Of course, distributists pride themselves on being opposed to the consumptive economy and focusing on production. Indeed, the distributive state is defined, by Belloc, as that state in which productive property (not property simply) is so well distributed throughout society that the society as a whole takes on the character of one of owners, rather than of one of proletarian workers. Everybody, rich and poor, needs to consume, and consumption will therefore always be an important part of an economy. But we cannot consume what has not first been made; and as such, the producers, and those who control production, are the most important part of an economy.
But why, the capitalist will object. Why would anyone produce if no one can consume? Why would I, a maker of widgets, go through all the trouble of producing those widgets if no one wants to buy them? But a still better question is, what is the man who needs widgets to do if I haven’t gone through all the trouble of producing them? The consumer is dependent upon the producer. If the producer cannot sell to this consumer, he can sell to another, or he can produce something else; the non-producer, however, simply has to wait until somebody else makes what he needs. That is why production is prior to consumption in an economy.
This primacy of production is even more pronounced in necessaries, particularly the most basic, like food and clothing. The producer of food will always need food; he is motivated to produce enough at least to ensure that he may eat. The consumer of food, on the other hand, is entirely dependent upon the producers of it. If the producers do not produce enough, or produce in too low a quality, the consumer dies. The same is true for a society as a whole: if that society fails to produce sufficient food, it must either import that food, compensating for that importation by some other valuable production, or simply go without, which clearly is not a viable option. Either way, it must produce rather than merely consume, and production is again seen to be primary; for without production, no consumption can occur.
Which brings me to my present topic: the primacy of agriculture. By “agriculture” here I mean, very loosely, the production of food; it includes farming, gardening, animal husbandry, hunting, fishing, and anything else that results in some food product at the end. It’s clear from the foregoing that agriculture is the most necessary of all productive industries. Agriculture is the oldest and the greatest profession. Without a healthy agricultural base, all economies are doomed, for workers cannot work if they cannot eat. Before we worry about whether we’ve got enough motor vehicles, good enough highways, fast enough computers, and big enough office parks, we need to worry about whether we’ve got enough food. We take it entirely for granted these days, but we shouldn’t. It’s the bedrock of all human endeavor, the root of all human production. Without it, we can do nothing.
Yet despite this, the farm and the farmer are treated with scorn. Farmers are stupid, uneducated yokels. They speak strangely and do weird things; frequently, even their relations with their livestock are called into question. Their children are either drunken jocks resigned to the inevitably of their descent into agricultural drudgery, or motivated geniuses studying their hardest so as not to have to endure a life of working in the fields. One thing is certain: nobody wants to be a farmer. Farmers are the ones who are stuck with it, especially illegal aliens, who do the work that Americans—you know, people who have gone to school and know better—don’t want to do.
This attitude comes with our increasing distance from production, our transformation into consumptive sheep incapable of producing anything on our own. Think long and hard; how many people do you know who are engaged in a productive endeavor for a living? How many people do you know who actually make things, instead of being one of the many links in the long chain passing them along the line? Even when most people think about starting a business, it’s rarely about starting a productive business; rather, it’s about starting a real estate firm, a law firm, a restaurant. It’s usually about providing services which utilize the valuable goods produced by others, rarely about producing valuable goods themselves.
Even our legislation tends to reflect this bias against agricultural production. When was the last time we in America had a real, popular debate about farming legislation? The Great Depression. The plutocrats so thoroughly control the Department of Agriculture and other farming-related wings of our government that such issues rarely see the light of day. Yet we live in a vast country, with some of the most fertile land on the planet. We unquestionably have far more land than we need to feed ourselves; even most of our individual states could easily themselves without importing much food from other areas. But are we importing only luxury foods, like pineapples and chocolate and other things that are not necessary and simply cannot grow in our own climate? No; we’re importing far more of our food than we need to import, and it’s exposing us to food insecurity and public health risks.
The USDA estimates that America imported $71.9 billion worth of food in 2009. Our farms and herds only produced about $282.1 billion of food. About a fifth of the food that we produce is, therefore, imported. A nation with nearly a billion acres of farmland imports a fifth of its food supply. Both our plutocratic parties claim to be concerned about our dependence on foreign oil (though in typically plutocratic fashion they never do anything about it); why do they never express concern about our growing dependence on foreign food, a much more fundamental and necessary good?
The state which cannot produce its own food is the state which is forever dependent upon others. It is time that our society restored agriculture to its proper primacy, and its practitioners to their honored place in our states.
Praise be to Christ the King!