20 May 2008

Do Farmers Care?

A few months back, someone sent me this comment in response to my rant against the farm bill*:
Others [farmers] do care, though. I know because my dad is a farmer, and we grow a number of crops, including low-input and organic crops up in the Capay Valley. And my dad's employees are indeed Mexican, but extraordinarily stable in their employment. He does things like go to their soccer games and Quincieanera's. They make us things like tamales and other fantastic Mexican food. I hear my Christmas card was on his foreman's fridge last year. Not exactly the Cesar Chavez-type exploitation, seems like.
What I said was this:
I've no doubt that he cares, and small farmers are the ones to look out for. The trouble (as Pollan points out) is that people look for cheep cheep instead of quality in their food. The trouble with trade barriers is they tend to be written for the big guys with big lobbies. Just look at how Cargill / ADM are making a killing on ethanol...
People care about others for two reasons -- intrinsic ("I'm a good person and I do good things, i.e., golden rule") and extrinsic ("I'll do anything for money"), and it's important to keep these motivations in mind. If you live in a "community," both motivations contribute to ethical and reasonable business practices; First, because your customers are also your friends, neighbors and providers; second, because a bad reputation is the kiss of death. If you live in a transactions-based world ("I met this guy on the internet..."), then both motivations are weaker: First, because you are unlikely to know the person behind the customer, and second, because reputation means nothing.

Bottom Line: Industry, scale and development can be very useful for economic efficiency, but one must also watch the incentives that arise in a transactions-based world. Without the glue that exists in a relations-based world, it's all too easy to screw your customers, suppliers, et al. in the quest for "extrinsic dollars".

* Approved by the Congress, and Bush says he'll veto. That would be good and brave, so I have my doubts.

1 comment:

  1. Apropos, Bee Wilson's article in the May 19 New Yorker. She observes that humanity now finds itself with more obese than starving individuals, although the latter category is huge. Another observation is that pricing for "the overfed rich" hoses the "underfed poor" of the world.
    The article is open access and readily Googled,

    http://www.newyorker.com/arts/
    critics/atlarge/2008/05/19/
    080519crat_atlarge_wilson?
    printable=true

    ReplyDelete

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