The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.


American GothicHere, before us, we have a pretty self-sufficient farm family, whose only wants outside what they produce are some metal utensils, glass, fine cloth, perhaps, refined sugar, flour and meal, coffee or tea. Up the hollow is a wired old coot digging some coal and iron out of the earth and, with his sons, building a furnace to smelt iron. Down the road is a little country store and water powered grist mill, where farmers can get their grains milled for a fourth of the product. You get the picture. It's a community in early nineteenth century Virginia or Ohio or New York. Many dozens of places. Little or no money used or needed. No great expectations.

How do we get from there to here in two hundred years?

Greed came first. Men with great ambitions turned the nation from an agrarian one to an industrial one by mid twentieth century. Coal barons, oil barons, railroad barons, auto barons, robber barons... Cities grew around industries and trade; poverty and slums were their mirror images. In 1900, nine out of every ten Americans made a living farming. Then, farming was industrialized. By 1950 only one in ten lived on farming alone.

Those who resisted these changes were either ridiculed as utopian agrarianists or condemned as godless communists, depending on whether they wished to turn back the clock or share the wealth more equitably. When workers countered with an organized labor movement, right to work laws were passed and other laws to break the unions, and where the laws didn't work, hired thugs did the job. The greed squad was able to turn greed into creed because: they owned the paper and ink, the media, the newspaper and textbook companies, companies which endowed college chairs and funded foundations which gave grants to writers. You get the picture. For more detail, check out A People's History of the United States.

But the growth economy came from two prime sources: capital G greed and all the propaganda money can buy.

style="font-family: Georgia; font-style: italic;">Guest blogger Errol is a long time social change activist.  Don't miss his earlier post on Growth Economics.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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