By Jim Van Der Pol, Kerkhoven, Minnesota — The telemarketer who was trying to convince me that I could “earn” a 90% return to a play on the stock market was surprised to hear that I didn’t deal with criminals. He was so surprised to hear this that he hung on long enough to hear me say that I made my living by working for it, rather than trying to cheat someone else out of it.
Telemarketers, who pop up about three per day on our two phone lines, are closely related to the mosquito in my view. Being a human invention, they may in fact be worse. If we think in Christian terms, we have to reckon with the knowledge that the mosquito is part of God’s creation, and that therefore He is well pleased with it even if we are not.
The incessant yapping on radio and television these days about the newfound strength in the stock market comes from the same impulse as the telemarketer’s pitch. It is the voice of the con man and the bunko artist telling us that all is well if the nation’s financial system is well.
We know better. Working men and women have found themselves on a slow and steady decline since the early ‘70s. They have stayed afloat only by the fact that for two generations we have worked more hours, put more people to work at more jobs, and then finally borrowed against our own hard-won equity to keep spending or, in some cases, merely to keep living. We also know that whatever wellness there is in the stock market is due to its raid on the federal Treasury. Obama is just as wrong in this as Bush was.
But the bigger question is about the tendency to equate well being with plenty of money. Reservations about the goodness of large amounts of cash are not being talked about at the head of either party, or anywhere in Washington, or on Wall Street, or anywhere in the confines of the communications empire that controls what we see and hear. But it is a discussion familiar at the edges of the power structure. It is part of the conversation in conservative Christian circles, with the Libertarians and the Constitutionalists, among the various dropouts from education, from “health care,” from the corporate work world, with the Progressives, and others. It comes of an understanding of the difference between “stickers” and “drifters,” or as the author Wallace Stegner had it a generation ago, between “nesters” and “boomers.”
It has been pointed out that as easy as it is to blame politicians by saying that government regulation of Wall Street failed in the last several decades, this is not useful. The ever-present boomer mentality in the population would have sacrificed any politician who put (or kept) a regulation between a constituent and his chance to get rich. The battle between the boomer mentality, which lives to get rich quick and without too much work, and nester thinking, which wants to build a home, a family and a community, rages in all of us. It is our American DNA. Some of us have more of one tendency, some more of the other.
We have a unique opportunity now, as the boomer-made disaster we see all around us slowly begins to heal, to think some new thoughts — thoughts that can be built into new and hopefully better social structures. We can, as the trendy types might say, channel our inner nester. We graziers are a small group admirably equipped to participate in that.
Graziers are farmers who have separated themselves from standard farmer practice. That takes courage. We graziers have tended to use fewer and simpler machines, to spend more time with our farms and at home, and to make our livings by thinking. We have thought more about nature’s involvement with our farms, about the next farming generation, about the ethics of livestock production.
Some of us deliberately limit the size of our operations, while others are pretty focused upon growth. But those who do focus upon growth generally seem to hold growth as a good in a context. For instance, most will say they want to grow their farms or start other farms to include other family members in the business, or to help maintain owner-operated agriculture into the future while benefiting the communities involved.
I have yet to meet a grazier who wants to grow his farm into the kind of thing that can be bundled and sold on the stock exchange to provide a retirement on Easy Street. Any graziers interested in Easy Street want the satisfaction of knowing they are there because they earned it.
Is it possible for us American boomers to move away from the ideology of growth as a cancer cell? Graziers might be pointing the way. What might happen if we began to think that boomer values are all right in small doses, but only so long as they are circumscribed and kept under control by nester values? Think of some of the formulations:
• Growth in the business must go hand-in-hand with improvements in careful use of the land.
• Farming success means more time for play and family.
• Increasing the size of the farm must be better for the community. Starting another one might be better by this standard.
• Farms cannot succeed in the failure of their communities and school districts.
• Successful farms strengthen their families.
These points are not found much in farming magazines or in farm management bulletins. They will not appear in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. These practices will not gain us fame and notoriety. But they seem right to me.
Jim Van Der Pol grazes and direct-markets pork, chickens, and beef from his farm near Kerkhoven, Minnesota.