by Michael Hofferber (reprinted with permission of the author)
Rural America is in recession, again. I've heard that news so often, and for so long, that it's become an accepted fact of life: a permanently recessed sub-economy.
That's what we are, in fact -- a sub-economy feeding along the edges of a mighty behemoth. Judged by the standards of the larger economy, those of us outside of the metropolitan population centers are always lagging behind.
And so when the politicians and civic planners come to visit, what they see first is the lack of malls and mills and megaplexes and they conclude, perhaps rightly so, that we are impoverished and lacking and in need of correction.
Good-paying jobs are what's really needed here, they say, and who can argue with that? A state legislator I listened to the other day wants to lure new businesses into rural areas by letting them operate tax-free if they'll create new jobs paying decent wages. Never mind the businesses already employing folks out here, or the self-employed farmers or accountants or farriers; they'll be left paying extra for the services that the new businesses and their employees will demand.
Why does this legislator, and others like him, insist that jobs in rural America have to be imported? Do we not have the resources or the know-how or the willingness to grow our own? And why give tax breaks to large corporations from out of the area rather than to individuals starting up their own businesses here at home? Thomas Jefferson envisioned an America of family farms and self-employed merchants and tradespeople, independent and self-sufficient. Only in rural America has Jefferson's ideal ever come close to being realized.
Outside of the mill towns and mining camps, most rural employment has traditionally been self-made and independently financed kinds of jobs like farming and ranching and small-town retailing. If you work at it, you can make a living cutting firewood or building fences or repairing equipment. Some of us even survive by trimming hair or balancing books or writing columns for newspapers.
These are not the kinds of nine-to-five, time-card-punching jobs that economists like to count and politicians promise to create. Self-employed and self-reliant folks are harder to predict or manipulate. Big industry and great cities inevitably lead to a concentration of power, both economic and governmental, just as Jefferson feared they would. In rural America lies the hope for a true democracy.
Most workers today live in a crowded, highly interdependent cubicles in which they have very little control. Their basic economic independence and security are gone. Most work for someone else and any competition is kept in check by the few companies that dominate each industry.
These are the kinds of jobs you used to leave the farm and move the city for; now they're being recruited to locate in the country as well.
Four dozen clerking jobs at WalMart are no substitute a dozen small town retailers. Don't replace our family farms with factories, our local cafes with fast food franchises, or our entrepreneurs with corporate monopolies.
What we need is better prices for our products, more markets for our services, and more respect for an independent way of life increasingly endangered by a domineering industrial society.
Michael Hofferber is manager of Farmer's Market Online, located at www.FarmersMarketOnline.com, and author of the "Outrider" column on rural life in America. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org Farmer's Market Online Box 441, Baker City, OR 97814 http://www.FarmersMarketOnline.com manager@FarmersMarketOnline.com
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