Rural gentrification Part IV: the internship problem

To complete my present mini-series of posts on rural and agrarian gentrification, I want to talk about what I’ll call the internship problem. This relates to the practice of employing young or new entrant people at low or no wages, usually on the basis – or at least the pretext – that the opportunity gives them experience that will enable them to get more gainful employment in the future.

This practice seems to be proliferating across various job sectors nowadays as part of more general workplace casualization. The problems with it in terms of job security, potential exploitation of the intern and the barriers facing people who can’t afford to work for little or nothing and wish to enter intern-heavy sectors probably don’t need spelling out.

Small-scale farming, which tends to focus on more labour-intensive activities such as horticulture, is an intern-heavy sector. So these problems loom large within it. But there are some complicating factors specific to it that I’d like to broach here, while linking them to my wider present theme of gentrification and a small farm future.

To get into them, consider this:

If you can afford to buy a farm you can afford to pay the minimum wage. Really sick of people underpaying farmworkers in the guise of offering ‘education’

This is my paraphrase remembered from an online comment I came across a while back and can no longer find, from an agrarian Marxist of my acquaintance. Since I don’t have their exact words, it would be wrong of me to name them. And it’s not important anyway – the point is that such sentiments are quite widely expressed. Another example I’ve seen along similar lines (also long vanished from my screen) is this from a trade union in the USA: “If you can’t pay the minimum wage, then you don’t have a viable business”.

What to make of this? To go back to the first quotation, it seems to me that the first sentence isn’t logically true, and fails to distinguish between capital and revenue. It’s all too easy to blow every last penny on purchasing a farm, with no possibility of funding a five-figure annual wage bill out of its yearly business returns. But inasmuch as it may be true in a given case I’d suggest there could be three reasons why a farm owner would seek to pay below the minimum wage. The first is simple miserliness or bad faith, in which case I’m happy to join in the critical chorus and have nothing further to add. The second is what we might call a gentrification scenario in which somebody buys and runs a farm through access to funds that cannot be replenished by the financial returns from the actual farming. The third is that they consider themselves to be genuinely offering education with a financial value factored in.

I want to say a bit more about the second and third scenarios. In many agrarian societies historically and still today, landownership is a route to the accumulation of wealth and other forms of power. The gentry or the gentrifiers are, precisely, the people who own and can afford to own farmland, augmenting their riches as a result. But, to cut a long story short, in more commercial and industrial societies, ownership of farmland is not a source of wealth. Rich people own farmland because they’re rich, they’re not rich because they own farmland. Few people who actually work to produce food and fibre from the land, even if they own it, make a good living from the sale of those products, at any scale. In rich countries like Britain, the main way people try to square this circle via food production itself is by engrossing farms, cutting human labour, mechanizing and trying to gain economies of large scale by producing locally appropriate commodity crops, which are few in number globally, whence many of the problems of the food, farming and wider socioeconomic systems derive.

When a small-scale neo-agrarian farmer of relatively modest means steps into this unpromising reality by buying some land and starting a commercial enterprise (which, here in the UK, they will probably have to do to stand any chance of living on their land and making a go of it) they will not be able to compete on the standard commodity crops with larger scale operators and will typically start a niche labour-intensive enterprise like horticulture (it’s one of the tragedies of the modern world that gardening is ‘niche’). Chances are they’ll discover soon enough that it’s hard to generate enough income to pay for the prodigious amounts of labour they require, which is why the rich countries tend to import fruit and vegetables from poorer countries with different labour conditions, or import cheap labour from poorer countries to meet their horticultural labour needs.

As a result of this impasse, the neo-agrarian small landowner has two main options. One is to stay commercial, but find an even more niche niche in the form of an enterprise that can generate the best net income on a small scale. This will be something like micro salad greens or specialty mushrooms. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with doing this. But it does mean that our would-be radical agrarian once fired up by the idea of sticking it to the man and doing their bit for the new agrarian dawn ends up travelling around ingratiating themselves with the head chefs of all the high-end local restaurants while the Wendell Berry books gather dust on the shelf.

Still, at least this way the small farmer remains solvent. And there’s a lot of picking and packing to do back on the farm, so it’s possible they can create a minimum wage job or two. The chances that their employees will be able to amass sufficient capital from this wage work to purchase their own farm someday are precisely zero, but at least the small farmer is running a ‘viable business’ and can take an honourable seat at the table with the other local bosses and capitalist employers.

The other main option is to stick with Wendell Berry and the original idealism, grow some wheat and potatoes, milk the cow or whatever, and accept that whatever it is that you’re doing it’s not what mainstream folk choose to call a ‘viable business’. Even so, the potatoes don’t grow by themselves and your labour demands remain high. So maybe you’ll rely on family labour or the input of volunteers from the nearby town who are desperate to get their hands in some soil, and this could work pretty well provided you can keep various labour regulation bureaucracies off your back. If your children are helping you, at least they’re probably learning something useful – especially if they go on to inherit the farm.

A hybrid situation is also likely. Chances are, a lot of other people somewhere along on their own neo-agrarian journey will be attracted to your farm. Probably not so much in the early stages when all you have is a bare field and not much clue what you’re doing or why. But as the trees you planted grow, the house you built settles in, and the field and water systems you developed start putting food on the table, after all those years of poorly rewarded work, suddenly your farm might look attractive to other people who want out of the existing ecocidal financial-industrial system. And you too might benefit from having such people on your farm. You can probably offer them a simple but honest roof over their head, some food on their table, companionship, a chance to learn useful skills and a chance to do good work. But you probably can’t offer them the minimum wage, just as you never earned it yourself over the years you were building up your farm.

You might be able to offer them a bit of money, though, along with many of the benefits in kind that accompany a livelihood based on the land. I guess you could call it an internship, although sharing life on the land is more intimate than the average internship – less like an industrial work placement, more like a family or community. But not entirely like one, because the intern is still a sojourner without secure and equal long-term rights to the use of your land.

If the drift of this essay – or indeed this entire blog – hasn’t already made my sympathies clear, let me say plainly that I greatly prefer the agrarian, decommodifying, livelihood-over-income route I’ve just charted, rather than the specialization-monetization-minimum wage route of the ‘viable business’. But if I leave it there, my preferred route has the same defect as the minimum wage one inasmuch as it leaves a large body of people with no prospect of ever getting secure land access. Therefore I think proposals such as mine must be accompanied with distributist policies that cycle the availability of land among many hands and prevent it accumulating among only a few.

In my previous post and in my book A Small Farm Future I addressed this point by suggesting the virtue of death or inheritance taxes such that landed wealth and its associated working capital can be passed from one generation to the next without it concentrating in fewer hands. Since the author of the first quotation I paraphrased above has criticized me for this suggestion along the lines that it still involves trafficking in money, initially I was surprised to discover his enthusiasm for the monetizing approach of the minimum wage. On reflection, perhaps it’s not so surprising. No doubt he’s not content to stop at the minimum wage but more concerned to turn the agrarian world, as Marxists are wont to turn everything, into a clash between accumulated capital and immiserated labour where the immiserated labour wins out in the end. For reasons I’ve previously discussed, and perhaps will address again in the future, I am doubtful of that victory and those terms, so while I share some of the egalitarian spirit of the Marxists, I prefer distributist or agrarian populist approaches combining personal and household livelihood-making within commons and collective frameworks.

If these approaches came to pass any time soon, there would have to be monumental land reform in countries like the UK that made small parcels of rural land easily available at affordable costs to almost anyone who wanted to homestead it (the inheritance tax I advocate would go a long way towards that). In this scenario, the supply of energetic young people anxious to get their hands in the soil and live in a cabin or a caravan on established smallholdings – in other words, the supply of interns – might dry up. But that would be OK. Maybe food, land and other prices would combine in such a way that small-scale commercial farmers in need of extra labour could actually afford to pay for it at last. Though I think it’s more likely that money would still be hard to come by in the countryside and people might have to resort to the family labour route. Anyway, at least the great inequity in access to land would be solved.

But equally if these changes came about, there would also be a large knowledge and skills gap concerning how to do low impact local farming and gardening among the new cohort of smallholders. It’s at this point that I believe it’s necessary to drop the sarcastic scare quotes around ‘education’ in the opening quotation. I think people would still seek internships on other people’s farms, because those people would genuinely be able to teach them useful things. And if, as I suspect, liquid money was still hard to come by on such farms, then the payment would remain similar to some of its present in-kind manifestations – food, accommodation, education.

The advantage of the new situation would be that, with so many farms to choose from and land more readily obtainable, the opportunities for landowners to exploit interns would be small. Obviously, this is an unsatisfying solution for those who like to take their distaste for exploitation with a side of revolutionary class violence. Others may prefer it. But with its swingeing inheritance taxes and other such devices my favoured approach does turn on a politics almost as implausible in present circumstances as revolutionary communism. We will come to how that politics may nevertheless manifest later in this blog cycle.

No doubt one issue with the free and easy world of neo-agrarian internships paid mostly in kind I’ve just sketched is that it doesn’t sit well with the bureaucratic and legalistic orientations to the workplace in modern thinking, and perhaps it’s this that fuels the sarcastic scare quoting of ‘education’ and the talk of non-viable businesses I mentioned above. It’s likely that bottom-up neo-agrarian economies would find ways to part-formalize internships and apprenticeships, as was done in times of old through rural hiring fairs and the like. For the time being, young people are still going in large numbers to universities where they pay tens of thousands of pounds to study subjects that may not prove useful to them down the line, but still offer a job pipeline into corporate employment subsidized in numerous direct and indirect ways by the state. Personally, I’m more inclined to put scare quotes around some of these kinds of modern ‘education’, but I guess for now they retain their cachet as thoroughly formalized, financialized and state-sanctioned forms of learning. Meanwhile bottom-up attempts to formalize horticultural learning in the UK have struggled because of the inability of growers to fund it out of their slim profits. I suspect these trends are set to change.

For our part, we’ve experimented on our holding with various kinds of voluntary, residential, paid-in-cash and paid-in-kind work. Currently we’re homing in on a two-year residential programme with a first year of learning paid in cash and kind and a second year of managing a horticultural business paid by sharing a (large) proportion of the profits. It’s in its early phases, but already seems to be helping people exit from it with tangible benefits in practical and business skills. I’m biased, of course, but I’d say that it’s an education rather than an ‘education’.

The larger direction of travel on our holding is likely to involve further decommodification. I’m thinking of it as a microcosm for the small farm future I’ve written about in general, and perhaps more specifically for the kind of rural community setups discussed in the comments under my previous post (I must acknowledge the leadership of my wife in thinking the practical details of this through far more clearly than I have). The logic of it is that, providentially, there’s a place you may be able to come and live where you can provide for most of the necessities of life by yourself and in community with other people, but where you won’t get paid much, if any, money. On our particular holding, carved out as it has been within part of the present history of the capitalist political economy, that piece of providence has involved a degree of ‘gentrification’ or pump-priming that was not internally generated by the economic activity of the holding itself. In truth, every economic activity that people do rests on pump-priming or providence from their predecessors that is not internally generated by the activity itself, and the modern tendency to forget this is one of the reasons we’re in our present mess. The interesting challenge is to turn the specific rural gentrification of today into a more generalized decommodification tomorrow.

47 thoughts on “Rural gentrification Part IV: the internship problem

  1. Yes, it is easy to have lots and lots of opinions when you are sitting at a computer, typing with hands that have no dirt under the nails.

    “If you can afford to buy a farm you can afford to pay the minimum wage.”

    “If you can’t pay the minimum wage, then you don’t have a viable business”.

    More accurately they should say something like, “If you can afford to buy a farm you can afford to pay the minimum wage, and compete in the market of globalized shipping, exploited labour, tillage-sterilized soils, runoff-poisoned waterways, climate-changing emissions, and merchant-enriching commodity crops like everybody else.”

    The fact they don’t include the whole statement shows they are trying to hide the rest of the statement for their own ends, or they are ignorant of the rest of the statement and yet feel free to bloviate anyway.

  2. Indentured servitude… discuss. 🙂

    In rich countries like Britain, the main way people try to square this circle via food production itself is by engrossing farms, cutting human labour, mechanizing and trying to gain economies of large scale by producing locally appropriate commodity crops, which are few in number globally, whence many of the problems of the food, farming and wider socioeconomic systems derive.

    Another route is to engage in ‘off-farm’ employment. A balance of mechanization and market oriented commodity crops… time management (wherein the sorts of off farm work can be tricky when planting/harvest seasons potentially conflict with day to day responsibilities at a wage employment situation.

    This particular approach will still likely require more than the few acres typically considered a small farm on these pages. And Ruben is exactly right above – there are market forces now (global forces) that penetrate what sorts of choices are viable.

    But in any system there still needs to be some place for failure. So here I’m going to accept there is an element of reality in the notion that if you can’t pay your help a minimum wage, then you really should evaluate what you’re doing. I do want to credit an enterprise that provides room and board with the value of the room and board as valued piece of compensation. Thus, if the local minimum wage is $12 per hour and an apartment or room rent along with a meal stipend is $300 per week (where a full-time work week is 40 hours) then the room and board works out to be worth $7.50 per hour. With these assumptions then $4.50 per hour would meet the minimum (and in this example then education itself needn’t be factored as with or without quotes)…

    Just there I indicated a need for there to be some threshold at which failure is enforced. Bankruptcy. Not a particularly pretty topic, but an important one. When an approach just doesn’t tick off the necessary boxes (wage rates, debt servicing, etc) then there need to be consequences. Even in a non-capitalist situation there has to be some mechanism of reallocating resources when a particular operator fails to perform.

  3. The latest data published by the USDA shows that 75% of all farms in the US have annual gross sales of less than $50,000. This percentage has been fairly steady over the past 25 years.

    From a gross sales amount of less than $50,000, if we subtract all the non-personnel costs of farming (inputs, fuel, equipment, maintenance, mortgage, taxes, etc.), I wonder how much would be left over for paying wages and paying the costs related to providing room and board (if applicable), for all of the workers on 75% of the farms in the US.

    A big part of the problem seems to be structural, tying in with Wendell Berry’s criticisms of “cheap food” policies.

    “All farms and family farms, by farm size class (gross sales), 1996-2020 12/1/2021”
    https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/farm-household-income-and-characteristics/

  4. The thing about salad greens and/or mushrooms is that these cash crops aren’t going to be viable cash crops anymore when people don’t have much cash to spend and when transport gets properly expensive. Sure, greens are nutrient dense and therefore likely to be important for a truly healthy diet, but nobody is going to buy spinach instead of potatoes or bread if they’re trying to make sure they meet basic caloric needs on a tiny budget. So when I’ve looked at the possibility of some kind of shift to market gardening I’ve noped right out because that seems incredibly precarious to me. I certainly can’t predict what might be a viable cash crop in ten years.

    When I think about the household economics of this the picture is similar. I can grow my own greens and forage my own mushrooms far more cheaply than I can buy them, and the money we don’t spend on slightly wilted bagged pea shoots can buy a lot of dry pasta. But this does mean I have less reason to support local businesses, because the people growing locally and managing to stay solvent are doing things like growing microgreens or mushrooms in abandoned tube tunnels or what have you (often also predicated on cheap energy, there isn’t much natural lighting down there).

    The way I square this circle in London is that my spouse earns money and I focus on turning it (and some of our ‘leisure’ labour) into a resilient and healthful food supply with an emphasis on sustainable production for higher-value items we can’t produce ourselves (meat, cheese and the like). I am only able to do this in the context of legislation like the Allotments Act, which is only a small fragment of the kind of land reform that I think we’ll need. But I wonder if expanding the scope of the Allotments Act might be a decent starting place.

    As far as education is concerned, I think there is something to be said for getting out there and trying it. I am not great at running a business (as is true of many self-employed musicians, I am consistent enough to manage when the economy is good but not when it isn’t) and not yet a skilled enough horticulturalist to be capable of reliably producing a cash crop in amounts other people will want to buy. But I have no formal instruction in gardening or foraging at all and last year we didn’t buy squash or strawberries or melons or apples or plums or sloes or mulberries or blackberries or garlic or celeriac or swede or Jerusalem artichokes or French beans. We don’t buy rhubarb. We don’t buy asparagus. I don’t think we could buy puffball mushrooms if we wanted to (maybe Borough Market? But the local ones are much easier to get to). I’m trying to provide nutrition and variety rather than strict monetary profit, and I have the flexibility to modify our diet accordingly — strawberries several times a week in June, ditto melons in September, a steady diet of squash over the winter. And this gives me the wiggle room to learn from my mistakes. Some mistakes are worse than others and I exercise considerable caution around fungi (I generally stick to ten or twelve easily-identifiable ones, and we have a household protocol around identifying new ones, designed to reduce the chances of the kind of mistake you only get to make once), whereas it didn’t matter too much that in 2020 I underwatered the celeriac and they were the size of golf balls. I do read various gardening books and am struck by the differences in approach between, for example, Carol Deppe and Elaine Ingham, to give two American examples. And in the last year or two I’ve been enjoying some gardening YouTube and I get some good ideas there too, and not always from big names. The ability to watch on double speed is definitely helpful. It also helps that I am on the allotment regularly enough to talk to other plotholders about what works for them. I pick and choose from all of this (no, I’m not going to cost my broad beans in Jeyes Fluid to stop mice eating them, especially when the issue is actually crows pulling them up for fun). But there is no substitute for getting my fingernails dirty in cultivation of food I am actually going to eat; I draw from many sources and then do some hybrid of what I planned and what I have time for. I feel like if we could solve the land access issues, education wouldn’t be such a hurdle. Formal qualifications are certainly a helpful way of structuring learning for some people, but I question whether they are necessary for good-enough-to-eat diverse horticulture.

    (As an aside, I wonder about seed breeding as a decent sideline cash crop, but again this requires access to land.)

  5. Yes, Kathryn, Chris & I once had a limited discussion about how much of the total UK Rhubarb is gifted or home grown rather than sold………

    But as ever the challenge is lowering the input and raising the output prices so that farmers can make a living. That seems to be a long long way away

    Traditionally of course there was apprenticeship and then time as a Journeyman so I suggest that there is a strong case for farms offering something that gives the chance to learn, and dont forget that as in most things the challenge is to transfer whats in the book to a competent well run business

  6. One problem with all of the current small farm options Chris outlines here is that none of them can ever provide the huge quantity of cheap calories it takes to support all the people who live in modern cities (who are also the vast majority of people who live in modern countries). The power of oil to substitute for human labor means that industrially produced food will always be far cheaper than food from small farms with high labor inputs, no matter whether that labor is ‘educational’, ‘recreational’ or paid a living wage.

    This means that moving large numbers of people out of cities onto small parcels can never happen until people in cities are willing to pay a far higher percentage of their income for food. Since people in cities are not going to be willing to make a large financial sacrifice to purchase food unless they have no choice, policies that support repopulating what is now industrial farmland will never be supported under current conditions. And raising taxes to support the creation of small subsistence farms that export little or no food, “fugget about it”.

    I think it is fair to say that a small farm future, while inevitable in the long run, can never happen until cities are depopulated by non-food-related issues or until industrial agriculture is no longer possible. So, until industrial agriculture fails, small farms will be niche operations everywhere. Rural gentrification may increase the number of niches a little, but I think that’s about the best we can hope for in the near term.

    On a more positive note, it might be possible to promote and establish programs in public and private schools that encourage children and young people to get some experience with growing food as part of their education, if only as a hobby. It might be tricky explaining to urban moms and dads why their children would benefit from getting their hands dirty in a garden, but doing so might actually be possible.

    I remember that here in the US there were programs like 4H and Future Farmers of America which were oriented toward farming, perhaps even small farm operations, but now they are just part of the industrial farm manager supply chain or touted as an introductory path to the fabulous STEM-world.

  7. At one point there were apprenticeships as is stated above but at some point it was decided you had to have a education, a degree in farming without it no bank loans to buy a farm I know farmers sons in this predicament , probably better farmers than anyone with a degree .
    I think that small farm future is closer than many think , just look at the world’s grain production , Ukraine / Russia crop failures in South America , is winter wheat abysmal , and China buying anything edable from anyone that will sell it , plus theWEF pushing bugs as protein , pasta ? good luck finding that next year , diesel also is a problem , a neighbour will spend an extra $400 a DAY at today’s prices at harvest time , weather you like fertilizer or not US soils are badly depleted without it crops will be at best poor and fertilizer has exploded in price from $250 a ton last year to $1340 now , things are beginning to move quickly !

  8. Thanks for the comments. Good to keep Ruben and Steve’s points front and centre when anyone extols the superior performance of the larger players. It’s bought at a price often paid in (someone else’s) dollars, but it costs more than they pay.

    All the same, I take Clem’s points. Certainly, I found the pressures during my time as a commercial grower informative. One of the problems though is that those pressures tend to push you in directions you shouldn’t really be going in relation to the wider shape of the world, and – as Steve says – the issues fundamentally are structural in such a way that individual failure doesn’t tell the right story (Britain imports so much more fruit and veg than it used to, but that’s not because growers are so much worse nowadays…)

    I’m interested in this from Clem: “Even in a non-capitalist situation there has to be some mechanism of reallocating resources when a particular operator fails to perform.”

    I don’t disagree, but whereas capitalist situations require and feed off losers in the game, the failure of a farmstead in an agrarian republic is a problem to be avoided, because it produces people who either starve or need to rely on other people – and, aside from any specific ethical issues, both outcomes cause political problems (of course, there’s quite a bit of starvation and dependence in capitalist situations too). So I think the onus in an agrarian republic has to be on setting people up not to fail. Which isn’t necessarily easy.

    Many nice points in Kathryn’s offering. I agree that small commercial growing doesn’t really stack up as a wise bet, particularly when you’re not living on land that you own outright. Expanding allotment provision is definitely a worthwhile starting place – so might be trying to use self-build provisions to create peri-urban homesteads. And the points about professionalism and amateurism are nice. I kind of like the way there’s so much disagreement even about quite basic practices in the horticultural world. Though that’s partly why I avoid writing too much about the practical side of my work. I prefer to stick to the safer and more consensual world of politics 🙂

    Agree with John on the virtues of the apprentice/journeyman route, though I think some of Steve’s figures suggest why that’s so rarely viable today.

    Also, largely agree with Joe’s somewhat gloomy prognostications. I guess I’d want to say that small farms CAN provide the huge quantity of calories city folk need, but they probably couldn’t supply them at the right time, place and cost. They do a slightly better job at providing for non-calorific nutritional needs, but one of the tragedies of what I call in my book the arable corner is that things like vegetables and fish that used to go some way to keeping poor people healthier than they’d otherwise have been are becoming foods for the rich.

    It does seem to me that there’s a growing number of young people getting interested in small-scale low input farming which is opening things up a bit, and I also agree with Diogenes that the situation with Ukraine and generally with energy, fertilizer and grain/oil prices might well start changing the situation quickly. But we’re so far from where we probably will need to be very soon, that this in itself is quite gloomy.

    • I’m interested in this from Clem: “Even in a non-capitalist situation there has to be some mechanism of reallocating resources when a particular operator fails to perform.”

      I don’t disagree, but whereas capitalist situations require and feed off losers in the game, the failure of a farmstead in an agrarian republic is a problem to be avoided

      There could be a great deal to unpack here, and I imagine one’s frame of reference will color how they want to appreciate the notion.

      Before I go too far with this I would like to ask Chris to explain why he thinks capitalist situations “require” losers. Most sources of capital I’m aware of will go to GREAT lengths to prevent losses and in dire situations for a tenant or borrower the landlord or lender will actively try to assist. So I’m not seeing a requirement there. Ultimately a lender may have to result to foreclosure, but only for the money grubbing arse-like Scrooge is this a desirable outcome.

      To come back to the concept of repairing failures. Bankruptcy is a final straw in a commercial situation where the juice fails to justify the squeeze. And some folks have no difficulty blithely trying any and all ideas with other people’s money on the prospect they might hit upon something. When the dreams pop and reality comes crashing down around them there will be losers (and not necessarily those with the most culpability).

      Agrarian communities are no less (or no more) sensitive to such speculation, malfeasance, laziness, or corruption. On that last list, however, I’ve not listed the vagaries of pestilence, drought, flooding, and other natural disasters that can rob even the best of stewards of a crop or a stable food production. From my perch there should be two remedies for the two different lists. A bad actor should be removed, and the unfortunate actor should be assisted.

      For the bad actor scenario there is a gray zone… if farmer Brown has a bad year which seems to be through no fault of her own, then give her a hand and work toward a better future. If over time it seems that this same neighbor just never seems to keep up, then working toward a better future may well involve finding her another path and allowing a better suited individual to steward the property. In any society where resources are precious it doesn’t serve the whole to allow some to manage resources they aren’t competent to manage. In the capitalist economy the lender or the landlord will have to make the decision of when to cut the cord. In other arrangements someone else will bear the responsibility. Either way, these situations will arise and must be dealt with.

      A shepherd won’t keep old and non-performing stock, a carpenter won’t use a warped board to build a cabinet. I’m not advocating that we dispose of neighbors who can’t keep up – but that we find said folks a path they can take that allows the resources (land for instance) to be better employed for the whole community. Yes, as Chris says, “So I think the onus in an agrarian republic has to be on setting people up not to fail.”… and I agree in the way the republic should go about its efforts. But once the juice no longer justifies the squeeze, then the republic will have to take some responsible course.

      • “Most sources of capital I’m aware of will go to GREAT lengths to prevent losses and in dire situations for a tenant or borrower the landlord or lender will actively try to assist.”

        Sorry Clem but this is written by someone who clearly doesn’t rent a home in London.

        The market here encourages churn — letting agents get to charge another round of fees and put the rent up (of which they gain a share) every time someone moves in or out. Tenancy rights are legally weak and letting agents are generally not above breaking the law if they think they will get away with it. I know this, having been on the receiving end several times before finding my current arrangement: I know the actual landlord personally, and when the letting agents try to pull a fast one we get in touch with him to make sure he knows what’s going on. Usually he doesn’t and will tell at the agents for us and the issue mysteriously goes away, though occasionally this system breaks down.

        Additionally, career landlords who own multiple properties can often earn more by keeping some of them empty and charging higher rent on the rest. In these cases the losers are both the tenants, who are paying through the nose for the mortgage on a flat they don’t even get to keep at the end, and the people who now can’t afford housing at all, and sleep in the churchyard/park/shop doorway instead. Once someone is homeless it can cost a lot to get them back to a stable housing situation, and those costs are also borne by the wider community rather than the landlord.

        Whether crapitalism conceptually requires losers I will leave for others to debate but the fact is that it certainly produces a lot of them, and some losses are more palatable than others. We won’t get to keep the house we’ve been paying the landlord’s mortgage on for a decade, but this is a small loss compared to that of people who come to the food bank and request things that can be eaten raw as they have no power to cook with, or people who sleep in the churchyard
        We can mitigate some of our vulnerabilities by having a personal connection with the landlord, but many tenants or would-be tenants do not have that option.

        • Indeed we have enormously different experiences.

          My life experience has been lived at a distance from major metropolitan centers. And while sources of capital, agents, laws and taxes are somewhat similar across boundaries I imagine the competition for space in an enormous city is far different than what is seen in the countryside.

          Elsewhere in this set of comments Steve L has pointed to the shift of populations from the rural US toward cities – in his examples this results from increasing sizes of farm operations which results in displacement of farmers. This is one reason for the move to the city. Other reasons include lure of city life – cultural entertainment and lifestyle matters, and regular predictable wages.

          With this flight from the countryside comes a reduced demand for housing. Many fairly competent structures are bulldozed to make room for crops or livestock because the opportunity to rent the same is worth less once the cost of upkeep is factored in. Other buildings are rented – and at a great discount relative to similar structures in the city just because the demand is so weak. Having a tenant in this situation inspires one to work with them (up to the point where the rent and the bother no longer make market sense).

          Where earlier I suggested that sources of capital will go to GREAT lengths to assist borrowers or tenants I was truly blind to the conditions you experience in London. But where I can observe commerce I see bankruptcy protections being such that a lender really does have a vested interest in avoiding a borrower’s failure. Potential borrowers are very stringently vetted, performance of borrowers very closely monitored, and terms of loans even renegotiated at times…. (up to the point where the interest and the bother no longer make market sense).

          I am and have been a land owner. I’ve also been a land tenant – though only on behalf of an employer. For a short while I was a renter of housing. I’ve never rented out housing. In some respect then I suppose some will consider my lot quite fortunate. I should ‘check my privilege’. Indeed I was not born in squalor or a failed nation state… I was born in a country and at a time where sons were strongly favored over daughters, and where people of color had roadblocks that I did not. So I have enjoyed some privileges (or perhaps escaped some limitations). But under the commercial conditions I have had the opportunity to live in I’ve worked for what I have. Balancing privilege vs merit then is a formula I use as I consider my lot. I have enough, and so I can share with others. Perhaps the pity is that I have the luxury of choice when it comes to how much sharing I do. If my aspiration were to be Gates or Bezos then I’m obviously a significant failure. Likewise, if my aspiration were to be Mother Teresa then I’ve failed there as well.

          • Yes, in London (and I suspect some other cities) the problem is not only high demand for housing, but the fact that penalties for keeping an occupiable home *empty* are so low that the market incentives to do that, creating a false scarcity and driving up prices further, do get the upper hand.

            It isn’t that good landlords don’t exist, or that landlords are automatically evil or incapable of solidarity. It’s more that in a capitalist system without appropriate checks and balances, “people are homeless” becomes an externality that the rich don’t have to deal with. It doesn’t take all landlords behaving this way to create real problems, sadly.

            I don’t see the UK situation changing any time soon without massive economic disruption, not least because so many of our elected Members of Parliament (and appointed Lords for that matter) are themselves landlords. And the problem with massive economic disruption is that, without checks and balances, it tends to favour the rich.

            Finding rural or semi-rural housing with access to land here in the UK is not straightforward, either.

            Actually running out of petrol might do it, but currently in rural areas it’s pretty difficult to exist without driving.

          • Agree with this and agree it’s important to distinguish between intentions and consequences – the essence of structural properties is that good ones in the former case don’t necessarily lead to good ones in the latter. You’re probably right about the immediate prospects for improving tenant’s rights in the UK, although things took a turn for the worse in the 1980s with the policies on council housing and market rents – so not that long ago. Chances of the two main parties reversing the trend right now seem low, but it’ll have to happen sooner or later.

  9. “For the bad actor scenario there is a gray zone…”
    Yup it depends how much power those in charge have .
    Check out the war ag in the UK during the last war , many of those felt the iron fist that refused to tow the line .
    Keeping ” control ” VERY local and to actually know the ” bad actor ” personally would redeem a system liable to misuse if it gets too big , aka the Soviet union .

  10. Before I go too far with this I would like to ask Chris to explain why he thinks capitalist situations “require” losers.

    In brief, because ‘capital-ism’ gives people no option but to place return on capital above all other considerations. I agree that in particular local settings the owners of capital may go to great lengths to keep the owers of capital in the game. You could take a generous view that this is because they’re motivated by human empathy outwith the logic of capital, or a cynical view that it’s part of a longer game within that logic to ensure a return. Or perhaps a bit of both.

    But, beyond such local settings, the larger trends towards engrossment of industrial scale and immiseration of industrial labour seem clear – and this inevitably involves losers. To a great degree the logic of capital has always been about breaking down local allegiances and local ecosystems in favour of capital increase. So much the better, according to this logic, if we don’t see the slavery, the poverty or the ecocide underlying the chocolate or the sugar or whatever that we buy. But there are a lot of losers in that process – perhaps, ultimately, all of us.

    So, the logic of capital generates the high prices for land and low prices for food in the USA that Steve has highlighted. It’s a tough business environment, but some might argue that’s no bad thing if it incentivizes only the best and leanest operators to survive. As I mentioned before, that may be so provided the ‘best’ and ‘leanest’ are built on practices that are sustainable in the long term, and that those who fail in that marketplace have reasonable alternative options. But globally, neither of those seem to me to be the case, as is perhaps suggested by the extent of global hunger, poverty and ecosystem breakdown.

    The path I favour is for people to have secure access to small plots of land to provide for their own needs. The incentive not to fail and thereby starve or become dependent may seem grave, but as I see it it’s a much lower bar than the incentive not to fail by not increasing returns to capital (and in the former case, there are some sustainable remedies). Just as few people will ever be great writers but most people can communicate what they need to in a letter or a note, so few people will ever be great farmers but most people can learn to grow food to provide for their basic needs without too much difficulty. In my view, the potential yield lost by thus sharing out access to land is more than remedied by the gain in social and ecological wellbeing achieved by not grounding the agroecosystem in a logic of increased return to capital. In fact, at a larger landscape level I suspect the yields are probably greater.

    • In brief, because ‘capital-ism’ gives people no option but to place return on capital above all other considerations.

      What rubbish. To me that sounds something like ‘life gives organisms no option but place resource acquisition above all other considerations’. There are no choices. Kill or be killed. Nature is red in tooth and claw.

      That there is historic evidence of capital accumulation causing bad outcomes I’ll not argue; indeed I fully agree. But that is not evidence that those outcomes are the only outcomes possible.

      Humans have played games far longer than capitalism has been sport. Games have losers. Indeed many will suggest that a contest that doesn’t deliver a winner and a loser is somehow bankrupt. Some games are rather civil, all contestants going home in one piece and perhaps better prepared for a following challenge (save perhaps for wounded feelings for those coming up short). Some games are rather brutal, with losers suffering injury (in fact even some eventual winners may suffer injury on the path to victory). But I hear no cry to abolish all contests where someone might lose.

      Where resources such as land, water, game, etc are scarce humans (like all our cohabiting species) have to find some mechanism to allocate them. This is, for me, more a requirement than capitalism requiring losers. In nature the means of deciding who gets which resources is often quite brutal. And man, as a natural animal has had a long history of inventing ever more brutal means of winning resources from others. Currently the citizens of Eastern Europe are actively engaged in such a brutal contest, and while capitalism plays some part – I’ll argue it is a smaller part than the lust for resources such as land and some impression of security. Capital in this latter sense merely facilitates the aggressions of the combatants.

      My point is where resources are found wanting, where the Garden of Eden resides only on pages of a very old manuscript, we like all creatures great and small MUST find a path to allocate them. Violence is one path. Markets are another. Markets engender transactions – and transactions can ultimately be viewed as individual contests with winners and losers (though I won’t suggest such transactions ‘must’ be viewed as such). Democracy is another path for resource allocation. But its been suggested that democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.

      Capital, as a market tool to distribute resources, can deliver outcomes that still result in winners and losers, but the nature of the market contest doesn’t require violence or bloodshed. Greed – taking more of a limited resource than one needs – is responsible for more of the difficulties offered in this debate. Greed can be manifest at the tip of a spear, the end of a barrel or a fist. And too, where some capitalists are not satisfied with their lot, they might accumulate capital and weaponize it. But my argument is that this latter behavior is not a requirement of a capitalist system… just one ugly side effect, and one for which finding a solution needn’t imply the baby be thrown out with the bath water.

    • Governments active control of agriculture promotes winners and losers
      Here in TX you have to have a quota to grow some things , peanuts springs to mind , you have a bought and paid for licence to grow them to ” keep the price up ” so those that grow peanuts are a cartell feather beded from the market , capitalism ? , peanuts are a legume and work very well in a rotation but that rotation is not allowed by law , many farmers round here would like to plant peanuts followed by a grain of some sort but instead they have to buy fertilizer and pesticides that a crop of peanuts would break the cycle of monocroping .
      This is not a capitalist system , and that example goes for many commodities .

      • You said:
        you have a bought and paid for licence to grow them
        and then said:
        This is not a capitalist system

        Hmmmm. Sounds very much like a capitalist system. Free market – no. But capitalist, very much. Buying market access is another cost of doing business.

        A potential solution? Grow soybeans instead. A productive legume, break crop, enormous international market where there is no need to buy access. There are more insect pressures in your geography than in the Midwest where most soybean is grown in the US… and the market infrastructure is less developed for soy in TX – but these latter issues can be overcome. Income per acre for the peanut vs soybean is another matter – but without market access for peanut, well… at least there is a legume grain you can count on.

        • Actually Diogenese you’ve reminded me of another market access matter that involves the growing of soybean here in the States. A significant portion of the soybean checkoff [an explainer here: https://www.unitedsoybean.org/about-the-checkoff/ ]
          is used to promote US soybeans in the marketplace. Other commodities also have some checkoff in place (think milk, eggs, pork, corn, and wheat).

          The checkoff is not strictly a government activity, but the government does play a role. Where winners and losers might be inferred is that the US soy check off promotes US soy – so theoretically an Argentine or Brazilian soy grower might suffer in the international space where their crop might be viewed as inferior (advertising). The whole issue around the commodity checkoffs is fairly complex – lots of moving pieces besides market development. I don’t want to leave the impression the checkoffs are a bad thing. Indeed most of their activities are quite beneficial for all of us, whether we are farming soy or not. Farm size is not benefited one way or another from the checkoff system.

    • Clem, I would normally ignore on principle any comment beginning ‘What rubbish’, but since you’re a valued old friend of this blog I’ll make an exception, and a few brief points.

      1. A capitalist society is not the same as a market society

      2. One key component of that difference is that in capitalist societies – but not in market societies as such – people in the plural, collectively, structurally, are constrained by the imperatives of capital increase. That doesn’t mean that the only option a person has as an individual in any given interaction is to choose capital increase. Indeed, that would be impossible, which is why capitalism is ultimately impossible. Lifeworld versus system. I think what you’re missing is that there are emergent properties of capitalism as system which are not just an aggregative result of the innumerable interactions underlying it – on that particular point I’ll offer, rarely for me, three cheers to Karl Marx for figuring that out.

      3. This is why the analogy with resource or energy allocation in biotic systems fails. Biotic systems do not increase their resource/energy availability by 2% per organism year on year. There are species where a few individuals monopolize social power, but not where in the space of a brief historic period a small fraction of 1% come to own the greater part of the resources available for basic biological/social reproduction, and to the extent that planetary biotic and climate systems start breaking down.

      4. So let me reiterate a slightly rephrased version of my point. Capitalism as a system gives people collectively no structural option but to place a return on capital above all other considerations. And this is why you get the kind of farm system dysfunctions that Steve has been pointing to – as he says, as a result of government policy. Or more specifically the global governance structures required by capitalist logic. The lack of such structures in other species is why there is no analogue to capitalism in the natural world.

      5. Capitalism requires a monopoly of global governance. So capitalism and expansive government go hand in hand. But I don’t think that monopoly will endure. So there may soon be a return to non-capitalist market societies.

      6. I expand on these points in Chapter 1 (Crisis #9) and Chapter 14 of ‘A Small Farm Future’.

      • I had thought the Wr comment would prod a reaction. Sorry if it caused TOO much insult.

        But I’m still not coming round to your side. For instance, in the natural world (which try as we might we can not escape… we may bend some metal to our will, but we suffer disease, we die, we take and we lose… but I digress) – in the natural world there really are examples of other organisms increasing at more than 2% per anum. Take an acorn for instance. It was at one point an egg cell and a pollen grain’s merger. Within months it is a fully embodied miniature oak. Within years it can grow to be not just a magnificent creature, but many many orders of magnitude greater than it’s founding materials. Two per cent growth then is a trivial matter. Climax vegetation (or climax predators) have tended to find some sort of stable level in most habitats over long expanse of time and at these levels their growth rate year on year likely won’t amount to the 2% you point to (but it did at one point). By this same logic then as the climax critter at the moment we won’t have this level of increase indefinitely either. We’re engaged in a conversation about how to head off the dire consequences of the limits we cannot bend to our will.

        As for other organisms bending the climate – oxygen concentrations on this humble little rock exploded due to humble little microbes. The Earth’s climate has rocked back and forth far more wildly than what we’ve seen over the last many decades. In a sense you’re giving us too much credit in organisms modifying the climate category. In the larger scheme then, the planet needn’t give a fig what we’re about. We wreck the habitat we find ourselves most comfortable in – and I agree with you that this is not desirable (for us…, but if we are to wreck our habitat to our own demise, there will likely be other organisms ready and willing to profit from our loss. I hope use of the word profit does not offend).

        Lifeworld versus system.

        I imagine this is where our arguments diverge.

        4. So let me reiterate a slightly rephrased version of my point. Capitalism as a system gives people collectively no structural option but to place a return on capital above all other considerations. And this is why you get the kind of farm system dysfunctions that Steve has been pointing to – as he says, as a result of government policy. Or more specifically the global governance structures required by capitalist logic. The lack of such structures in other species is why there is no analogue to capitalism in the natural world.

        No structural option. System. But in practice (lifeworld) there are many different manifestations of economic controls. There are options. Some of the options are likely yet to be invented. Some of the options are being systematically ignored.

        https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/042215/what-difference-between-capitalist-system-and-free-market-system.asp

        Within this link is a further link to a piece by:
        For example, the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation’s 2021 Index of Economic Freedom

        Interestingly, on the HF list the UK and US rank immediately next to each other. Both of us seem to be having similar rural issues – thought population densities seem to make those in the UK more salient at the moment.

        But back to the lifeworld vs the system piece of this. I still imagine it possible for individuals within a ‘system’ to survive without complete capitulation to forces beyond their fence row. Pitchforks can do more than pick up hay.

  11. This is from a Time magazine article which suggests a way to ensure that farm workers can receive a minimum wage: have government policies which set price floors for farm products. The article describes the plight of a farming family in Wisconsin. Losers? Failures? Unwitting victims?

    “For nearly two centuries, the Rieckmann family has raised cows for milk in this muddy patch of land in the middle of Wisconsin… The Rieckmanns are about $300,000 in debt, and bill collectors are hounding them… The Rieckmanns receive about $16 for every 100 pounds of milk they sell, a 40 percent decrease from six years back. There are weeks where the entire milk check goes towards the $2,100 monthly mortgage payment… In the past, the family has sold calves to raise extra money, but John recently brought two calves to the stock market and got $20 for one and $30 for another—two years ago, those calves would have brought in $300 to $400 each…”

    “Farm debt, at $416 billion, is at an all-time high. More than half of all farmers have lost money every year since since 2013, and lost more than $1,644 this year. Farm loan delinquencies are rising.”

    “Most family farmers seem to agree on what led to their plight: government policy. In the years after the New Deal, they say, the United States set a price floor for farmers, essentially ensuring they received a minimum wage for the crops they produced. But the government began rolling back this policy in the 1970s, and now the global market largely determines the price they get for their crops. Big farms can make do with lower prices for crops by increasing their scale…”

    “Farmers say the best solution is government policy that cracks down on consolidation of the grocery stores and food processing facilities that buy food from farmers. Existing antitrust law would allow the government to prevent big mergers that mean farmers have fewer places to sell their crops and that supplies are more expensive, but those laws go largely unenforced…”

    from “‘They’re Trying to Wipe Us Off the Map.’ Small American Farmers Are Nearing Extinction”
    https://time.com/5736789/small-american-farmers-debt-crisis-extinction/

    • Steve:

      Existing antitrust law would allow the government to prevent big mergers that mean farmers have fewer places to sell their crops and that supplies are more expensive, but those laws go largely unenforced…”

      This piece of the article you refer to seems the most relevant to me – especially in the livestock sphere. The solution then isn’t a call for legislative reform any more than a call for adequate enforcement of legislation that exists*. Economies of scale favor the monopolistic tendencies in the market. Food safety requirements – particularly inspection of livestock slaughter – fall primarily under Federal auspices (States have some role… and perhaps should have more – fodder for further discussion). Over recent decades the Federal government has pulled back on inspection resources to the serious benefit of the largest meat packers. This is more than an economy of scale benefit.

      * This is not meant to prevent any discussion of alternative legislative agendas… just that the current law is being tarred for something which it is not wholly guilty.

    • In a world of globalization the price of everything is a race to the bottom , the lowest price possible / the highest price retail , America’s industries are hollowed out because of lo wage China , farming has the same problem , paying property taxes in a U.S. state versus virtually nothing in Brazil , rules and regulations conspire increase costs , as the head of a UK shipyard told a commons committee , it cost him the same to run an electric welder for a day that it cost South Korea for a week .
      You can’t compete when the state will not let you .

  12. Have no objection but more a remark.
    If you agree that current average levels of consumption are unsustainable, it also follows that current levels of income are unsustainable as well as current levels of production. In a small farm future scenario a living wage will be considerably lower than what is a “living wage” or “minimum wage” in the current economy. So I believe it is quite logical that interns/apprentices in small farms are not only practicing small scale organic farming but also the living standard that follows from it…

    • Yes, good point – agreed! Provided you can somehow take the intial capital outlay out of the equation…

      • I will simply occupy the lot….Joke aside, land reform and redistribution is not unheard of. Of course at this very moment it is not on the agenda on either side of the North sea.

  13. My local Transition Towns group has (or had?) a scheme matching up people with gardens who don’t want to garden with people in flats who do want to garden, in exchange for a share of the produce. It’s a start, I suppose, though I suspect to get anywhere near local sufficiency in East London we would need to take over a lot of the Olympic Park and get livestock back onto Epping Forest. That or dig up some roads and car parks, but I don’t think people will be willing to do that until there really isn’t any petrol to be had (at which point… well, digging up a car park with manual labour sounds pretty grim, and the land would be heavily contaminated… I would probably go for giant raised beds instead.)

    The last time that I know of that horticultural food production in the UK expanded in a serious way was the WW2 “Dig for victory” gardens. I’m not sure we could pull off something similar now; I think the magnitude of change required is probably greater, and there is less availability of land now than there was then. But I can see the combination of high energy prices and high staple food prices leading to more people growing at least some of their own food. I suppose it’s that or bread riots. (How many people can they imprison for protesting, do you think?)

    Five of my neighbours have grown at least something edible each year for the last couple of years. Of the six households (including ours), two have allotments, and one has a garden design business of some kind (and his garden is always immaculate, sigh); if the other three wanted to expand their production, they certainly know who to ask for advice, assistance, and spare seed.

    I’m afraid my faith that the existing government can be convinced to increase allotment access is rather low. I can only stomach so much politics before retreating to the more diverse world of horticulture!

  14. A few remarks on further comments.

    First apologies Gunnar that I didn’t spot your comment in the moderation queue. Two or more hyperlinks, and a comment is consigned to the limbo of my moderation queue, which is not a fate I’d wish on anyone. But I will try harder.

    I liked your two posts, Gunnar. “Henry and Loser” – you know how to twist the knife!

    Wolfgang Streeck offers two descriptions/definitions of capitalism that do the job for me: “capitalist society is distinguished by the fact that its collective productive capital is accumulated in the hands of a minority of its members who enjoy the legal privilege, in the form of rights of private property, to dispose of such capital in any way they see fit”; and, capitalist society is an economically expansionary society “that secures its collective reproduction as an unintended side-effect of individually rational, competitive profit maximization in pursuit of capital accumulation” How Will Capitalism End? p.2 and p.58-9.

    People’s personal experience of being an economic agent within this system has varied greatly historically – a plantation slave in the Americas, or an industrial slave in Nazi Germany, a poor family farmer in the USA or in Haiti, a precarious private tenant and wage worker in contemporary London as described by Kathryn, a comfortably off company employee, a Jeff Bezos and so on. We could ask if the ends justify the means – to which a utilitarian of the present might say maybe (one in the future might say no), and a Kantian would surely say no. But to me that’s not the right question to ask. A better one might be whether the system’s inherent tendencies towards expansion, the concentration of value in the hands of the few, and the destruction of earth systems it involves can be systemically tamed in the long-term. Or whether we need a different story altogether. The answer to that in part would address whether the situations described by Clem where the owners of capital work hard to keep the owers of capital in the game (and I don’t dispute those situations exist) can be generalized across capitalist society or whether they are always going to be a minor sub-plot in the larger story. As an enthusiast for Streeck’s approach to capitalism, for my part I would say the latter. So we need a different story.

    Finally, a point Clem and I have debated before and where I guess we continue to disagree. As I see it, monopolistic tendencies are written into the politics of capitalism from the get go, they are not just a contingent trend of economic logic (references – David Harvey, Ha Joon Chang). If I narrated the 19th century historical changes in Chicago from a verdant lakeside to a vast clearinghouse of grain, wood, beef and railway trucks through the optic of economies of scale, I would miss most of the vital driving forces in the story. But whatever the scaling details of that particular history, what I think matters more now is that we’ve reached a point where the diseconomies of large scale of global capitalist society are apparent, and civilization-threatening. So, again, I’d suggest we need a different story.

    Finally, regarding allotments I agree with Kathryn that governments are likely to undersupply them, but even so the legislation and the possibilities around this are quietly radical and the door is a little more open on this front than on many. In the long run the door will need a big shove from public pressure. But small steps forward are better than none.

    • “where the owners of capital work hard to keep the owers of capital in the game ” I think that fits better with feudal societies than with capitalism, because the nature of a capitalist market economy is to commodify everything, including relationships, so that you are not dependent on anyone in particular, just the supply and demand from the market place.

    • Yes agreed, as a general feature of the system. And agreed with Diogenese above about the general nature of capitalist globalization (of course, from – say – a Chinese perspective, there might be much about the USA and other richer countries that could be regarded as stopping them from competing … and meanwhile people in poorer nearby countries like Cambodia and Myanmar get drawn into the same commodification/cheap labour dynamic).

      Where the owners of capital may keep the owers in the game is in more local situations of credit supply, and in state-corporate relations (especially ‘too big to fail’ scenarios) or the wider ecology of specific high tech industries in the heavily protected economies of the Global North. But I don’t think that undermines your/my wider point – nor does it seem to me very stable.

    • monopolistic tendencies are written into the politics of capitalism from the get go

      You may be interested in the analysis of Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler on the nature of capitalism, in which the quest for power (leading to monopoly?) is at the core of capitalism. Their book about it is Capital as Power. Many good discussions on the topic at this site, including this post: https://economicsfromthetopdown.com/2022/03/11/in-search-of-sabotage/

      • Thanks Joe. I had a quick look, and I’ll come back to it. Interesting stuff. As per a recent post of mine, I think it’s useful to distinguish between the sheer existence of private property rights, which are counterproductive and ultimately impossible to eliminate, and their endless accumulation and concentration, which need to be checked.

        • It strikes me that Adam Smith pointed out some pretty big problems with unchecked capitalism, and ever since then people have either been trying to control markets centrally (which doesn’t work and messes things up) or justify to themselves and others why their particular version of financialisation and accumulation is Good, Actually, Or At Least Not Their Fault.

          What I yearn for (and don’t seriously hope to get) is a system where we have functioning markets, but limits on financialisation, exploitation and poverty. This probably isn’t possible without some constructed and enforced limits on the power of the most powerful. That’s not going to be popular — or at least, not until the mainstream media finds a better funding model than financialisation of attention to sell advertisements!

          In case that seems rather glum, I got the potatoes in yesterday, and now there’s little to do with that part of the plot except hope for good weather.

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