Topic 7 Readings Agriculture, Food, and the State

Food, and therefore agriculture/farming/herding, has always been a critical piece of any economic system ever since complex societies formed millennia ago.  Agriculture continues to be a difficult issue in organizing an economic system today but unlike for hundreds of years, the problem really isn’t “how to grow enough food for everybody”.  Worldwide, thanks to technology like tractors & fertilizer, improved science of agriculture, and improved food preservation/distribution, we’ve actually solved the “not enough” problem in the last hundred years. Now the problems are difficult. The hunger or malnutrition remains a problem in many places but it’s a distribution/access/income problem while too much food is actually wasted or destroyed.

No the problems tend to three fold in my view. First, there are power relations. Picking and harvesting food is still often low-paying, difficult, painful labor fraught with risks from pesticides and other dangers. Higher income people in developed countries such as the US increasingly aren’t interested in such work, so it’s necessary to use labor from less developed countries. But what are the conditions they work under? Do we use immigrants and grow here (benefitting our landowners)? Or do we let them grow in their country and import the produce (who gets the profit?)? This labor problem is made much harder because farming is very capital intensive. And capital intensive industries tend towards corporate concentration and not the free-market competitive ideal we like to think. Continue reading