Thursday, July 25, 2013

The American Dream...  

Has moved to the city. Numerous economic mobility studies seem to be pointing toward a clear conclusion: If you want to get ahead in the US, move to town - or better yet a dense city.  The effect is so pronounced it shows up in sprawling suburbs as well.
There's an old vision of the American Dream that is obsolete, and has been for quite awhile. That's Thomas Jefferson's idea of a nation of self-sufficient farmers -- an agrarian republic. Over time, as people left the countryside for the cities during the Industrial Revolutions, this vision morphed: it became a nostalgia for (and even snobbery of) small towns. It's a vision that Republicans still cling to. Remember when Sarah Palin talked about "real America"? Or when Republicans warned that high-speed rail and bike lanes were some kind of socialist plot? It's a vision of America at odds with the American Dream today.
It turns out the best place to pursue happiness -- and a career -- is in the city. [More]
The reason this is more than a cultural curiosity is the political impact. Part the the mantra of the right is "takers" simply won't get off their butts and climb the ladders of success by working hard and sacrificing.  There is an element of truth in this, but it ignores the fact there are few ladders left in many parts of America.
Still, earlier studies have already found that education and family structure have a large effect on the chances that children escape poverty. Other researchers, including the political scientist Robert D. Putnam, author of “Bowling Alone,” have previously argued that social connections play an important role in a community’s success. Income mobility has become one of the hottest topics in economics, as both liberals and conservatives have grown worried about diminished opportunities following more than a decade of disappointing economic growth. After years of focusing more on inequality at a moment in time, economists have more recently turned their attention to people’s paths over their lifetimes.
Polls show that Americans are worried about whether living standards will rise for most people in coming decades, as they have for nearly all of the nation’s history. In interviews in Atlanta and its suburbs, residents reflected many of the national concerns and many of the patterns in the study.[More]
This theme that The Great Stagnation means life is about as good as it's gonna get for the vast majority of us informs every decision we make to some degree, shapes our political expectations and transmits a questionable message to children. But more and more, I think it's not wholly unfounded.

Overall economic growth faces some powerful headwinds.


In fact, if the long-suffering doomsayers of agriculture finally hit it right over the next few years, and income and land prices plummet, farmers may be among the pessimists more so than today. Our industry and profession has pulled up many of the traditional ladders by which farmers climbed in the ranks.

Remember hogs as the great mortgage lifters? It was a way to increase income without having to expand your land base. I think I am not far off in suggesting that path has at least narrowed significantly. As for renting more land, good luck to those who can't bankroll the cash rents with equity or other ground. Moreover as tracts become larger due to consolidation with adjacent land buyers, the chunks won't be as digestible as an 80 here or there.

Other sheer good fortune, which cannot be ruled out, there are few obvious strategies to enable ambitions to be fulfilled in farming. The one emerging possibility could be working at entry level for a large farming operation and climbing up an internal ladder similar to any other large corporation.  Perversely enough, this could be the most powerful argument for large farms: they offer the greatest hope to young aspiring producers - just not a traditional independent career.

Finally, we're not about hard physical labor as much anymore. Ag is about capital and technology.  Especially on the upcoming retrenchment, access to capital won't be east for climbers, and will be met with fierce competition by those they would replace.

In short, while there may be some culling of the farmer herd on the backside of this boom, our lack of upward mobility means it's likely few of the survivors a decade from now will be anyone but a scion of those already in the upper ranges of income and size.

Just like, if not worse than the rest of America.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Historically the advantage went to the farming introvert. We are on a fast pace for advantage ++ to the farming extrovert. Success will come from your ability to manage people not your ability to spend long solitary hours.