One of the main reasons why I began going to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania is to learn more about monoculture farming practices that are employed today. I also wanted to know if U.S. trade policy was always “neoliberal”, and if it wasn’t, when did this change occur.
The results were, and still are, surprising. I am limited from uploading pictures onto this blog by a copyright contract I sign every time I take a photograph. Even though I still have a lot more to learn, there are two main themes emerging.
1) There are very real dangers in monoculture. Unforeseen consequences can be easier avoided if “inefficiencies” are seen in another light. Small and medium-sized farmers who harvest a variety of crops are not necessarily inefficient from a macroeconomic standpoint. Their existence hedges the risk against crop failures on a massive scale. Each of these farms takes unique risks and makes decisions of different distance and scope (“rational” or not) that ensure that many possible solutions can be offered to any given problem. It is dangerous when one “macroeconomic policy” is blindsighted to the fact that all of these players have their unique roles in the economic and social systems.
2) Free trade is an anomaly in the history of human existence. It is promoted each economic power as they approach their peak. This is meant to secure their position in the economic pie. Autarky is also an anomaly and completely impractical. Liberalized trade is good in practice and may prevent the use of force to resolve power struggles. However, it is perfectly reasonable for countries to protect certain sectors of their economies. Even if lower prices endure, I am not sure if it would ever be rational to fully liberalize all agricultural sectors in a country. What happens when a country becomes a net importer of agricultural commodities? What happens when it specializes completely in manufacturing or technical fields? What then happens when there is a sudden disturbance in the import of agricultural commodities? Lower prices can lead to extreme degrees of economic specialization in the agricultural sectors, which in turn can jeopardize global food security.