16 April, 2015

A Problem With Over-Centralizing Production

This article was originally published by
The Distributist Review on 20 August, 2010

We distributists advocate the decentralization of production whenever practical. We are challenged by claims that centralization is more efficient in terms of cost. “What’s wrong with Big Business” is a question we need to answer. The founders of Distributism focused on the idea that, when the overwhelming majority of citizens work for a wage at jobs controlled by relatively few wealthy individuals, their situation is a form of slavery. It may not be as bad as the slavery of the 19th century but, in many ways, the house slaves of that era didn’t have it as bad as the slaves of the field.

Another issue with centralizing production is the wide-spread effects when a large producer has some problems. Effects which may be obvious include the economic dependence the local region has on the continued survival of that producer. Effects which are not so obvious, but which are more wide-spread, are when there is a problem in production that harms the consumer. Recent years have seen huge recalls of automobiles from several companies for various problems with the vehicles. Although Toyota was essentially exonerated over the acceleration problems reported with their cars, other recalls have shown true problems that caused injuries to large numbers of people using products from cars to baby swings. Distributists acknowledge that there is no way to guarantee the complete elimination of these problems, but we also contend that a larger number of smaller producers would at least lessen the impact of these problems when they occur.

For many decades, the laws of the USA have put the small farmer at a great disadvantage over the large farmer. The result of this has been the elimination of small local farms and the dependence of large segments of the population on the production of large centralized farms. What’s wrong with this? We are now seeing the recall of 380,000,000 (380 million) eggs produced by one farm that supplies large chain stores in 17 states under several different brand labels. (Lucerne, Albertson, Mountain Dairy, Ralph’s, Boomsma, Sunshine, Hillandale, Trafficanda, Farm Fresh, Shoreland, Lund, Dutch Farms and Kemps) Hundreds of people across the country have been made sick because they all get their eggs from one centralized farm. Thousands, if not millions, more now have to fear that they may also get sick and have to check their egg cartons to see if they need to turn them in.

Now eggs do not have a long shelf life. Imagine the size and conditions of an egg farm that produces enough eggs for this recall. If the people returning their eggs want to exchange them for new eggs, what options do they have? In many, if not most cases, they will simply be exchanging them for eggs from another large producer, or even a different “plant” of  the same producer. One thing is certain, relatively few of them will have the option of exchanging them for eggs produced by a small local farm.

Having small farms may not eliminate health concerns, but they will mitigate them. I believe small egg farms are more likely to use free-range production conditions. Any outbreak will likely only effect the local communities and can be compensated by other small local farms. Urban areas could be supplied by the local rural farms rather than by farms in another state.

1 comment:

  1. Amongst all the other problems you note, the strong centralization of the economy, if we assume it to be more efficient, is efficient for efficiency's sake. But human beings do not live for efficiency. If the efficiency does not serve our humanity, it serves no purpose, but somehow we have acquired the idea that the human economy must serve the greater economy. And odd way of getting economic purpose wholly backwards.

    In other words, everything about the economy is geared for the economy, and human capitol is just that, capitol, to be applied where it serves the economy, no matter what those humans think of their individual circumstances.