The economic cure-all of mad cows

Expanded from the Sunday, 12-28-2003, Daily Sparks, Nev., Tribune
1-1-2004 Comstock Chronicle

(Sources and links appear at the end.)

We just got another warning that it's not nice to fool with Mother Nature. Ebola and its virulent viral cousins would probably never have made the news save for mankind's ability to spread them around the globe in a matter of hours. HIV took a little longer.

The Mad Cow scare is significant because it's the one plague that comes with a built-in solution — and perhaps the remedies to many other problems pillaging this greedy globe.

Globalization spreads many diseases. SARS came to us courtesy of chickens in China, airfreighted to our west coast. Globalization has created a jobs vacuum in this country. That giant sucking sound is back, as America's white collar jobs are following their blue collar cousins down the tubes to India and, increasingly, to the chickenlands of China.

For many modern malaises, the current cow madness offers a retail cure: shop at home. Beefeaters would not hesitate buying products grown by someone they know and trust. There actually was a time in this country when you could feel safe eating raw hamburger from any retail outlet. Our government inspection system was that good. Alas and alack, His Accidency, Dubya the Dense, has continued the trend toward deregulation begun in earnest by King Ronald the Vague.

Nowadays, the food on your plate might have come from anywhere and you never know for sure exactly what's in it — not until appreciable numbers of people get sick or die. After all, we can't do anything that might hurt free trade. Eat your vegetables, but if the green onions were grown in contaminated manure somewhere in Mexico, those in charge sincerely hope you're not among the more than 40 million Americans without health insurance.

The antidote to globalization is localization. The alternatives before us can best be illustrated by looking at Mostar, Bosnia, and Barre, Vermont. Mostar, a city of 100,000, has broken up into seven ethnic and religious enclaves during the current lull in their millennia of war. Where they used to speak one language, they now have three. Some factions are even laying claim to medieval words in an attempt to revert to some twisted latter day version of the ninth or tenth century. (1)

Some Libertarian Party stalwarts have formed a national movement to relocate en masse to a small state and take it over. They would do well to study Mostar first. Anarchy doesn't work very well. (Just ask the U.S. liberators of Iraq and Afghanistan.) You can't have a separate country on every block.

James Dan, a Libertarian candidate several times in both northern and southern Nevada, recently quit the party, noting that the average Lib is an anarchist. You can't build an organization, or a society, by herding cats. (2)

If small business is the job-creating gateway to prosperity, as so many politicians have reminded us, then Barre, Vermont, has a couple which point the way to a non-globalized future. The long-established local radio station remains in the hands of a family of owner-operators. It reflects the community it serves, unlike corporate-controlled radio which plagues just about everywhere else, including Nevada.

A Barre farmer named Tod Murphy opened a diner about a year ago. "The Farmer's Diner is maybe the most local joint in the whole United States — something like 80 percent of the food it serves was raised within sixty miles of the kitchen," according to the December edition of Harper's magazine. (3)

Murphy is seriously considering franchising the concept. I rarely eat beef anymore and just about every other item in a local supermarket remains suspect between pesticides, preservatives, plagues and a plethora of globalized deregulation. Would you like your pre-teen son to develop female breasts due to having consumed milk and dairy products shot up with horrendous hormones? It's already happened in our 51st state, Puerto Rico.

However, I'd feel pretty comfortable ordering a burger and shake at the Farmer's Diner. It's no coincidence that the Libs are looking at moving to places like Vermont or Wyoming.

Decentralized de-globalization might be the only concept capable of saving mankind from itself.

In 1984, legendary economic theorist Jane Jacobs published "Cities and the Wealth of Nations." Therein, she exploded the accepted axiom that societies must choose between military or domestic expenditures, the classic guns vs. butter debate. Jacobs convincingly asserted that both paths lead to economic decline.

Empires, beware.

The urban visionary suggested a fascinating solution: break up into smaller parts, each with its own currency. She views economies in terms of the import-export activity of city-states, with fluctuations in the buying power of individual currencies as the all-important customer feedback mechanism to keep the economy productive. The late Carson City attorney David Horton got a Nevada silver coin bill introduced several times at the legislature. Perhaps he will someday be honored with his face on same.

Jacobs pointed to Norway and Singapore as economically successful spinoffs from larger countries (Sweden and Malaysia, respectively). I suggest that prosperous Taiwan provides an even better example. All three have flourished regardless of their political systems. Norway and Taiwan are democracies, while Singapore is still run as a feudal fiefdom.

Viewed in this light, the Bush family's longrunning campaign to make the world a U.S. colony constitutes the single worst thing to do. Jacobs convincingly shows how empire building inevitably leads to decline. (4)

Perhaps the American people will reinvent their own economy despite retrogovernors and imperialistic presidents. We have already shed much of the ancient prejudice which still afflicts the likes of Mostar.

Perhaps the testing lab of America's future is now open for business down at the Farmer's Diner in Howard Dean's home state.

Happy New Year.

Be well. Raise hell.


1. Poggiole, Sylvia: "Rebuilding the divided city of Mostar"
National Public Radio 12-26-2003

2. Wills, Larry: "Freedom, ho! Libertarians prepare
to haul ass for a guv'ment-free clime
Las Vegas Mercury 9-11-2003

3. McKibben, Bill: "Small World — Why one town stays unplugged"
Harper's Magazine Dec. 2003, page 47
[NOTE: Most of Harper's content is not available online.]

4. Jacobs, Jane: "Cities and the Wealth of Nations"
Random House, 1984
Substantial portions of the book were published by The Atlantic Monthly in March and April, 1984. Jacobs is also the author of "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" (1961) and "The Economy of Cities" (1969).

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Copyright © 1982, 2003, 2005 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 35-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of and Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.


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