Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Nationwide Foreclosure Map

Gasoline is only four bucks a gallon (cheap compared to, say, 12 bucks) but already a trend is beginning to reveal itself. People are, evidentally, unable to afford living in rural areas and commute to city jobs. We may be seeing a mass movement of US population going back to the urban centers, which happens to be where the majority of the US population is already concentrated.

THIS MAP shows the foreclosure concentrations in the United States (the pink areas do not show up on my computer as clearly as the other areas).

For commentary to go with the map, READ THIS recent Daily Reckoning blog post.

I tend to think this situation is only going to get worse. What do you think?

Monday, May 26, 2008

A Little Amish Mystery....


Last Saturday, the kids and Marlene and I were in our car, driving towards the town of Seneca Falls, New York, when my son Robert mentioned that he needed a pair of sunglasses for his new job (which I will blog about one day soon). There was a WalMart up ahead and I decided we could get sunglasses there.

I’m not big on WalMart but they were right there and they have affordable sunglasses so I pulled into the parking lot. Way off in the corner of the lot I noticed an Amish buggy, tied to a rusty light pole. I pulled into a parking spot in front of the horse. Then I got out of the car and took this picture:


Marlene, James, & Robert headed into the store. I stayed in the car. A short while later, two teenage Amish boys came into view. They were dressed in the typical black pants, dark blue shirt and straw had with a black band. They walked quickly towards their buggy. One was carrying a WalMart bag.

I watched the boys from my rear view mirror. They didn’t just jump in the buggy and take off. They spent an inordinate amount of time doing something with whatever was in the WalMart bag. Watching from a distance in the mirror didn’t allow me an especially good view but I was intrigued by what was going on.

Then something I never expected happened. One of the boys walked towards the light pole with the bag. It appeared to have stuff in it. He quickly looked back and forth to see if anyone was watching him, then dropped the bag on the ground.

Then he unhitched the horse and brought the reins back to the buggy. Both of the boys put on their black coats, got in the buggy, and drove off. I snapped this picture of them leaving. Note the gas station in the background. The Amish don’t have to fuel up their buggies at a gas station. Must be nice.


So there I was, looking at that WalMart bag on the ground. I was shocked that the kid had just tossed it there. He didn’t have the decency to put it in a garbage can. But more than that, I was curious. What was in that bag? After thinking about it for all of 30 seconds, I started the car, put it in reverse, backed up beside the bag, opened my door, and picked it up. Here’s a peek inside:


The bag contained empty packages from two battery-operated CD players ($8.00 each), a 4-pack of AA batteries (94 cents), and the wrapper from an Alan Jackson CD ($5.00).

Mystery solved.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Big Ag & Usury Kills Indian Farmers

The industrialized agriculture oligopoly is a diabolically wicked force in the world. It destroys traditional farming systems, traditional farming cultures, and even the lives of traditional farmers. This is happening right now in the nation of India, as explained in the May 17, 2008 issue of Lancaster Farming newspaper.

An article titled Debt Woes Drive Thousands of Indian Farmers to Suicide sheds some light on this situation. Not mentioned in the article is the fact that there is a huge land grab going on in India. Big Ag wants the land and it’s getting it. Millions of small farming families are being displaced. They are moving to the urban areas. The ones who survive the transition are going from independent producers to dependent consumers. This is a tragedy of epic proportions.

Here are excerpts from the article (bold emphasis are mine):

On the last night of his life, the farmer walked into his dusty fields, choked down pesticide and waited to die.

He owed more that $1,000 to banks and moneylenders and he had told his wife that if the cotton harvest was bad this year, he would kill himself.

Crushed by debts most Westerners would deem inconsequential, farmers like Surpam killed themselves at a rate of 48 a day between 2002 and 2006—more than 17,500 a year, according to experts who have analyzed government statistics. At least 160,000 farmers have committed suicide since 1997

The epidemic dates to the 1990s, and is generally attributed to a toxic blend of slashed subsidies, tougher global competition, drought, predatory moneylenders and expensive genetically modified seeds.

Farmers and analysts say another blow was the introduction of genetically modified cotton seeds, notably St. Louis-based Monsanto Co.’s “Bt” seeds which are resistant to boll worms. The seeds can be more productive and have become standard in much of Maharashtra but can be three times more expensive that traditional seeds.

Fot the widows, left to tend the crops and raise the children, the suicides are personal calamities with roots not in macroeconomics, but in homegrown problems—impossible debts, the loss of ancestral land, rapacious money lenders.

Surpam’s widow, a stoic mother of three with a face toughened by the sun, blames her husband’s suicide on the loans he had taken over the past two years, his first taste of debt. He borrowed 25,000 rupees ($625) from a bank and 20,000 rupees $500) from private moneylenders to invest in his fields and to pay for his daughter’s wedding, she said.

“He used to say we owe money and if anyone comes looking for us, it would be dishonor,” said his wife, Sumitra, who learned only after his death on April 1 how much he owed.

Surpam’s three acres produced just $150 worth of cotton this year—not nearly enough to keep the moneylenders at bay.

Before Shanker Waghmere, 49, killed himself in 2005, “he kept talking about debts going up each passing day,” said his 35-year-old widow, Shantabair.

With night falling on her crops and her three children fluttering behind her, the widow said she hopes she’ll earn enough from this year’s harvest to pay off her husband’s debt.

She plans to buy a bunch of seeds she heard grows better cotton. She said she’ll pay for them with a loan from a moneylender.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Good Memories & Big Money in Scrap Metal

My son Robert has been collecting scrap metal for the last year or so. Some has come from our town’s twice-a-year junk day. When we take a load of junk to the big dumpsters we look for copper wire, copper pipe, and brass that someone has thrown away. When our neighbor moved to Seattle last year he told us we could have anything left in his barn after he was gone. Robert glommed onto some scrap metal there. When the battery in his field car died, he got a few junk battery donations from friends and relatives. Over time, he assembled a nice little pile of scrap.

So last Friday I took the day off from work to get some things done, and first on the list was a trip to the scrap yard. Robert and James and I drove about 45 minutes to a scrap yard where a friend of mine said they were paying good prices. He had taken two trailer loads of scrap steel from around his homestead and made $300 on each load.

We didn’t have a trailer load, or even a truck load. In fact, we didn’t even have a trunk full in our Honda Accord. But I hoped we might have a couple hundred dollars worth in there.

The scrap yard was out in the countryside, but not far from some major roads, and easy to get to. It consisted of a big pole barn with a large fenced-in scrap yard out behind. Next to the barn was a trailer/office with a truck scale beside it.

I was surprised to see how busy the place was on a Friday morning. Pickup trucks full of scrap, or pulling trailers full of scrap were continually driving in and empty trucks and trailers were pulling out. I drove up next to a sort-of official looking man (he had a hard hat on) and told him I had only a small quantity of non-ferrous metal in the trunk. I asked him where I should take the stuff. I was directed to the big door in front of the pole barn. “Grab a cart, fill it up, and get in line.”

As I drove around to the parking lot in front of the pole barn we saw eight pickups in a row backed up at a curb, about 20 feet from the barn door. Other trucks were in the parking lot with men standing by them, waiting to back up to the curb as soon as someone pulled out. We parked in the lot and walked up to the barn to see what was happening.

The place was a beehive of activity. Men were unloading junk from their trucks into wheeled carts and there was a line of guys with their carts waiting to be weighed on the scale just inside the barn. At the scale, several employees from the scrap yard were separating different metals into different bins. A man in a forklift was zipping back and forth.

Every form of non-ferrous scrap metal that you can imagine was being offloaded and turned in for money. Radiators, car batteries, electric motors, aluminum tire rims, and old power tools were some of the things I saw.

And there were all kinds of men there. Old, young, black, white, fat, thin, clean, and filthy dirty. Not a woman was in sight. All the time we were there (over an hour) trucks and trailers of all sorts and sizes were coming in with scrap piled high. We actually saw one of our farming neighbors pull onto the scales with a load of rusty farm machinery.

A stubble-bearded man backed his old pickup truck up next to us and the guy on the forklift brought a wood pallet with a heavy-duty cardboard box on it. The forklift guy appeared to know the stubble-bearded guy. I watched as the stubble-bearded fellow proceeded to dump containers of copper wire, all stripped clean, into the box. Just before it was our turn at the scales, the forklift guy picked up Mr. Stubblebeard’s box of wire and brought it over to get weighed. I watched the red digital readout go over 2,000 pounds!

Our meager offerings were quickly weighed and separated to different bins. A man handed me a yellow slip of paper with these totals:

Yellow Brass---16
#2 Copper---78

We walked out of the barn and over to the trailer office. There was a line of men out the door and down the steps, waiting to collect money for their scrap. Every couple of minutes a man would walk out the door, stuffing a wad of cash in his pocket.

Behind us in the line was a black guy with a red baseball hat that said, “Sanford & Son” on it. No kidding. He was laughing and talking to the guys around him. The man on the forklift yelled something to Sanford and he replied by yelling back that he (Mr. Forklift) better watch hisself or he (Sanford) was going to have to “open a can of whoopass.” He said that with a friendly laugh. All in all, everyone seemed to be in good spirits.

We eventually made our way up to the trailer door which was actually a porch off the trailer. Inside the porch was a window. Inside the trailer there were at least four women. They were keeping track of the truck scales on the other side of the trailer and handing money out the window on our side.

I had to give one of the women my driver’s license. She made a copy of it, added up how much I was due, and handed me a slip of paper to sign. Then she counted out $306.86. Me and Robert and James walked out the door with smiles on our faces, just like the guys before us did.

As we got in the car, I handed the cash over to Robert and gave the 86 cents to James. We had lots to talk about on the way home. We figured the stubblebearded guy was going to walk away with over $6,000 in cash. We wondered how much money those women in the trailer handed out every day. The hundred dollar bills were going out that window like Monopoly money. And we resolved to keep a sharp eye out for more scrap in the days ahead. There is real good money to be made in scrap metal these days!


But that’s not the end of this story. Before we went home, we went to the mall. We were on a mission to spend that money.

Not long ago, Robert told me he figured every man needs four things: guns, carpentry tools, mechanic tools, and fishing equipment. I marveled at this wise observation when I heard it. He doesn’t want a cell phone or an i-pod or some electronic play equipment—my son wants to acquire tools. He is a chip off the proverbial block, that boy is.

I have, on numerous occassions, advised my sons to buy themselves a good set of sockets and ratchets and wrenches when they are young. I told them that if they do this, and they take care of the tools, they will serve them well for their whole life. I still have the Craftsman socket set I bought when I was 20 years old. Such tools are something of an investment. They can make you money and they can save you money (which is kind of like making money).

So it was that Robert decided months ago that he would buy himself a good set of Craftsman sockets and wrenches with the money he got from the scrap metal. And it turns out that you can buy a very good set of sockets for three hundred bucks. Robert traded a relatively small pile of scrap metal (free for the taking) for a 283-piece set of wrenches that should last him his lifetime.

Us guys had a lot of fun that morning. We made a good memory together. Maybe some day Robert will tell his sons this story. And maybe, when I'm dead and gone, and he is still using those wrenches, he will think back and remember the time we had. I like to think so.


Oh, one more thing....

Organizing socket sets is something I have been giving a lot of thought to. You can buy different socket organizer contraptions, but they can be expensive and I don’t like any of them. That said, I have an organizing idea that I’m going to work on very soon. Who knows, it might turn out to be a Whizbang Socket Organizer idea. If so, you can be sure I’ll report on it here.

Stay tuned....

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Homeschooling With a Shovel, in a Ditch

My son James has been helping a nearby farmer install drain tile in his field. Thus far, he has worked a couple of full days at the task. Marlene called me at work on the second day. She was a little concerned. “Do you think it’s okay for him to be working like that?”

“What do you mean,” I asked.

“Well he’s only 13 years old. He’s not doing his homeschooling.”

I reassured my wife that it was okay. James was learning things that typical 13-year-old boys in government school do not learn—like how to put in an honest day’s work, in a ditch, with a shovel. His teacher was a farmer, a man who knows what he’s doing. And there was another man helping. Can the government school system provide two teachers for one student?

James was learning about how a laser level works. But more than just learning how the tool works, he was helping to use the tool in a real-life work situation. He was learning about geology, agronomy, physics, and the natural world. He was interacting with men, and doing a man’s work—productive work—work that needed to be done.

Marlene felt the same way. She just wanted me to verify what is perfectly obvious—that being able to help with such work is good, and beneficial, and a blessing. At least to us this is obvious.

But then Marlene mentioned to a family relative that James was helping a farmer with his ditching. The relative expressed concerns that the state Labor Department might not be pleased with a 13-year-old boy doing such work.

The state labor department? Who are they? What do they know about raising children? What business is this of theirs? Does this government agency love my son, as his mother and I do? Have these bureaucrats been entrusted by God Almighty with the responsibility of raising my boy, as I have? The idea that some state agency would find wrong in this matter and possibly think they would be doing the right thing by interfering is enough to make me angry.

There was a time, not so long ago, when it was common for boys to work with men on farms, doing the hard tasks of farming. In fact, government schools originally were in session only when there was no planting, growing, and harvesting work to be done on the farm. Children were once important economic assets to their families and their communities. Of course, the modern mind looks back at that and sees children being exploited. And therein we have yet another example of how warped modern thinking is.

I suppose the state Labor Department would rather that 13-year-old boys didn't work at all. But if they did work, it should be easier, safer, and less strenuous, like emptying the dishwasher, or taking out the garbage, or... walking the dog. Oh yeah. Now that’s the kind of work that builds character, confidence, self-esteem , and self-reliance in a young boy! And then when they’re all tuckered out with that “work” they can stare into a computer screen for hours while playing violent, aggressive video games.

We live in a culture that doesn’t want young boys to grow up and become men (and many of them never do become men). I reject that kind of social engineering. Young boys have increasing testosterone levels, they are getting physically strong, and they have mind-boggling energy levels. They need productive work to do. Organized sports is not productive work and it is a poor substitute. Boys need to begin to integrate into the world of work. There is no better way to do this than on a farm. I don’t have a farm but, thankfully, I have neighbors who are farmers.

Picking rocks, doing chores on a dairy farm, bringing in the hay in the summer, loading hay trucks out of the barn throughout the year, and helping to lay drainage tile in a ditch with a shovel are all good jobs my sons have been able to help several neighboring farmers with.

My son wants to do this work. He is an eager worker because he enjoys helping with significant work. Besides that, he wants to earn enough money to buy himself a newer bicycle. As his father, I couldn’t be more pleased, and he knows it.

So, to the people from the Labor Department, I say: Relax. All of this is nothing more than a homeschool field trip.


One afternoon, when I got home from work, and I learned James was working in the field, I headed out to see for myself. I found him in a ditch, up to his chest. A backhoe was digging away about 30 feet from him. James and another man were laying plastic drain pipe in the bottom of the ditch and shoveling dirt over it to hold it in place. I took several pictures with the intention of sharing them with you here.

But with this talk of the state Labor Department I’ve decided it would not be wise to post the pictures. I don’t want to provide any incriminating evidence that we might be committing a “crime.”

But later on, as I was in my house I heard James coming down the road on his brother’s 4-wheeler. I looked out the window and saw him, with his shovel tied on the back, pull into the driveway, and I grabbed my camera. I met him at the door, shook his hand to congratulate him for doing a good day’s work, and snapped this picture (he is tolerating my enthusiasm).


We can’t have muddy boots in the house, so he took them off outside, and I saw another photo opportunity:


See those socks? Well they were white when he put them on that morning. His boots were full of mud. I love to see my sons soiled from doing the hard work of farming. Such a sight brings joy to this father’s heart.

But if you're from the state Labor Department I say: "Gee whiz, look at that mud. A boy sure can get dirty catching pollywogs in the creek."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Chinese Agrarian Demographics & Us

Back in 1971, when I was in 7th grade, I had a choice of taking Spanish or French in school. I clearly recall being told that Spanish would be a more useful language to learn. Neither seemed like it would ever be useful, but we were told about the demographics. It was explained that the population of Spanish-speaking people in this country was expected to increase dramatically in the years ahead.

That was the first time I had ever heard the word, “demographics.” I learned that there are people who actually look ahead into the future by studying human population statistics and trends. So, long before I ever ate any kind of Mexican food, or even saw a real person from South America, people in the know knew what was going to happen.

I ended up taking Spanish for the next five years and have now forgotten most of what little I learned. But I’ve maintained an interest in demographics, and demographic trends. It is that interest, combined with my agrarian awareness, that leads me to be concerned about the current industrialization of China, which appears to be a significant multi-faceted tragedy in the making.

I’ve been thinking about this after reading yesterday’s installment of The Daily Reckoning. I confess to being a reader of this contrarian financial newsletter. I like editor Bill Bonner’s writing style. And I like it that much of what he has thus far prognosticated about the economy has been right on. The stock market and housing bubbles are a couple of examples of things he wrote and warned about many months before they became front page news.

Mr. Bonner’s recent missive is about the phenomenal economic growth of China—as chronicled in the current issue of National Geographic magazine—and it’s ramifications for the rest of the world. What I find particularly interesting is the Chinese demographic shift from rural-based agrarian culture to urban industrialism. Here is an excerpt from the newsletter:

“What caught our eye was a chart of China's oil use. Ten years ago, China imported 165 million barrels of oil per year. Today, the total is more than 1 billion. What does it do with all that energy? It grows…it develops…it chugs…it thumps…it soars.

Looking at the photos [in National Geographic], the place reminds me of a teenager—sassy, obnoxious, and outgrowing his pants. It is an adolescent nation, growing so fast it must eat all the time. In addition to the oil, China has opened 229 new coal-fired power plants since 1990.

Wonder why the price of oil hit a new high last week—above $126 a barrel? Well, China is a big part of the answer.

And rice is now selling for twice as much as it did last year. Could that too be blamed on China? Well, partly. When the Chinese lived on the land, they fed themselves with what they produced. But once in town, they become more customers for the globalized market…competing for their daily bread with people in Des Moines and Dubrovnik.

You've heard the expression about land—‘they're not making any more of it.’ Well, in China, they're actually losing it. Since 1949, says National Geographic, China has lost one-fifth of its farmland to dust-storms, desertification, pollution and urbanization. Each year, the country loses more ground—an area approximately as large as the state of Rhode Island.

Let's see, more and more people moving to the cities—hundreds of millions of them. Building factories...building houses...buying cars...washing machines...computers. More and more people competing for the world's resources...less and less farmland...

Oh, we'll do the math later.

Millions of Chinese people have left (and continue to leave) their centuries-old agrarian culture. As they move to the growing urban centers to get their piece of industrial prosperity, they are exchanging their rural self-reliance for complete dependency on the industrial machine, on the Industrial Providers.

The machine perpetuates itself only by consuming enormous amounts of natural resources and generating enormous amounts of waste. In other words, by desolating creation. Concepts like sustainability and stewardship of the earth are alien to these people. I can only assume the Chinese learned how to do this from our example in the industrialized western nations.

We have seen what Industrial greed and wealth and corrupted power have wrought here in America, a “democratic” nation, founded on Christian principles. Now we will see what happens when that unholy trinity works in the midst of a God-hating Communist nation.

Seeing this drama unfold in China reinforces my firm conviction that industrialized culture as we know it is a wicked thing. To employ an agrarian anology—it bears bad fruit.

All of which reaffirms my belief that a simplified, Christian-agrarian lifestyle, based on a Christian-agrarian worldview, is the only legitimate antithetical alternative to the industrial madness.

The bottom line here is that none of us can do anything about the situation in China. And I’m dubious about our ability to do anything significant about the corporate-government-military-industrial destruction taking place in this country (though I still have hope). But we can do something about how we choose to live our own lives.

Every single one of us can, if we care, if we are convicted of our complicity, take steps not to participate in the foolishness. We can take steps to be less dependent on the Industrial Providers. We can take steps to simplify our needs, our wants, our lives. We can take steps to separate ourselves and our families from the soul destroying influences of a popular culture that seeks to dominate our every thought and action. We can do this, deliberately, one step at a time. And in so doing, we will have actually done something substantial about the problem, where it matters the most.

That’s what I think.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Gardening & Hope in the Springtime

I have a section of good soil for my garden. I have gardening tools. I have seeds. I have compost. I have strength in my body, and the will to use it. And I have hope. It is springtime.

Already I have removed the detritus of last year’s garden: straw-mulch, remnants of floating row cover fabric, trellis frames, and long-dead vegetative refuse. Then I tilled the slate clean. I am ready. I have hope, because it is springtime.

The freshly-turned earth in my garden is moist and soft and sensual. We have been apart too long. The separation of winter has made my heart grow fonder. It is good to once again be back with my garden. It is springtime, and my hope runs high.

Long lengths of sisal string, stretched taunt between stakes, mark my rows. Below a line, my hand slices through the soil, making a furrow, just so. As I work with my hands, the cool earth packs in dark crescents under my fingernails. Each fingertip has a smile, as does my face. It is springtime in my garden, and I have hope.

Freedom can be found in a garden. Great masses of modern men are shackled to the degrading work of our industrialized economy. We submit to the drudgery of efficiency, of specialized, repetitive, trivial tasks. We are, at the same time, active participants and victims of the exploitation. But when we work in our gardens, the chains fall off. We find escape. There is hope, and it is strongest in the springtime.

I have commenced to plant some seeds in my garden: lettuce, spinach, and parsley. To plant these properly, I must kneel in the soil. There are devices that allow one to plant while standing. But, no, I must kneel. And I will bow my head as I place the hard, lifeless specks in the furrow. Planting seeds in the garden is, after all, an act of faith. Faith and hope, seed-in-furrow, hand-in-hand, in the springtime.

The planting of seeds in my garden, by hand, on my knees, is a simple action of rebellion against the modern order. It is an act of wisdom and significance in the midst of a foolish and vacuous world. It is voluntary submission to an older, higher calling. There is hope in this doing, in this calling. And this hope is greatest in the springtime.

Like every gardener, through every age, from the beginning of time, I envision what will be as I plant seeds in my garden. I see the entire garden planted. The seeds have grown to lush and fruitful maturity. I see divinely-inspired beauty. I see the bounty of the harvest on my family’s dinner table. I see the goodness preserved and stored in our pantry. I see into the future, with hope, in the springtime.

Food, fresh food from the garden, is, of course, on my mind when I am planting. I imagine the satisfaction of eating what I have grown. The flavors of steamed summer squash, of cucumber slices in vinegar, of fresh peas and young potatoes, of just-picked, peak-ripe tomato slices mixed with cilantro, of cabbage salad, of cantaloupes, of green beans, of cold, juiced carrots in the fall, and more. My mouth waters at such thoughts. They fill me with hope in the springtime.

There are people who are repulsed by the idea of growing their own food. They consider it wasted time, or an outward expression of poverty. They seek a richer life in modern leisure and amusements. Blinded by the fog of industrial-cultural, they search far and wide, in vain, failing to see that the answer is directly under their feet. They too could be co-creators, they too could be partakers in the mystery, and the wonder, and the beauty. They too could know the hope that comes to a gardener in the springtime.

I do not yet know for certain, but I believe gardening is eternal. One day, after my lifeless body, a mere speck in the vastness of creation, is placed in the soil and covered over, after my soul is transplanted into the realm of He who, out of love, created the garden and all that is, then I will know. But one thing is sure now: Hope is eternal in the heart of this gardener... especially in the springtime.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

First Turkey

At 13 and 17 years of age, my sons James and Robert are responsible and capable with firearms, and they are becoming good hunters. This delights me to no end because I see hunting as a manly pursuit.

My hope is that these boys will grow up to become capable, resourceful, manly men. More so than I have been. I think it is happening.

I have chronicled the woodchuck, rabbit, deer, and goose-hunting exploits of my sons on this blog in the past. Today I am pleased to tell you of another family first: a first turkey.

Robert and James were up before sunrise last Saturday morning. They made themselves scrambled eggs for breakfast, donned their cammo outfits, and were out the door when our friend, George, pulled in the driveway to pick them up. I was sound asleep. :-)

George is a Christian brother, a laboratory researcher by profession, and an avid lifelong hunter. He has three sons of his own, but only one is interested in hunting, and he is busy with college studies. So George graciously invited Robert and James to go turkey hunting with him.

It was not the first time either boy had been turkey hunting but it was the first time they actually came home with one.


That’s James, George, and Robert with a nice Tom. The dog is Annie. She wants to drag that turkey off and bury it somewhere. Robert shot the big gobbler. It's his first turkey.

Here’s another picture of Robert with his turkey.


The beard is 12” long. The spurs are 1-3/8”. George says it is a once-in-a-lifetime turkey.

Robert and I skinned the bird and it's now in the freezer. We are looking forward to eating a wild turkey. That'll be another first.

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Better Future We Left Behind

”The urge to buy is as manufactured as the stuff you have heaped in your shopping basket.”

The title of this bog entry is the subtitle of a particularly good article in the current issue of Orion magazine. The Gospel of Consumption by Jeffrey Kaplan provides some insights into the origin of mass consumerism, which has become the lifeblood of our economic system.

It wasn’t always this way.

Shortly after the turn of the previous century, the big manufacturers and industrialists of America were faced with a curious situation. It was referred to as ”need saturation.” Americans were traditionally frugal people. They bought what they needed. They bought some luxuries too. But, overall, they were not frivolous with their money. So, having what they needed, they were not inclined to keep spending.

The efficient machinery of American industry had done a remarkable job of meeting the physical needs of the population. That being the case, the factories would be able to work less. It looked like a three-day work week was a real possibility. Those people who worked in the factories could have more time to spend with their families, in community work, or on other interests. Were this to happen, we might say the machinery of industry had become an efficient servant to the citizenry of the country. Imagine that.

Well, as you might also imagine, such a scenario was looked upon as a very serious "problem" by the factory owners. The problem required a solution—a new approach. Instead of fulfilling basic human needs, as they had done in the past, the industrialists realized that they needed to create new needs. Americans had to be convinced that however much they had, it wasn’t enough.

One of the masters of convincing the population of their need for more unnecessary stuff was Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud. Bernays “used all manner of political propaganda, psychological manipulation, and celebrity endorsements” to “keep the consumers dissatisfied.”

President Herbert Hoover’s 1929 Committee on Recent Economic Changes observed in glowing terms the results:

By advertising and other promotional devices…a measurable pull on production has been created which releases capital otherwise tied up.”

”Economically we have a boundless field before us; that there are new wants which will make way endlessly for newer wants, as fast as they are satisfied.”

By creating needs that were never there before—needs for things that were not really needed, the possibilities for economic prosperity were seen as “boundless.” It appeared that the secret to perpetual economic prosperity had been discovered.

And that’s how American “citizens” became “consumers.” But more than that, all of We the Consumers (not to mention the economy of our nation) have become shackled to “an ever-accelerating cycle of work and consumption.” Instead of the machines becoming our servants, they became our masters. And the owners of the machines became richer and richer. And the environment was destroyed more and more. This endless cycle has...

”...impoverished our human communities with a form of materialism that leaves us in relative isolation from family, friends, and neighbors. We simply don’t have time for them.”

If you'd like to know more about all of this, please do read Mr. Kaplan’s Orion magazine article. Here’s the link again: The Gospel of Consumption. (Please note that practically all the words, phrases, and ideas I’ve expressed here have been taken from the article)

And here’s one more very insightful quotation that I'd like to draw your attention to:

”...if as a society we made a collective decision to get by on the amount we produced and consumed seventeen years ago, we could cut back from the standard forty-hour week to 5.3 hours per day—or 2.7 hours if we were willing to return to the 1948 level. We were already the richest country on the planet in 1948 and most of the world has not yet caught up to where we were then.”

Personally, I’m all for going back to the 1948 level. But I’m not normal. And I’d say the chances of our society willingly making a collective decision to do that are pretty much slim to none. But, the way our economy is floundering, maybe our society won’t have a choice in the matter....

Sunday, May 04, 2008

A Young Man's Wild Dream Actually Happens....

The young man was me. I once had an idea of something I wanted to do. It was a wild dream. It was a desire to do something in my life that, looking back now, I could never have done. But, amazingly, without even realizing it (until just recently), the dream has actually come true.

Back 30+ years ago, when I was 18 or 19 years old, I came up with the idea. When you are that age, with your life before you, and you are full of energy, you can dream up a lot of ideas of what you are going to do in life. Anything is possible. The canvass has yet to be painted. I may have had more ideas than some.

I talked about my idea with only one other person. I told her all about my dream. Her name was Marlene. She is now my wife. We've been married almost 28 years. I do not think I have ever mentioned to her anything about the idea in all those years. The idea fell by the wayside and was forgotten as we got on with the realities of life. It really was a crazy dream of an idea.

Then, a couple months ago, I remembered the idea. And I was struck with the realization that it has actually come to fruition. Maybe I was imagining the dream. It had been so many years ago. I decided to verify it...

Marlene and I were taking a morning walk up the road a couple weeks ago and I asked her if she remembered when we were kids? She laughed. I asked her if she remembered that crazy idea I had to start up and publish a magazine like the Mother Earth News. She remembered. I asked her if she remembered the name I had come up with for the publication. She thought a second and said: The Harvest Moon?

Wow. She did remember! I wasn't imagining all of this.

I told Marlene that I had recently come to the realization that my long-ago dream has, in a sense, actually come true. This blog, The Deliberate Agrarian is, esentially, a down-to-earth publication, similar in many ways to the early Mother Earth News magazine, of which I was once such an avid reader. The Harvest Moon has come to life as The Deliberate Agrarian.

For almost three years now I have been writing here on this blog about the joys of faith-and-family-focused rural life, self sufficiency, respect for and responsible stewardship of creation, and organic gardening and farming. I have presented and celebrated a countercultural way of life. I have published numerous how-to articles. I even advertise and sell stuff.

This little blog, humble though it may be, is, the realization of my boyhood dream.

30+ years ago I never would have imagined something like the internet would come into existence. Now, with practically no financial investment, I can write, edit, and put photos in a "publication" that can reach thousands of people. I can communicate ideas and information that entertain and teach and encourage others to live what I believe is a richer, fuller, wiser way of life--a way of life that is contrary to the mainstream insanity.

And, better yet, I'm not the only one. Others are doing this same thing. But, and this is my point, I really did have the idea decades ago to do something much like what I am doing now. Is that amazing, or what!

This whole realization leads me to the further realization that it is amazing how God works in our lives. I had a crazy dream when I was a young man. I think God gave me a glimpse of something that He intended for me to do. It was totally impossible. So impossible that I pretty much forgot it. But, over the years, I discovered a God-given talent and a deep desire to write. The Lord gave me opportunities to develop those talents. Then, when the time was right, He brought me into this internet realm. Since then, the words and the ideas have flowed out into this blog. I do not have a huge publication like Mother Earth News was, but I have something akin to it.

God's sovereignity is an awesome thing to consider. I'm obviously not talking about some earth-shaking event here. On the cosmic level it's miniscule. I am, as I've stated here before, nothing more than a very little fish in a very big pond. But the Lord has led me into something that I think He destined me to do. I am, frankly, amazed at this, and I want to acknowledge His goodness in this regard.

I also want to take this opportunity to point out that this blog has an extensive archive of articles. They have been written to inspire, inform, encourage, and teach. You can get to them by way of the sidebar over on the right side of this page. Or you can get there from the links below:

Christian Agrarianism
Livin’ The Good Life
My Younger Days
My “Older” Days
Rural How-To
Raising & Processing Poultry
Rural Enterprise
Odds n Ends