Last time I offered a sobering New Year’s assessment of the inevitable effects on our currency of steadily increasing national debt, and how this will cause inflation and increased interest rates. These twin mathematical villains care not for human comfort, let alone for the crushing blow this will inflict on struggling Americans. America is not likely to pay off its national deficit; the world will not stop emitting carbon, and churning out pollution. Our national debt stands there for future generations to gape at, the financial equivalent of the swelling mountain at the Coventry landfill. And we have not considered here our country’s private unsecured debt, state and local government borrowing, or unfunded future guarantees for retirement, health benefits, etc. At the same time we have become more urbanized, technology dependent, and government-dependent.
We cannot grow a manufacturing or technology base which will pay off our debt. We have become absurdly dependent on cheap energy and glossy technology. Even as our food quality and safety have declined, we have surrendered yet more of our self-reliance to industrial production. Recent “innovations” allow chicken and pork to be grown in a petri dish — shall we one day only be able to obtain chicken from a factory? Water from a bottle? Oxygen from a tank with mask? We Vermonters obtain the bulk of our food from California, Arizona, and foreign lands — thousands of miles distant. Just as rising interest rates undermine house prices by putting pressure on monthly payments, inflation exponentially increases the commodity costs (especially fuel and chemicals) related to modern food production. If transportation, production, and distribution costs all rise concurrently, prices for those veggies from California and New Jersey will spike sharply. The effect is amplified in meat products, where feed costs can increase exponentially. Urban and suburban regions now dominate America, and act as though they are independent of the rural expanses that feed them: the opposite is true. Vermont increasingly looks more like an undulating suburbia than the productive agricultural community that it once was.
Although technology can indeed be used for good, it often carries unanticipated environmental or health costs, and it is often abused for profit. Industrial farming has amplified these costs, for short-term gain. GK Chesterton, Charles Dickens, JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, and many others cautioned us against the dehumanizing and destructive forces that humans could wield over other humans by abusing technology and mechanization (recall Saruman and the Orcs in The Lord of the Rings, who rapidly destroy the landscape and employ massive underground machines to manufacture weapons of war). Chemical companies like Monsanto have for decades sought to reduce the amount of profit earned by farmers in the name of increasing their own “market share.”
Vermont’s “Brand” is agriculture. That is our state’s history, it’s character, it’s backbone. But in recent decades Vermont has shifted to a tourism “industry” that has compounded our techno-dependency. If the national economy declines, tourism will tank, and Vermont will be on the exact opposite end of where it was in 1929 — instead of being largely unaffected by the Great Depression, the effects of the Great Currency Collapse will be magnified here. I do not advocate that we bolster local farms to preserve our Vermont landscape and increase tourism: I say we increase farms to expand our “Brand” for local, fresh, healthy food that supports local families, businesses and communities. Many young people in Vermont have committed to the hard work and creative innovation required to carve new and growing niches for profitable, small-scale, sustainable food production. This is not just Vermont’s, but humanity’s, future — healthy local food.
Vermont is paying people $10,000 each to move to Vermont and live here while they retain out-of-state jobs. I have not been able to find a single human being who supports this as a good idea. We do not benefit from more non-farming people who are not from here (translate “Flatlanders”) — I suggest we invest that money instead by granting $10,000 each to local agricultural ventures owned by Vermonters, perhaps linked dollar-for-dollar to gross sales, to help small or new ventures improve short-term profitability while they contribute to our local economy rather than an out-of state multinational corporation. Local money for local people to grow and sell local food. If we are to pay out-of-staters, let’s pay $10,000 to Amish families: they possess agricultural knowledge, work hard, and contribute directly to the agricultural traditions we have neglected.
Critical thinkers will discern that the “future” is not in nanochips, politics, or white-collar or blue-collar jobs — it is, ironically, in farming. Not merely economically, but environmentally, and to rebuild communities and self-reliance (including, importantly, emergency preparedness and food security). Modern man has taken an enormous gamble by placing the very food he eats in the custody of corporations, factories, and boardrooms, and we Vermonters reject our heritage when we share in this overly-dependent and destructive joyride. It is as if modern man has rebelled against God’s admonition that humanity would work the ground in toil, overcoming thistles and thorns: “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19, NKJV).
We tried to cheat our arduous, labor-intensive connection between the soil and our food with machines and chemicals; with labor practices that reduce laborers to Orc-like proles. We must return to the land to reclaim all the things we have shed by abandoning it — community, healthy food, self-reliance. This is a matter not of preference or idealism, but of simple survival and basic health in the future. It is not a transition that is made easily or quickly.
It may be decades before the national deficit drags us into a spiral of inflation, rising interest rates, and resultant implosion of consumer spending (consumer spending supports the bulk of our economy, like a dragon eating its own tail). But then, the longer the trade dispute with China extends, or with increasing annual federal budget deficits (2018 was $779 billion; 2019 is projected to approach $1 trillion), interest rates and inflation could engulf us like a California wildfire.
As Americans bicker over ideological differences, future threats from national debt and food insecurity grow larger. We Vermonters must rejuvenate and embrace our native place, and our natural business: growing healthy food. That is progress; that is the future; that is the only way forward, for 2019 and thereafter.
Previously published on 01/04/2019 in The Newport Daily Express.