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Wendell Berry's Another Turn Of The Crank

2303 words - 9 pages

Wendell Berry's book, Another Turn of the Crank, takes us well beyond the sustainability of agriculture as such. This is a book about community and, necessarily then, it is a book about economics. John Dewey wrote, "Natural associations are the conditions for the existence of a community, but a community adds the function of communication in which emotions and ideas are shared as well as joint undertakings engaged in. Economic forces have immensely widened the scope of associational activities. But it has done so largely at the expense of the intimacy and directness of communal group interests and activities." (Freedom and Culture, pp. 159-160) The context of the present discussion is the disappearance of agrarian communities throughout America and, hence, the death of agrarian culture. Forest culture has been another victim. Part of this story is about access to fresh, healthy foods and good local timber. But most of the story is about much more.

What is economics? On the basis of most college courses in economics, it would be most appropriate to say something about supply and demand, those familiar curves that mysteriously set the price of goods and services. Close in relation to this are the "marginal propensity to consume" and various graphs that demonstrate the relationship between savings and investment, as mediated by the prevailing interest rates, or price of money. Contemporary economists are also fascinated by "the multiplier effect," the fact that the "effective money supply" is always much larger than its foundation in reserves, such as gold. The answer, in other words, is always that money lies at the heart of economics. Value equals price; that is, the value of anything is determined by market conditions. In this mentality, the answer to the disappearance of family farms is very simple; the marketplace depressed the value of the family farm to the point where it just disappeared. The agrarian culture was valuable only in so far as it could maintain a presence in the market. For economists, this is the only way that we can rationally talk about value. Everything else is an "externality," something that does not fit into their system of thought. Unfortunately, for some economists who refuse to deal with anything outside of their theoretical system, there can be no rational conversation about externalities.

One of the issues that economists fail to discuss, then, is the fact that market-oriented economics is merely an artifact of our own social structure and that the grounding concepts of economics are quite different. Indeed, the grounding concepts of economics deal with the fact that people need to produce food, shelter, and clothing for their survival and that "economics" is born within the formation of any arrangement to solve the survival problem. The essential factors are production and distribution by and within the community. Economics, in other words, is part of the culture of any surviving community.

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