22 March 2012

A Simple Man's Defense of Local Food

1. It seems to me that the main problem at work in industrial societies is that of distribution. There is more food and energy in the world than everyone needs to get by, but a society will stand or fall on its ability to distribute resources adequately among its members.

2. If the problem is distribution, then “the economy” exists to move commodities from the hands of those who have them to the hands of those who don’t. Capitalism is a distribution scheme which enables farmers to get clothes, spreadsheet manipulators to eat, and professors to buy books. Centrally planned economies attempt to do the same thing, either by modifying capitalism through price-setting, or by absorbing the means of production into the state.

3. Since in the last analysis the proper use of nature falls to humanity as a whole, one very good way of analyzing an economic system will then be to look at how effectively it acts as a medium for the communication of both natural and artificial commodities to the people within it. The Marxist (and ultimately Apostolic) adage “from each according to his ability…” is a description of the ideal operation of any economy. The question is which variety of economic structure does that the best, without violating the natural law, while promoting the common good (which is, obviously, not equivalent to the health or wealth that come from tradeable commodities).

4. In a technological society like our own, a huge portion of the population is unnecessary for the production of the goods necessary to sustain life and promote human flourishing. Mass production, both in agriculture and manufacturing, continues to make more and more jobs unnecessary. Internet shopping has obliterated a large portion of the local merchant population while replacing it with a much smaller and more efficient set of computer technicians and warehouse workers.

5. The superfluity of most workers and the abudance of natural resources and military power has led Americans to solve the distribution problem by creating surplus goods: entertainment, gadgetry, vehicles, etc. These inventions have not only produced employment for the growing labor surplus, but have materially improved the quality of life of most people in society. However, our collective dependence on consumption for maintaining a stable flow of resources has led to a kind of compulsive promotion of surplus consumption.

6. This is why we are such awful people on the whole, why vice is communally celebrated, etc. The intemperate person uses more than he needs; the addict consumes without any restraint. The coward will use an abundance of services that are objectively opposed to his flourishing if they allow him to avoid the simple but difficult solution to a common need (consider texting and email).

7. Thus the dominant values in our civilization are: (a) Convenience, (b) Pleasure, (c) Property, (d) Options (i.e., the existence of multiplicity in the objects of desire, frequently confused with “freedom”). Outside of a totalitarian state, a business sector designed to promote consumption, which also has control over the cultural education and moral formation of the populace (both of which happen largely through mass media, which are controlled by business interests), will be almost guaranteed to produce these values in the population at large.

8. If America were populated by genuinely temperate people, unemployment would skyrocket and the present order of things would probably collapse.

9. Consequently it should be clear that the tremendous labor efficiency of our society makes the American spcies of capitalism inefficient as a means of distribution. Far more material resources must be consumed in order to maintain the present system in a way that keeps everyone’s basic needs met. As a result, it is clear that a shift in efficiencies would be necessary to produce a more stable and effective economic system: We need methods of production that are less efficient in terms of labor, in order to yield a system of distribution that is more efficient in terms of stability, consumption and the use of material means.

10. I think local food does this. I think the high cost of local food is a good thing: it expresses not only the real value of food at the center of human life, but also the real need for people to divert their income away from the surplus goods we all consume at the service of vice and excess, toward the support of people doing dignified, skilled labor that promotes the common good in a responsible way. We might complain right now that only yuppies and wealthy yoga mom types can afford local food, but if the mentality behind local food were present in every sector of production, the real cost of everything would skyrocket, as would the demand for labor and (I think) the well-being of the populace at large.