Saturday, 16 July 2016

Capital III, Chapter 39 - Part 15

It would generally be preferred to cultivate the most fertile soil, but there are many reasons why it is not the most fertile soil that is cultivated first. Cultivation occurs where people settle, and where markets are close at hand; some fertile soils require the expenditure of large amounts of capital for drainage etc. that is only profitable when demand is high, creating the need for large scale production; good quality and poor quality soil may be intermingled in an area, requiring both to be cultivated together and so on. In addition, the most fertile soils may be over farmed so that they become less fertile than previously poorer soils. Finally, quantity may override quality. The existence of a very large area of poorer quality soil may be easier to farm, at lower cost per unit of output, than a small area of higher quality soil, because the former permits the application of capital on a large scale.

For example, a large tract of land given over to wheat may make the use of crop dusting planes, and high tech combine harvesters justified, whereas they would not be on a small area of very fertile soil.

“Thus, the State of Michigan was one of the first Western States to become an exporter of grain. Yet its soil on the whole is poor. But its proximity to the State of New York and its water-ways via the Lakes and Erie Canal initially gave it the advantage over the States endowed by Nature with more fertile soil, but situated farther to the West. The example of this State, as compared with the State of New York, also demonstrates the transition from superior to inferior soil. The soil of the State of New York, particularly its western part, is incomparably more fertile, especially for the cultivation of wheat. This fertile soil was transformed into infertile soil by rapacious methods of cultivation, and now the soil of Michigan appeared as the more fertile.” (p 670)

This can then cause changes in farming practices, so that land once used for one purpose becomes used for another. Marx quotes J.W. Johnston.

“Now, after only twelve years, an enormous supply of wheat and flour is brought from the West, along Lake Erie, and shipped upon the Erie Canal for the East, at Buffalo and the adjoining port of Blackrock... The effect of these large arrivals from the Western States — which were unnaturally stimulated during the years of European famine ... has been to render wheat less valuable in western New York, to make the wheat culture less remunerative, and to turn the attention of the New York farmers more to grazing and dairy husbandry, fruit culture, and other branches of rural economy, in which they think the North-West will be unable so directly to compete with them." (J. W. Johnston, Notes on North America, London, 1851, I, pp.220-23.)” (p 670)

Particularly in the colonies, where monocultures were established, the existence of large surpluses in particular products could also be confused with high levels of productivity and fertility. In fact, it need not be the case, but only that this surplus reflects the fact of concentration of production on this one crop, which must then be exchanged for all those other commodities whose production has been forsaken.

“The entire population of such an area as Michigan, for instance, is at first almost exclusively engaged in farming, and particularly in producing agricultural mass products, which alone can be exchanged for industrial products and tropical goods. Its entire surplus production appears, therefore, in the form of grain. This from the outset sets apart the colonial states founded on the basis of the modern world-market from those of earlier, particularly ancient, times. They receive through the world-market finished products, such as clothing and tools which they would have to produce themselves under other circumstances. Only on such a basis were the Southern States of the Union enabled to make cotton their staple crop. The division of labour on the world-market makes this possible. Hence, if they seem to have a large surplus production considering their youth and relatively small population, this is not so much due to the fertility of their soil, nor the fruitfulness of their labour, but rather to the one-sided form of their labour, and therefore of the surplus-produce in which such labour is incorporated.” (p 670-1)

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