Welcome to Book of the Week – a weekly feature of an Acres U.S.A. published title offering you a glimpse between the pages.
This week’s Book of the Week feature is A Beast of Muddy Brain, by Charles Walters, one of eco-agriculture’s greatest advocates and founder of Acres U.S.A. A Beast of Muddy Brain is Walters’s first fiction title.
There were some six million family farmers in the United States at the end of World War II. Debts had been lowered or erased during the war years. Land purchased in the late 1930s was paid for by 1945. Yet there was a permanent, haunting fear that the depression of the 1930s would return with a vengeance. The farm leadership was afraid. The drought cycle had been broken, still there was this awesome fear that there would be no rain. The soldiers came home on the whole to resume their upward mobile lives, the wounded to be tucked away, saluted but almost forgotten in dank hospitals or in odorized recovery rooms at home. James Robert Neff could look out on his growing herd of Herefords: fourteen animals. For nearly a year he rarely left his bedroom, and then his health came back. He read a great deal: Balzac, Erle Stanley Gardner, Raymond Chandler, The Shepherd of the Hills, histories of the presidents whose names he had memorized. He followed Time magazine. By the second year after the end of the war, his old history teacher saw Jim as a self educated young man.
In 1946 Congress passed the Employment Act. “My God, they’re going to give farming a fair shake!”
The Act called for a Council of Economic Advisors that would issue the annual Economic Report of the President, and see to it that a structural balance would prevail, which meant that the basic storable commodities from 80 to 82% of the harvested acres would continue to receive parity, that is, if the full parity goal of the War Stabilization Act was extended when it expired in 1948.
Figures do not lie, but liars figured. They had names for their distorted accounting principles. These became styled as agribusiness, vertical integration, and factory in the field. They bandied slogans such as “the family farmer is as obsolete as the horse and buggy.” There were speeches to the effect that if farmers did not straighten up and fly right, fifty million people would starve. Anyone who questioned hydrocarbon rings in the food chain was consigned to intellectual underworld status. Chemical fertilizers, pesticides, hormones and antibiotics were the wave of the future. It came to pass that full parity for the basic storable commodities lifted almost all farm products to a prosperity level undreamed of since 1910-1914. Farmers seldom had to borrow to put in crops or buy replacement calves. Banks became alarmed when they were unable to find borrowers for the loans the fractional reserve allowed them to make.
When the next calf crop came due, Jim Neff would have at least a twenty-eight cow herd. He would have at least a bull or two to sell, even his own meat, all from a line bred herd started with a few calves from an old Western Kansas patriarch, the late Xander Staab.
Why could not a man make a living off eighty acres? The more Jim dug into the whys and wherefores, the more he visited with now retired Mr. Miller, the more Jim Neff became a philosopher farmer and a farmer entrepreneur. Real wealth came from grass, a gift of rain and sunshine. It was the price mechanism that conferred value, that in effect monetized grass and turned it into the gold that the old alchemists had forever sought. “Civilization is what happens in cities,” the great professor had said, “and the city is dependent on there being a surplus from the food producer and some existing organization that can take it away from him. With this food surplus the political organization feeds kings, priests, armies, architects and builders, and the city comes into being. Political science in its earliest form is the knowledge of how to take the food surplus away from the food producer without giving him too much in return.”
Another great professor had put it just as bluntly, “Exploitation of the weak by the powerful, organized for the purpose of economic gain, buttressed by imposing systems of law, and by decorous draperies of virtuous sentiment and resounding rhetoric, have become a permanent feature in the life of most communities the world has yet seen.” So wrote R.H. Tawney in Religion and the Rise of Capitalism in 1926, an era that saw raw materials producers the world over exploited mercilessly as a prelude to world depression.
Classic models, Ricardo’s iron law of wages, and Manchester formulas notwithstanding, economists came to know that the economic equation started with raw materials taken from the earth, chiefly the raw materials called food. In any working equation, raw material production prices had to reflect the cost of production plus a profit in ratio to all cost factors. To the price structure had to be added the cost of handling in terms of transportation, processing, and capital costs so that in the end the consumer price level reflected parity, with all cost factors in balance, and a market sufficient for the production. If this statement comes terribly close to rephrasing Say’s Law of Markets, then it is only because J.B. Say could reason better than he could write. Yet Say was right. Production creates its own demand in a complete economy, if properly priced at every level of exchange. America, as Ralph Waldo Emerson clearly taught, has one of the world’s only complete systems. That is to say, America has all the raw materials required to operate a complete economy. Unless the system dynamic collapses, business profits come fastest through exploitation. Much the same is true in farming. Farm profits come fastest when virgin soil is exploited, even when half-life soil is exploited, until finally, Nature revolts and diminished returns set in. Taking the surplus from the country to maintain armies and services depends on farmers wanting to produce, and therefore it has never been wise for the Crown to take everything.
Exploitation procedures become more complicated when business is involved. The businessman is not interested in consuming the production, but in profiting from the traffic therefrom. He knows it takes imbalance, an oversupply in one commodity in one place, and an undersupply in that same commodity in another place, to create a differential advantage. Only an exchange equation out of balance delivers fantastic wealth to a few and poverty to many. There is a subtle difference between creation of wealth and the manipulation thereof.
“These jobbers, loan issuers, banks and insurance companies,” wrote Vincent Vickers, former Deputy Lieutenant of the City of London, a director of Vickers, Ltd., and former Governor of the Bank of England, “create nothing at all. They are the parasites of the national good and life and are dependent upon the money that others collect. Like the unemployed, they are supported at the cost of the nation.”
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About the Author:
Charles Walters was the founder and executive editor of Acres U.S.A. He penned thousands of articles on the technologies of organic and sustainable agriculture and authored many books on the subject, including Weeds: Control Without Poisons, Dung Beetles, Grass, the Forgiveness of Nature, A Farmer’s Guide to the Bottom Line, Fertility from the Ocean Deep, as well as many others. A leading proponent of raw material economics, he served as president of the National Organization for Raw Materials (NORM) and authored several books on economics, including Unforgiven: The American Economic System Sold for Debt and War.
Books by the Same Author:
Unforgiven: The American Economic System Sold for Debt and War, by Charles Walters
Raw Material Economics, by Charles Walters
For a complete list of Charles Walters’s works, see The Charles Walters Collection on our website.
Similar Books of Interest:
In the Shadow of Green Man, by Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin
Night Came to the Farms of the Great Plains, by Raymond D. North
A Walk in the Sun, by Philip S. Callahan