rural New York would be a piece of cake by comparison.

  5. Hi Chris, really enjoying the series and I don’t have much to critique! Between last week’s post and this one though, a couple ideas have been percolating through my head, perhaps related to your idea that “..a different and more populist lens is required”:

    1. I’m realizing how our discourse is poorly served by an essentialist lens that divides rural/practical/virtuous/uneducated/bumpkin vs. urban/virtual/decadent/educated/sophisticated. These labels have their place, but I’d say they’re better used to think about the strategies of livelihood and self-presentation that people have used in the particular circumstances they’ve found themselves in. The strategies will change as the circumstances change, and getting too invested in these conceptions really only serves the status quo.
    I’m getting especially testy about commentators (usually right-wing), both in the mainstream and on social media, that are harping on this idea of a rural productive and ‘practical’ class vs. unproductive, virtual urban ‘laptop’ class. This glosses over the forces that made rural livelihoods impractical in the first place, and have drove urbanization over the past two or so centuries. Plus, I know plenty of white-collar workers retaining and trying to cultivate hands-on skills in their spare times, whether its sewing, carpentry, engine repair, or gardening and food preservation, even though urban economies throw up a lot of forces that make these endeavors mostly impractical!
    None of this is to say they aren’t plenty of urbanites in the thrall of their own supposed sophistication, or taking the path of short-term convenience, but I think there are many who will snap out of it quickly when the push comes to shove. I get that many people are also testy and grudging about smug liberals parroting modernist-managerial cliches, and I am too. But we need a discourse more focused on human potentials than on seeing whole persons in how people get a paycheque at any one point in their lives. As you’ve said, we’re all navigating a failing system, and let’s focus on who’s here right now and what we can do together.

    2. Speaking of class, there are big transformations ahead for existing rural elites or ‘gentry’, meaning those actors with power bases in mediating flows of capital between urban cores and the extractive landscapes of our currently structured rural economies. I came across an interesting essay on this group and their role in US politics (https://patrickwyman.substack.com/p/american-gentry?utm_source=url) . These are the interests outside the major cities with a big investment in activities like industrial agriculture, forestry, mining/oil & gas, etc, and are doing quite well for now by owning or managing the assets critical to these industries. Think real estate/land, hospitality (hotel and fast food franchises), chain retail, equipment dealerships, construction, transportation, etc. Not to mention large corporate farms.
    I really don’t want to fall in to the same essentialist trap mentioned above, as in many cases these are people who have just followed the only paths to,prosperity in rural areas that were available, and are often community leaders in basically good faith, even if wrong-headed in practice. But, at least in the US and Canada, actors in these economic niches now often dominate rural institutions and have a big investment in the status quo of rural-to-global capital flows, and in conservative politics. Hence, they often seem interested in fanning the flames of wedge issues in their communities, like playing up the urban/rural divide and the sour grapes politics you mentioned previously.
    Current rural elites may not see much gain in a large immigration of locally oriented small farms and homesteaders, and as that process plays out, they may see a target rich environment for further culture wars (or worse). I don’t see them, as a whole, having much other than hostility for policies like your three recommendations. I also think reckoning with this power base, and not continuing to get co-opted by it, will be a major issue for any future rural/agrarian populisms. Again, we can quickly take all this class talk too far, and undoubtedly smarter heads amongst this gentry will see opportunities in new local economies as global capital flows dry up. But these opportunities for them may or may not be for the best for everyone else. Anyway, interesting dynamic to watch! Looking forward to the next post.

  6. Great comments, thank you.

    Regarding estate/inheritance taxes, others have also asked me to expand on this. I’ll try to do so here soon – please bear with me, busy times atm. Clem’s questions are well framed.

    I think Joe is right that ruralization takes a historical backseat to urbanization, and is usually a harder road for various reasons, including those raised by John. And yet it seems to me destined to be the wave of the future, which raises some questions! Maybe one, inexact, parallel is peasantization in parts of Asia under European colonial rule, where the subordination of indigenous urban economies to the extractive designs of the new rulers pushed people into rural subsistence/cash cropping. A similar outcome with the failure of existing urban economies to continue to generate prosperity?

    And great points from Evan. Agree on the need to transcend the urban-professional/rural-practical distinction … perhaps I should reframe a couple of sentences above in that light. I’d add that the countryside isn’t quite so full of callus-handed practical folk as certain narratives insist. The second point about rural elites is very nicely made and rings true to my ears – I hadn’t thought about it quite so precisely in those terms until now. It bears on some of the issues I raise in Part IV of the book, so I’d like to have more of think about it and address it further then.

    To Leon’s point – yes, I think that will be a reality of present ruralization patterns. I’m not sure it’s a good long term bet, though, because I think there will be peasantization as well as ruralization – i.e. a hollowing out of the existing symbolic economy of money. Many of those jobs and their associated infrastructure may not last the course, which is why I tend not to focus much on them. Perhaps I’m wrong, though.

    • Certainly there have been spells with ruralization in times of economic collapses (or close to collapse). I think of Argentina 98-2002, Greece not so long ago, parts of the Soviet union. Even though I never studied the Roman collapse in any detail, it must have led to ruralization as Rome wasn’t that big again for a very long time. On a more local scale the industrial heart of Sweden, Bergslagen, 150 years ago was largely depopulated when industries moved elsewhere (when ironworks left charcoal). I am sure there are similar cases all around.

      • Thank you for these examples, Gunnar. I had heard about the Greek “back to the land” movement by young people after the financial crisis but didn’t know much about it. When unemployment got to 40% in the younger demographic a fair number left the cities, but they were lucky to have easy access to family land that had mostly gone fallow but was never sold off. Many of them failed in their efforts to become farmers, but quite a number are still making a go of it. This is a perfect example of urban economic stress promoting ruralization, but the “free land” aspect only points out how important it will be to make land easily available to facilitate any future rural migrations. The unemployed and mostly asset free are not going to be able to afford small farms.

        I tried to find out more about Argentina 1998-2002, but couldn’t find much. A World Bank chart of rural populations in Argentina shows no change at all in the gradual decline of rural population so the ruralization must have been very small.

        I read Rolvaag’s “Giants in the Earth” in high school so I was aware of Clem’s suggestion about migration from Europe to the rural midwest US, but I had thought the migrants were mostly rural people from Scandinavia who could no longer inherit land to farm (farms already being too small). Perhaps some came from cities, too.

        I just read up on the history of the Swedish steel industry, but found nothing about migration from Bergslagen. Did those industrial workers who lost their jobs go into farming, or did they just move to other industrial areas and cities?

        There’s not much to say about the ancient Roman ruralization. When a city’s population goes from 750,000 to 200,000 in a hundred years, it usually means a lot of people have left. In the case of Rome, there were no other options than ruralization.

        If cities die, there will also be no other option but living in the country. My original question was oriented more to an intermediate phase, where cities are stressed, but still populated. Greece seems to be the best example of a significant rural migration from cities that have employment problems but still continue functioning.

    • “Brazil was the location for yet another sea change: through land occupations and subsequent campamentos, the MST (Movimento dos Sem Terra) generated 400,000 new peasant units of production that, between them, cover an area equal to the total agricultural area of Switzerland, Portugal, Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands put together.”

      Seven theses about re-peasantization, its relevance and foundations
      Jan Douwe van der Ploeg
      https://hdb-stiftung.com/images/Dokumente/van_der_Ploeg.pdf

      • Thanks for the link and the reference to MST.

        I’m not certain, but it looks like the MST occupations are mostly for displaced rural smallholders rather than to provide farming opportunities for residents of cities.

        Except for things like MST, Brazil is a case history of how industrial agriculture is favored by governments, exactly the opposite of what needs to happen.

      • There don’t seem to be any good historical parallels to the anticipated urban-to-rural migrations necessary for a small farm future. The underlying conditions have changed, and are continuing to change. With globalization, starvation is now largely due to lack of purchasing power, and resource misallocation (see Food First’s “World Hunger: Ten Myths”).

        However, Brazil (with MST) provides a contemporary example of land reform (with back-to-the-land aspects) which is having some success in getting “new peasant units of production” onto the land, despite the pressures of globalization. During the past generation or two, Brazil has experienced a lot of rural-to-urban migration, with a “booming labor market” in the cities. But some of the urban residents decide to leave the cities “to live as peasant farmers on tiny, parched plots,” as described in this excerpt of a dissertation by Gregory Duff Morton (2015):

        “To move to Rio Branco or Maracujá in the early 2000s meant walking away from work. It meant exiting a booming labor market— a market that, for the first time in at least thirty years, was opening the widest door for the poorest workers. Why would people exit this market? What was the place to which they were going? …

        “All along the dirt roads that the bus traversed, people were perching on seats where the fabric had long ago vanished, speeding past thornbushes, heading back to Maracujá and Rio Branco. They were leaving jobs as construction workers and nannies, as street merchants and factory hands. A large number came off the enormous new mechanized plantations, where they earned salaries to plant coffee or irrigate vegetables. Some had worked in Belo Horizonte or São Paulo, some in the nearby metropolis of Vitória da Conquista, a regional hub. And all of them were going to live as peasant farmers on tiny, parched plots, more than a hundred kilometers from the local city, in villages with inconsistent electricity and no running water. They would gather firewood for cooking; they would carry water on their heads in pails.

        “Many of them had grown up in these places. For some, the bus ride back home became a repeated tradition, since, like Alexandra’s brothers, they would live at the village for a spell and then go back “outside” (fora) once they sensed the call of labor. For others, especially workers in their 40s or 50s, the move marked a turn towards permanence.

        “Some people came by way of the MST, Brazil’s landless movement. They marched onto plantations and dug defiant holes in the ground, fitting sticks in the holes and shaping the sticks into huts covered by black plastic. Then they lived in the huts. They occupied the land with passion and squalor, asking the government to redistribute parcels, daring the plantation owners to kick them off first. Murilo was a frustrated office clerk from São Paulo with a penchant for reggae, and when he came to the countryside to attend a wedding, he found the movement. He liked the idea. “If there’s no boss to give orders,” he proclaimed, “I’ll go. […] A boss leaves you naked if he can”… And he did go: he squatted and won himself a tiny house.”

        “Leaving labor: Reverse migration, welfare cash, and the specter of the commodity in northeastern Brazil”
        https://www.proquest.com/openview/5da5c4e9490a9dd983d28914a6dc3099/1

    • How is Detroit faring these days?

      One of the interesting things about large scale ruralisation, at least to me, is the semi-depopulated infrastructure that gets left behind.

      More broadly — it’s true that some migration is in pursuit of something better. But some migration is simply to get away from conflict and disaster — and people caught up in that sort of migration may well go about it differently.

      When I moved to the UK 22 years ago (chasing a boy) I brought two suitcases, one of which had a musical instrument in it. When I think about moving now, well, I have more instruments, bicycles, pots and pans, tools, a greenhouse, shelves and shelves of books, and more importantly, lots of established local relationships. Moving countries again would be much more complex. Even moving to the countryside wouldn’t be trivial by any means. The resources I do have access to here outweigh the benefits of starting again from scratch, which is what I would likely be doing if I left.

      All that would change pretty quickly in the event of, say, imminent military invasion or the right combination of climate disaster (we’d be on dry ground in the event of the Thames Barrier failing, but the allotment might not be, and the humanitarian effects could be pretty chaotic) and failure of governance. And, of course, different people have different points at which staying put becomes untenable: we considered moving to a commuting town a few years ago for air quality reasons, but everywhere we could find was either more expensive than our current place, or had worse air quality.

      We haven’t had an urban population this high before, so we don’t really know what happens when a much larger number of people than previously are suddenly back to what they can carry. But I suspect that more migration with climate catastrophe will be in the “have to” category than the “want to”.

      • Comparing Detroit’s loss of population to the city of Rome’s:

        DETROIT
        “The peak population of Detroit was in 1950, when its population was 1,849,568.”
        “Based on the latest 2020 data from the US census, the current population of Detroit is 670,031.”
        (biggestuscities.com/city/detroit-michigan)

        ROME
        “[Rome’s] population declined from more than a million in 210 AD
        to 500,000 in 273
        to 35,000 after the Gothic War (535–554),
        reducing the sprawling city to groups of inhabited buildings interspersed among large areas of ruins, vegetation, vineyards and market gardens.”
        (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rome)

        After the fall of the Roman empire, the population of Rome stayed at a relatively low level for 1,000 years.

        “The population [of Rome] during the Renaissance was miniscule (yet it was still a global center), when Michelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapel it was considerably smaller than a town like Palo Alto is today (60K).”
        http://davidgalbraith.org/trivia/graph-of-the-population-of-rome-through-history/2189/

  7. Re #2: I’d like to hear more about how this would work. We live in a part of the country where preventing intergenerational wealth transfer via real estate for one race was real. It did not work out well.

    One of the hard realities is that when this society collapses a lot of people are going to die. Things are bad in fairly small areas and thousands of people are dying today. By the time that we feel it, there will be carnage. I think this will affect the transition to a small farm future on a bunch of different levels.

  8. Hello Chris,
    I just want to share some observations from post-Soviet Russia. I lived in Moscow in 1996-1997 (middle of the Yeltsin era). Lots of people (re)learned gardening in the 1990s, in allotments around all cities. Trade within the ex-empire stopped due to a lack of trust/credit, so previously common items (e.g. Georgian tea and wine) disappeared from small town shops, to be replaced by local products.
    I met school teachers who did not get any pay from the government, but got weekly buckets of potatoes and vegetables from the parents of the kids.
    I met people who started week-end commuting to rural areas, working during the week in the city/town and in the week-ends at professional farms or private dachas/allotments to produce food.
    Lots of men died from vodka. The life expectancy for men dropped more than 10 years in short order.

    It struck me that many men had difficulties with adapting to the loss of status and prestige, especially former functionaries and military officers. Most women I met were solution oriented and more emotionally and mentally flexible.

    I think that our ego and prestige-needs are the most important thing for us men to work on in preparation for the next phase of the ongoing breakdown.

    On a completely different note, regarding the power struggle between city-rural: The city people write laws and exert taxation on rural peoples. I have never seen anything in the other direction. The possibility to skirt taxes and avoid repression is better the further away you are from a major power center.
    In the Netherlands, the peasants in the poorest areas (Kampen, Drenthe) had the best living standards in the 1700s. The peri-urban lands were all owned by oligarchs who sucked out all productive value, so that peasants had to shift from meat to cheese to beans during these “golden age” centuries. (Guess who had a golden age?)

    Thanks for another great post.

    Peace,
    Goran

    • Just as a thought , here in the US people are used to instant gratification , go to a big box store and get everything you could dream of , they do not understand that if you want peas you sow them in April and harvest them in July/ August , it takes two years p!us to have beef on the table , lettuce takes 40 days , food takes time ! Some visitors seemed to think peas jumped out of the ground ready packaged and frozen .Oh boy are they in for a surprise !
      The disconnect is amazing , one family was appalled that we were catching fish in a lake that after a hundred miles or so became their drinking water they thought it should be roofed over to keep the ” dirty ” birds from pooping in it .

  9. I’m writing another post that says a bit more about death taxes – here soon.

    Thanks Goran for those interesting observations. Though of course it differs on an individual basis, it rings true to me that generally men will struggle more than women with status issues in rapidly changing/collapse scenarios. These issues do seem important, not least because there are some bad politics that prey on people’s/men’s sense of status loss.

    Interesting points also about isolation peasant living standards in the Netherlands. I wrote a post about this some years ago on the basis of Geert Mak’s interesting book ‘An Island in Time’ – “…as a citizen of Limburg described the situation in about 1790: “One ate and drank what the farm provided. Because very little could be sold, the farmer had ample to eat”. In the isolated world of the smallholders, it was apparently possible to develop an epicurean lifestyle – and perhaps this lifestyle flourished precisely because of their isolation” (pp,55-6)

    Thanks also for discussions of MST and other ruralization examples. More things to follow up there, perhaps…

  10. As we all see in the news, to date around 1.5 million people – mainly women and children – have fled the war unfolding in Ukraine, most entering Poland. Tens of thousands have fled to Hungary too. We live in a small rural village, tucked away, 100 miles or so from Ukraine, and as it is beautiful here it attracts tourists and so perhaps unsurprisingly the village hostel is now filling up not with tourists but with refugees. It has a maximum capacity of 60 and is now a quarter full. From the speed of the exodus, it may soon be full to bursting – 1.5 million is still a small proportion from a population of 44 million, even subtracting men and boys deemed fit for military service (to 60 years of age), Russian speakers who may head east to Russia, and others who don’t intend to budge or are trapped.
    As it’s a pleasant cycle ride to the hostel in the woods, yesterday we took a couple of pannier bags of clothes and children’s toys, much of which had actually been donated to us as we live in that kind of milieu.
    Fortunately, one of the Ukrainian women spoke English (there were seven women, seven children and an elderly man). Unfortunately, the hostel, being remote, has no internet and patchy mobile coverage, hence particularly distressing with menfolk/family left behind or on a different train. I drew a map as they had arrived at night and had no bearings, no GPS. They would need to withdraw money, buy food in the village. Changing money would require a trip to a city. Some of the items we had brought got claimed but maybe money and food (we did take some food) would have been more useful. One villager had donated three live fish he’d caught the day they arrived, so they’d eaten fish soup for supper.
    As we prepared to leave the sole English-speaker asked, ‘So, are we in Hungary?’
    ‘Yes’.
    ‘And is Hungary in NATO?’
    ‘Yes.’
    ‘Then we are safe.’
    Her husband had stayed behind in Eastern Ukraine. She pulled up a photo on her phone: a strong young man in a woolly hat, smiling, cradling a pristine carp by a riverbank.
    Other nearby tourist accommodation owned by the National Park (i.e. the Government) is also taking refugees. I wonder what these people will or can end up doing long-term, particularly if this trickle becomes a flood. It’s a common concern. Many are fleeing cities, so may have little horticultural knowledge. Plus, there’s a language barrier – just a couple of the important and difficult challenges mentioned above.

    • Thanks so much for that. Hopes and prayers from here that the coming tide doesn’t drown anyone.

      Very heavy rain here over the last several hours. Low fields filling with water and one local road impassible. Not anything like what you face, but the flooding metaphor does look more stark for it.

      The reference to NATO is interesting as well.

      • Good to report that the community, like many others, is on board now; yesterday the hostel didn’t have a washing machine or a fridge-freezer. It does now. This morning a local-ish farmer delivered fresh milk and eggs. For the time being they’ll be well looked after.

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