Small Town or Large City?

SMALL TOWN ECONOMY

In the Early American culture owning land was part of “The American Dream.” When a person owned a small plot of ground he is able to provide stability for his family by building a home, cultivating fruit and nut trees, harvesting a garden, fishing for fresh-water fish, gathering eggs, collecting honey and milking the cow. With land a man could even provide clothing from cotton, wool and linen, and shoes from leather and suede. A man and woman could train the family to work as a team. Their home and their career might be one in the same. All they needed was a plot of land and add some of their own “blood, sweat and tears” and they would be able to provide their family “The American Dream.” Land ownership is the opposite of slavery. Land ownership meant freedom.

If a man was enterprising he could produce more than his family needs and bring the rest to the marketplace. As long as the community remained small there is a good living to be made. If there was only one man in town who was a carpenter, and everyone in town is committed to buy their furniture from him, he had “The American Dream.” He might take on a young apprentice if the work was more than he could keep up with. As he grew old this apprentice might be the one to take over the family business. If this apprentice is his son, the son might also inherit the home and the land it was built on.

If only one man in town was a carpenter and all of the furniture needed by the people of the community was purchased from him, he could own the facilities and the tools to cut and finish the pieces. He could build a shop on his own land and operate from his own home. He could teach and train others to do some of the work, giving them an opportunity to learn from the best carpenter in town. Because they work for him in trade for this training, he is able to produce more, expand his shop and buy more tools.

Similarly, if only one man in town owned a bakery, then he could bake without fear that his goods might not be sold and would end up on the “day old” shelf. If only one family made brightly colored cotton cloth, bolts of pure, white linens, and thick and durable denims, that enterprising family would make a good living just keeping up with the needs of the community where he lived.

If only one man was a store owner, he could maintain and provide a place where the butcher, the baker, the carpenter, the cloth maker and other businessmen could bring their items to barter, trade and sell. He would be willing to stay at the store to conduct business on their behalf. For this important service he might be paid a percentage of the profit from each transaction. Because he is the owner of the store he could put a “closed” sign if he needed to leave. He is a free man, able to come and go as he pleases. The person who owned his own land and owned his own business owned his own soul. He is a “big fish in a small pond.” How does this beautiful picture of a community of equal human beings contributing something substantial and crucial to the well-being of the others in the community change into the society that we have today? Answer: It starts and ends with ownership of land.

LARGE TOWN ECONOMY

If more people come into the small community they change the economy from a small community to a large community. They need a place to live, so they ask the townspeople where they might find a house to rent. The townspeople know that the community is working well as it is, but additional people will cause difficulties for the others in town who worked hard to build a place for themselves. The people moving in are not sure if they plan to stay, so they are not committed to the welfare of the community. They prefer to rent a home that is already built rather than find land and build, but in this ideal community, the only home for rent is an elderly widow’s home who recently lost her husband. She moved in with family members in another town. The renters don’t know the widow very well and don’t understand why the yard is unkempt and the paint is peeling. They have no idea how the old man who built the house and kept the lawn and garden meticulously, recently died and how the work was too much for the old woman to keep up with. They see the house as a “fixer” rather than seeing it as a special place of many family memories. They forget to water her special flowers that everyone in town had grown accustomed to. The porch railing needs paint and one of the spindles needs to be replaced, but renters don’t put time and money into a home that some old widow landlord owns. So the place becomes run down even further.

As more and more people move in to take the place of the elderly who built the town, there is less and less care and concern for the homes. There is less and less concern for those that once lived in those homes. The newcomers decide to buy the place and tear it down. They subdivide and build 250 new apartments. The newcomer feels that he has put “improvements” on the land since the area had become a run down rental area anyway. The land where beautiful vegetables once grew is now covered over with a drive way. The fruit and nut trees had to be uprooted and removed to make room for the pool. The neighbors who lived next door to the old widow used to look over a pastoral view of a lovely garden, a milk cow, a few chickens pecking the ground, colorful flowers and a quaint, freshly painted home now have a view of the back of a two story building that blocks the sun. They move and sell their home to the same builder who subdivides and builds more apartments. The builder, who is making quite a lot of money now, is the wealthiest man in town.

With all the influx of renters there are more needs than one carpenter can keep up with. He now has to enlarge his facilities and take on many employees. His employees are chosen from all new-comers in town. They don’t know the townspeople and are not nearly as committed to their well-being as those who have worked together to build this community. They might not have the same commitment to quality workmanship that the carpenter always had. The carpenter does not own enough land or space to build enough facilities to keep up with the needs of the community. The carpenter finds that another carpenter has moved into town and is building a much bigger manufacturing plant than his. This competitor intends to provide enough furniture for the entire community and has plans for growth as the community continues to grow. The old carpenter is out of business except for a few faithful customers who stay with him even though his competitor has furniture at much lower prices. Instead of retiring in the “American Dream”, the carpenter is poor in his old age with no need for an apprentice to take over his dwindling business. His son inherits his land but wants to make more money than his father did, so he moves out of town and sells the home and shop to the apartment builder, who tears down the home and shop and builds condos.

The sense of community deteriorates with the in-flow of new people. When a community is small there is only need for one of each expert. When more people are added to the mix, competition and inequality result. Cars become necessary. Employees are needed. The process creates a distinction between classes of people the “haves” and the “have nots”, the land owners and the renters, the business owner and the employee, the long-standing, influential member of the community and the new-comer. There are more people than jobs now creating the need for more and more assistance to pay for schooling, loans for housing, workout programs to prevent bankruptcy, welfare, food stamps, well-baby clinics, low-income housing and of course larger prisons for all of the people who grew up in a family of “have nots.” The government becomes a larger and larger entity.

Land ownership is slipping from our grasp as a nation, tipping the scales toward inequality and classes. Today’s American owns little or no land. Land is the one factor that can keep a family stable and prosperous in difficult times. Cheap production and cheap labor costs has become the ultimate goal of our economy in order to create cheap products to the ever-enlarging population of “have nots” who are now called “the consumer” with no other real purpose on earth than to buy the cheap products that the wealthy cheaply produce for them. “The consumer” is now the worker bee that lives only to spend their life’s energy to create the next generation of worker bees who will consume the cheap products from the wealthy chain stores. There are so many workers that they no longer can be called by name–they have to be given a 9-digit number to keep track of their income and outflow so that they can be taxed to the limit of their ability to provide more wealth to the wealthy.

And where do the federal taxes go? It doesn’t pay the national bills or we wouldn’t be going deeper and deeper in debt. It doesn’t create enough jobs or there wouldn’t be so many unemployed. It doesn’t bring wellness or happiness or there wouldn’t be so many on medication. It doesn’t adequately educate or there wouldn’t be so many graduating with no marketable job skills. It doesn’t pay for roads because the taxes on gasoline pays for roads. It doesn’t pay for schools because the property taxes pay for schools. It doesn’t pay for welfare, highway patrol, hospitals or libraries because our state sales tax and income tax pays for these things. In all actuality federal taxation doesn’t contribute to the health and happiness of the American people. The taxes only improve the lives of the few elite who will never have enough.

Mass-production is not a recipe for happiness, though cheap products make life easier, because it robs us of the fulfillment that comes from producing and supplying our own needs.

If we were to design a community with the express purpose of ensuring the health and happiness of those within the community, then mass-production would not be part of the equation. The true recipe for happiness is land ownership, home ownership, homemade food production, small businesses, family enterprises, home schooling, home births, gardening, farming, cooperation, productivity and charity. This is the “American Dream” that is built into the soul of man and the only thing that will truly satisfy. Bigger is not better. After a certain number of people are gathered in a community every additional person makes each individual person smaller and less significant. What the heart truly longs for is a community that is smaller, more intimate and more personal. A community where everybody knows your name.

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