Friday, December 16, 2011

"The Economics of Peasant Farming" (2nd ed. 1965) - Major Takeaways

Doreen Warriner
  1. Overpopulation can mean either (a) agricultural production doesn't keep pace with an increase in population, or (b) there is labor redundancy on the land; the first causes starvation, the second drives down wages and creates poverty (less disposable income for manufactured goods)
  2. There is a big difference between well-capitalized commercial farming and poor subsistence farming, even at the peasant level; the first results from access to accumulated capital and to markets, to develop their land more intensively and effectively sell the excess
  3. Peasants are well-off in industrialized nations with high tariffs to prevent competition from cheap foreign producers
  4. So, a low rate of capital investment + a high rate of population growth = trouble
  5. But high rates of capital investment need the accumulated capital from industrialization, and industrialization depends on the "development" of natural resources; only in one place does she mention the potential limits to this:
    From the general economic standpoint, migration is the most desirable solution... If the whole world was over-populated, the problem would be a different one. But there is no reason for thinking that it is. (p198)
  6. Fertility of the soil depends on the right balance of livestock to land, because of manure
  7. Peasant farms are better for soil fertility because peasants take the longer view of time
  8. Peasant farms make better use of surplus labor: more people employed per hectare, and more evenly throughout the year
  9. Peasant farms accumulate capital as households but tend to invest it all in their farms, so there are too few sources of pooled capital to invest in industrial projects like mechanization or irrigation
  10. The Russian solution was to collectivize and capitalize farms, guaranteeing cheaper food for the industrial proletariat in order to drive rapid industrialization, while increasing the productivity of peasants without increasing their incomes, with the thought that eventually the prices of manufactured goods would come down and the purchasing power of peasants would increase as a result; this did not happen
  11. A sustainable rural population averages between 50-100 people and 30-70 cattle per 100 hectares (including woodlands?); the average farm size necessary to support a family is 15-20 acres (including woodland?); 1 hectare per person is considered a minimum subsistence level; I don't know if this means simply for food or for enough profit for an adequate standard of living, as well; to be well-off, each farming family should be able to feed three families, including themselves
  12. On the distributed economics note:
    The Polish government has followed a policy of industrial dispersion, in consequence of which peasants in the SE region have benefited by the expansion of the new industrial centre of Krakow, round the new steel works in the suburb of Now Huta, which houses some of the recruits to industry... Movement into industry largely takes the form of daily migration from the countryside by small farmers or members of their families. In the mid-fifties 'peasant-industrial workers' were estimated to number between 900,00 and 1,200,000 in Poland as a whole. In 1960 there were estimated to be 400,000 such workers in Krakow voivodship alone, in a population of 2.3 million. They are the best off among the industrial workers, since the farm, even if small, provides a secure food supply; the wages earned by the commuting members of the family provide cash for consumption goods, and also for new farm equipment and building...nearly half the peasant families in the SE region derived some income from industrial employment, and one quarter of them derived oer 60% of their income from off-farm is cheaper to provide double decker railway cariages for them than to build more new urban housing...commuting makes the best of two bad jobs, because industrial wages are low, food dear and urban housing hard to get... so in these regions industrialization does to some extent absorb the surplus, including the part-time workers and the seasonal slack (pxx-xxii)
  13. On seasonal variation:
    If, that is to say, the annual labour requirements of a farm are 270 man-days throughout the year, then one man can do the work, but if the man-days must be worked during three months, then three men will be needed...if all the workers are unemployed for hafl the year, it does not follow that half the workers are surplus, though some of them may be. The real surplus consists of thos workers who are employed only for a short period in the peak season, and who could work throughout it, if they had larger farms, or could find work on other farms. (pxxvii)
  14. And a note of caution for the standard ag development line:
    In those under-developed countries where the race between population and agricultural production today is a far grimmer reality than it was in the old E. Europe, the use of the concept of surplus labour as a starting point for development plans is definitely dangerous, since it may bias policy off the right approach, the need for increasing food output. (pxxx)
  15. And finally, on the issue of land:
    So far as land reform is concerned, the more I have seen of countries still dominated by landlordism, the more convinced I am that peasant farming offers better conditions of employment than large estates. (pxxxi)
  16. Her conclusion was either that the agrarian countries must industrialize, or their populations must migrate [both of which, I note, are temporary solutions]
  17. The sustainable solution (my thought) seems to be: family limitations + well-organized = well-off. The first should be voluntary or enforced solely by social norms, and is to keep population pressure off the land, and the second is to ensure adequate capital accumulation (e.g., via cooperatives) for infrastructure improvements

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