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The Market Is an Ecosystem

I come from a family of farmers, as V&C blog readers know. My uncle and dad helped my grandfather grow the family farm from an immigrant’s plot to a transnational operation. More than a decade ago, my dad left large-scale farming to become an organic farmer. I believe both are valid ways for people to care for the earth and serve one of our neighbors’ prime needs: good food people can afford. My family’s home state, Wisconsin, has been in a severe drought and heat wave this summer, as have several other states. This has already prompted a rise in food and gas prices (gas because of federal subsidies for ethanol, which is partly made from corn like many foods), which is likely to grow in the months ahead. My uncle and his employees, like farmers across the country, have been working a grueling summer to keep the fields irrigated. Because the drought has made feed scarce, some Wisconsin dairy farmers have begun to sell their herds. My uncle is a crop farmer. Seeing the financial distress among his fellow farmers and the related dangers to a state economy reliant on agriculture, he decided to do something. Uncle Dick offered 1,000 acres he had already harvested to grow fast-maturing forage crops and sell at cost to the state’s pressed dairy farmers, and created a network for other farmers in the state to do the same. It’s called “Farmer to Farmer.” Enough other farmers have signed on to offer 25,000 acres for planting a second, dairy-ready crop starting now. “Who needs the government to get things done?” my uncle told me. Because I know my uncle and his family, I know this action is characteristic. Generosity and attention to detail are two prominent Pavelski virtues (and we have our vices, but this isn’t the time to discuss them). These virtues also lead to good business sense. Capitalism demands morality to function effectively, and these two virtues are essential within that moral framework. Here’s why. Farming, like a free market, is an ecosystem. No action a businessman takes is without consequences. My uncle, for one, knows crop farmers suffer when dairy farmers suffer, because both depend financially on exchanging their goods (crop farmers get money, dairy farmers get feed for their cows, which eventually becomes money). Likewise, in his everyday business of farming, my uncle takes the best care possible of his earth, because he depends on it to feed him. Of course, one can wring the earth dry, just as one can extort a market. But that’s not how the earth and markets are meant to be treated. And if you do use them in this fashion, they will pay you back in kind. When people talk as if it’s the fault of markets or farmers that some market or farm viciously, they are committing the same fallacy as those who think guns, of their own volition, kill innocents. Markets don’t abuse people. People do. Conversely, free markets allow for rapid responses to needs people see and express, and for people to discover opportunities to benefit themselves while also greatly benefiting others.