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The Idiocy Americans Swallow

May 7th, 2009 by Myrhaf · 39 Comments · Culture

I heard a few radio spots (also known as commercials) in my day job that make me despair for America.

The first was an ad for Home Depot, in which two women are shopping in a produce aisle. They are shocked by the price of spinach. But one of the women has a plan! She won’t let any supermarket foist expensive spinach on her! No, sirree — she’ll start a garden and grow her own spinach!

Are you kidding me?!

I’m no gardener, but just a brief consideration of the time and expense involved in growing a food garden makes it clear that it is cheaper to buy spinach in a supermarket. Even if I ate spinach every day, which I do not, it would be worth it to let professionals take care of growing, harvesting and delivering the vegetable.

No doubt, Home Depot is capitalizing on the White House’s creation of a food garden (which will be worked by government employees at taxpayers expense). The home and garden store hopes to make money from the environmentally trendy and politically correct idea of people growing their own food.

The whole idea is an idiotic attack on the division of labor in a free market economy. In capitalism, the agriculture of spinach is made efficient through the division of labor. Farmers specialize in growing spinach on large farms, and they do it better and at less expense than Joe Gardener ever could in his backyard. As a result of the division of labor, all Americans prosper and have a better quality of life.

Apparently, prospering and having a better quality of life is not high on the left’s hierarchy of values. The left would much rather see Americans wasting their time in the spirit of sacrifice to the collective by digging and planting and watering. Perhaps they will even teach us some collectivist songs to sing in praise of Barack Obama while we labor. Dig we must, dig we must! We dig to serve our glorious leader!

The only harvest that will be reaped from this is smug, self-righteous preening as altruists congratulate themselves for sacrificing and “saving the planet” by playing Farmer John in the backyard. A bitter harvest, indeed.

The other spot that dismayed me was for a local politician. The announcer asked listeners if they want “change.”

Jeez, after the last presidential election, you’d think people would be suspicious of any promise of undefined change. Look at how Obama is changing America from a capitalist nation to a banana republic. Hey, you can’t say he didn’t warn us. When he said fundamental change, he meant fundamental change. Unfortunately, that means destroying prosperity in search of equality.

If a stranger walked up to you and promised to change your life, would you not want to hear specifically what he intends to do before agreeing? That stranger could give you a million dollars or he could shoot you in the head — either way, it’s change.

Too many Americans are, to put it nicely, uncritical thinkers. Conformists. They accept whatever idiocy our masters feed us: backyard gardens, change, whatever.

As Shaw writes at the end of Saint Joan, “How long, O Lord, how long?”

39 Comments so far ↓

  • Jennifer Snow

    You know, there’s such a thing as being *too* critical, also.

    My mother likes gardening and has been growing quite a lot of her own produce for 10 years now. There’s basically no cost involved–she’d have to take care of that part of the yard ANYWAY if it wasn’t garden, and the vegetables she grows are far superior in taste and nutrition to what she gets at the store. Plus, she doesn’t have to worry about the occasional food recall due to, say, salmonella or e. coli contamination.

    It all just depends on what you grow, how you do it, how much of it you grow, and so forth. I’m not big into gardening but you can always grow fresh herbs in pots indoors, and dried herbs are expensive and lose a lot of their flavor.

    It’s almost certainly not going to save you MONEY to PRESERVE your own food, but good fresh produce is a very time-sensitive product and doesn’t benefit as well from economics of scale as, say, dried pasta. This is why small local farmer’s markets and ethnic groceries generally have better prices and better produce than the big supermarkets–you just have to GET to them.

  • TW

    “Too many Americans are, to put it nicely, uncritical thinkers. Conformists. They accept whatever idiocy our masters feed us: backyard gardens, change, whatever.”

    Yes, and not just Americans. It seems to be a very widespread human trait to leave the thinking to others. This is the value, for me, of discussing issues with those who have a sincere interest in philosophy.

  • Myrhaf

    I don’t buy any of Jennifer’s argument. The time and effort involved in gardening alone makes it more expensive than buying produce in stores. When you add the expense of seed, mulch, fertilizer, water, and pesticides, it is much cheaper to buy food than grow it in a garden.

    If someone wants to garden as a hobby, that’s fine, but it’s not more efficient than the division of labor. It’s like some guy who enjoys tinkering with car engines in his garage. Just because he can build an engine at home does not mean do-it-yourselfers will ever replace car factories.

  • Wakefield Tolbert

    I believe in INDUSTIRAL GARDENING.

    But you still do it because you enjoy it–not to save money.

    Unless you own an orchard or focus on a few things only that you enjoy.

    And Jennifer is right in that you don’t have to piddle with worrying about salmonella or Mexican style irrigation systems, etc.

    Remember that much food is imported, and Mexico and China are going through the predicted “growing pains” of shipping whatever X product. Yet another issue with the “free market”–unregulation tends to keep the pig feces and occasional desperate irritable bowel of workers close to your food sources, etc.

    Hard core spraying of ‘maters and cukes!

    Ayn Rand would be proud.

    Better living through the use of chemicals that nail grubs and other annoyances.

    Now here is an issue not advanced or known by many people:

    The store varieties are typically hybrids that ship well and keep well, but are not the most flavorful or nutritious of foods. Most foods are hybrids these days. Without being an obnoxious Greenie, I can assure you nontheless that hybrids can have liabilities that the true “garden variety” crops don’t suffer for being closer to theh original stock, etc.

    Finding the vintage genes will get you more bug free days and better tasting veggies.

    And yes, HOME DEPOT is just cashing in on the Green movement and Victory Garden notions , the latter of which my parents went through even though in my mother’s case they were well off for their time. (grandad owned vast tracks of timber in the 1940s and beyond).

    But the most ardent capitalists are not immune from the Enviro sales pitch. Why would they be? Is today’s CEO of a major corporation truly the Galt’s of the age. Hardly. Welcome to cross-pollination of culture at large.

  • Jennifer Snow

    Seed is cheap. My mother always used the grass trimmings that came from mowing the lawn for mulch, which was free (saved us the effort of getting rid of it, actually). Never used fertilizer (didn’t need to) . Never used pesticides–except a six-pack of beer for the slugs.

    The first year my mother gardened we had so much zucchini that we couldn’t give it away due to a slight miscalculation (filled the chest freezer and then some). So it’s not hard to grow lots and lots of veggies. The people I know who garden seriously are very systematic about it and invest only a couple of hours over the entire season. The biggest time sink is just preparing the ground, and you can get inexpensive tools that make it a lot easier.

    The time investment evens out, because if you have a yard you’re going to have to maintain it anyway, and the garden doesn’t take any more work than, say, a lawn.

  • softwarenerd

    I have not heard that spot, but I think the economy has more to do with this marketing focus than does environmentalism.

    This year, at both the HD and Lowes garden-centers in our neighborhood, there seems to be more emphasis on veggies and fruit. The variety seems to be wider and the placement more “pushy” than most years (e.g. lots of in-aisle placements and end-caps).

    Also, I can bet this is not all seller-driven. I think HD and Lowes are actually watching their customer’s purchases and following their lead in providing this slightly altered assortment.

    The economics of any DIY project depend on the alternative use of one’s time and on one’s enjoyment in doing the project. In our house, my wife loves pottering around in the garden more than most other hobbies. This year, to her flowers, she hopes to add some fruit, veggies and peppers.

  • Myrhaf

    Gardening takes more effort than watering and moving a lawn. However much effort it takes, it is more than I expend when I go to the supermarket and buy a can of spinach.

    Comparing garden hobbyists to professional farmers is apples and oranges, so to speak. The backyard gardener does it for personal happiness; the farmer’s goal is to make a profit.

    Does it not make you suspicious, Jennifer, that Obama and the environmentalists are encouraging Americans to plant gardens in order to save money? When you find yourself in agreement with statists, alarm bells should go off.

  • dismuke

    “I don’t buy any of Jennifer’s argument. The time and effort involved in gardening alone makes it more expensive than buying produce in stores. When you add the expense of seed, mulch, fertilizer, water, and pesticides, it is much cheaper to buy food than grow it in a garden.”

    I would say that is true ONLY if one factors in labor. As Jennifer points out, seed is VERY cheap and the cost of the other stuff is negligible on the sort of scale we are talking about here.

    And even labor is HIGHLY contextual. Different people place a different value on their time. My grandparents in Kansas, when they were alive, kept a vegetable garden for years after they retired. They had LOTS of free time between them. Their food budget was very minimal – they only purchased meat and stuff like coffee, honey etc. My grandfather had a really cool electric grain mill – so he would buy wheat and corn from the local grain elevators for a very few dollars a bushel and make whatever amount of whole grain flour he needed as he needed it. Some of the stuff in his garden would come back every year and required zero effort other than to harvest it: strawberries, asparagus, rhubarb, horseradish etc. He would put in a few mounds of squash, some pepper plants and tomato plants and had more than enough to keep their large chest freezer fully stocked throughout the year. When you buy a bunch of fresh greens at the store – mustard, chard, spinach, etc – observe that they uproot and kill the entire plant . That’s because labor is expensive and that is a way that they can harvest large quantities mechanically. But if you have your own garden, you don’t kill the plant. You simply cut off the mature leaves and leave the small ones. About a week or so later, the small leaves are large and ready for harvesting. Put in a small row of greens and you can harvest them week after week throughout the entire growing season. My grandfather passed away in 1995. My parents have the property now but only get to visit a few times a year. To this day, if one is up there at just the right time of year, one can still harvest as much asparagus as one wishes.

    For my grandparents who were on a fixed income, it was money that they did not have to spend. Again, seed is cheap – and he would order it by mail which made it even cheaper. He didn’t need fertilizer as he got all the compost he could use for free from lawn clippings and such. Farmers need to spend lots of money on fertilizer because a larger yield per acre amounts to a significant increase in income. My grandfather had zero need for a larger yield out of his garden – he already had a challenge eating and giving away all that it produced. When you are talking about that small of a scale – his garden was perhaps 15′ x 60′ at the very most – any increase in efficiency enters the realm of diminishing returns. The biggest expense in time was each spring when he would till the soil – which took a few hours. He didn’t have to weed as he kept it very heavily mulched with straw – which he could buy huge bales of from local farmers for next to zilch. They had a well so the only cost of water was the electricity to run the pump.

    For the price of mail order seed, a few bales of hay and the electricity to run a freezer, my grandparents had a year round supply of food and some productive work that helped keep my grandfather busy for an hour or so a week. And I promise you it tasted MUCH better than the flavorless stuff you get at a supermarket picked long before it reaches its best eating condition. And, in that part of the world, jobs are very scarce. And for that reason, most women do not work and are housewives. For them, keeping a garden makes GREAT sense because it IS a way that they can be productive and make an economic contribution to the household by eliminating expenses that would otherwise have to be spent.

    Most of the cost of the produce you buy at the store has little to do with the actual costs of growing it. What you pay for is mostly the cost of transporting it and the square footage of “real estate” that it takes up in the grocery store and the fact that about 20 percent of it is going to end up spoiling and be thrown out before it ever sells. The biggest beneficiary of the division of labor savings in the actual process of growing the food is the farmer. Those savings are a HUGE percentage of his selling price – but because of the other expenses, they are a much smaller percentage of the price that the retail grocery store customer pays.

    Now, if you are someone who lives in the city and has a busy schedule but has a backyard where one can put in a garden – the value of one’s time is a huge consideration. That is the one thing that has kept me from putting in a garden. I eat a LOT of fresh produce – but I can get it at a fraction of the price of regular supermarkets by going to produce stands and ethnic grocers. For me, the cost savings would not be enough. But I AM drawing up some plans to perhaps put a garden in someday if we find ourselves in a hyperinflationary period, ESPECIALLY if price controls are implemented. All it takes is to look at what has been going on in Venezuela over the past few years to see the sort of unpredictable and chronic food shortages that occur when there are price controls. And during inflationary periods, food prices tend to rise at a faster rate than wages. A garden is one way of protecting one’s self from at least some of the effects of such inflation. Since I have the space to do so, I have also started stocking up on non-perishable items whenever I can find them on sale. It is stuff that I will eventually use ANYWAY. But if inflation hits, at least the money spent on such stuff will have been sheltered from the depreciation. If I only had a way of safely storing the stuff, I would right now go out and buy a few years’ supply of gasoline while prices are still very low to protect myself from having to spend $12 per day on gas money alone for my daily commute like I did last summer.

    As for the woman in the commercial – if she had a busy life and REALLY wanted to save money over supermarket prices, she would be much better off buying a chest freezer from Home Depot and then make a bulk purchase of spinach wholesale and spend a couple of hours putting it in freezer bags. But if she spent her afternoons watching soap operas – well, a garden might very well be a more profitable use for her time.

  • dismuke

    Actually, a better example than gardening occurred to me that could be used to make my point: baking bread.

    I bake my own bread with a bread machine and I save a LOT of money over buying bread of significantly lower quality at the supermarket.

    Now, there is NO WAY that I can compete with large bakeries in terms of the economies of scale. And I guarantee you that the electricity that it costs to make a loaf of bread in my bread machine is much higher than the per loaf of bread energy cost of a large commercial bakery. And, I buy whole wheat and whole rye flour at my local Wal-mart Supercenter in consumer sized quantities. Commercial bakeries buy it in bulk at much, much lower prices. I do buy my yeast in bulk at Sam’s Club at a fraction of what it costs in grocery stores.

    It takes me about 5 minutes to measure out all of the ingredients and add them to the machine. I can assure you that the per loaf of bread amount of time used to do the same in a large commercial bakery is but a fraction of that.

    Last time I calculated it, my cost per loaf of bread was about 40 – 50 cents depending on the particular ingredients I used. If I was willing to use yucky white flour, my cost per loaf would be much lower than even that.

    Last time I checked, a loaf of cheapo, tasteless, spongy bread at Wal-mart was running about $2 per loaf – and undoubtedly costs much more than that at conventional supermarket chains such as Safeway, Albertsons, etc. The gourmet supermarket near me sells high quality specialty breads for about $4 per loaf. Other than my loaves coming out a somewhat odd shape, I think my bread is actually better than the expensive specialty breads.

    The reason I can make bread at home for a fraction of the price I would pay for it at a supermarket is NOT because I have any cost advantage over the commercial bakeries. I don’t – indeed, I am at a profound DISADVANTAGE. It is just that the cost of making the bread is but a small fraction of all that you are having to pay for when you buy it at the supermarket. By making mine at home, I am cutting out all those other costs.

    Now I DO have to spend the 5 minutes mixing the ingredients. But for that 5 minutes, I am saving AT LEAST $1.50 – which works out to about $18 per hour. Depending on your tax bracket, you will need to earn quite a but more just to get that $18 you are saving. Is it worth it? It depends on one’s circumstances, of course. The way I look at it, if I had to make a special trip to the store just to buy a loaf of bread, it would take much more than five minutes by the time one waits in line, etc.

    Now, obviously the bread machine costs money too – so that is an up front expense that one has to pay for over time. If one rarely uses the machine, than the cost per loaf is quite high. I have had mine 10 years so it has paid for itself many times over.

    If I became as efficient as a commercial bakery – well, instead of 50 cents per loaf, I might perhaps be able to turn the bread out at 30 cents. But that would enter the realm of diminishing returns very quickly.

    What you are paying for when you buy bread at a grocery store is CONVENIENCE. In this case, it is much cheaper to make it yourself at home.

    Now, prior to the advent of bread machines, the amount of labor to do it at home would be more significant. I personally wouldn’t do it – I would instead buy the bread at about 50 – 75 percent off at the bakeries’ outlet stores which can be found in blue collar parts of town. But my grandparents ground their own flour with an electric mill and baked their bread the old fashioned way. And why not? They had lots of time on their hands anyway and my grandfather relished any chance he could get to find productive work to keep him busy.

    On the other hand, my grandfather – who was a young adult during the Depression – continued to darn old socks til the day he died, which, of course, makes zero sense considering the time involved and the price of socks today. But he – who, for a while when he was in his 20s had a job for which his only pay was room and board – never lost the Depression mindset seared into him of WASTE NOTHING. There are certain similarities at times in his generation’s mindset and that advocated by today’s eco-freaks. The difference, of course, is that their reasons for abhorring waste were UNDERSTANDABLE and RATIONAL considering all that they went through. If today’s soft, pampered latte sipping little hippies who have more money than they know what to do with had to actually live the sort of lives, experience the sort of hardships and practice the sort of frugality that was a NECESSITY for my grandparents’ generation – well, they would be the very first to go whining and crying how unfair it all is and “unfulfilled” it is making them feel.

  • Katrina

    Dismuke, you can’t pretend that labor shouldn’t be factored in, and if you factor it in, it increases the cost dramatically. In the case of retired people, it still isn’t actually cheap, because you’re ignoring the cost of being retired. If you’re able enough to garden, you’re able enough to work a regular job. Just because a person accepts the cost of not working, doesn’t mean the opportunity cost disappears. So the cost of grandparents gardening has to equal the cost of being retired minus the proceeds of gardening. That amount will certainly be more than the cost of buying groceries minus the proceeds of working. So these grandparents probably defray the cost of being retired a bit, but that’s all.

    Ignoring the cost of labor is a huge huge mistake and screws up so much thinking on economics.

  • Inspector

    Taking for example a 40k/year salary, that comes to about $19.23/hour, assuming a 40 hour work week. If you spend a couple hours gardening to “save money” on spinach, that’s stepping over dollars to pick up pennies.

    Gardening as a hobby is a totally different question, and is really distracting from the point. The question is strictly a monetary one, since that’s how Obama is selling this.

  • dismuke

    Katrina –

    You are completely missing my point. And I NEVER said that labor shouldn’t be factored in. Indeed, I said the exact opposite – and even stated that is why I have not started a garden personally. I said it based on the value that I attach to MY labor and time. But not everybody is in similar circumstances.

    My point is that to WHAT DEGREE one should factor in labor and WHAT VALUE one should assign to it is highly CONTEXTUAL.

    Some people’s time is worth more money than other people’s time. Some people have very busy lives and every moment of their “free time” is precious to them. Others, for various reasons, find themselves in situations where they have a surplus of free time and welcome ways to fill it.

    As for opportunity costs – well those too are contextual. HOW ON EARTH do you presume to know about what my grandparent’s “cost of being retired” was? For your information, in rural Kansas, assuming my grandfather even WANTED a job, there are hardly any jobs for young people let alone someone in his 70s or 80s. And were he to uproot from a house where he lived for over 40 years and owned outright to relocate to someplace where he might get a part time job as a Wal-mart greeter or something – well, their cost of living would ZOOM far beyond what he would have been capable of earning. And why would he? Because he was frugal he already had more money coming in each month than he spent.

    And, as I pointed out, most farm wives in that part of the world do not work because there are far fewer jobs than there are willing applicants – so for them, the “opportunity costs” are nil. What few jobs do exist pay little more than minimum wage.

    Furthermore, the price of fresh produce in rural Kansas at grocery stores is VERY expensive and the selection and quality is not good at all. Plus you have to drive for many miles just to go to a bloody store. It is not like being in the city where one can make frequent runs to the store for perishables. I GUARANTEE you it is cheaper to grow one’s own food up there than it is to purchase it – and that is even the case if one lives a fairly busy life.

    The point is that the value of opportunity costs and the value of a person’s labor is HIGHLY CONTEXTUAL. What you say is true FOR SOME PEOPLE. But it isn’t for everybody – and the difference is CRUCIAL.

    My grandfather spent perhaps 2 hours a week working in the garden, if even that much. What’s minimum wage – $7 or something like that? So that would be about $14 worth of labor if he took a minimum wage job. How much fresh produce can one buy for $14 at a high priced conventional supermarket such as Safeway or Albertsons? Not much – and prices are higher in rural Kansas. And he only worked on the garden during the growing season but it fed him and my grandmother for the full year. Spread out over the entire year, his time investment averaged out to an hour per week. How much in the way of groceries are YOU able to buy for $7 per week?

    Bottom line – ALL values are contextual. And that is CERTAINLY true for highly situational examples involving the value of a PARTICULAR individual’s labor and cost of opportunity.

  • Myrhaf

    Why are environmentalists pushing the “local food movement” on us? Do they want Americans to grow their own food because it will save them money that they can invest and create more wealth? Of course, not. They want less productivity, less capitalism, and ultimately, fewer humans. Were I the owner of a food garden, the fact that environmentalists advocate food gardens would be enough to make me destroy my garden and let the land lie fallow in protest. This movement is no more about promoting happiness through gardening than attacks on pollution are about clean air and water; the environmentalists’ goal is the destruction of capitalism.

  • Madmax

    “…the environmentalists’ goal is the destruction of capitalism.”

    Its about the destruction of alot more than just capitalism:

    http://www.vhemt.org/

  • Inspector

    Myrhaf,

    *That’s* the bottom line, right there. I said before that hobbies were a distraction from the real issue, but I was wrong – anything other than that which you said right there is in fact a distraction from the real issue.

    Here, we pick nits about hobbies and folks who don’t have jobs and anything else that could justify gardening. But nothing justifies the environmentalists’ agenda for calling for gardening.

  • Myrhaf

    That’s right, Inspector. The environmentalists have always been smart by cloaking their real agenda in what seem to be actual human values, such as clean air and saving money.

    There are plenty of quotes around from consistent environmentalists, in their moments of public honesty, when they wish for the death of billions of humans. Usually they use the euphemism of “reducing the population.” There is no faster way to achieve that goal than by destroying corporate agriculture and letting a global famine do the work.

  • dismuke

    “Were I the owner of a food garden, the fact that environmentalists advocate food gardens would be enough to make me destroy my garden and let the land lie fallow in protest.

    But would you do that if you actually valued – for whatever reason – having such a garden? If so and you gave it up because of that – well who would be the one who would ultimately lose out?

    “Here, we pick nits about hobbies and folks who don’t have jobs and anything else that could justify gardening. But nothing justifies the environmentalists’ agenda for calling for gardening.”

    I agree completely that nothing justifies the enviornmentalists’ agenda for calling for gardening. But I also don’t think that it is justified to, therefore, think any less of a perfectly legitimate area of endeavor that a great many people value and which has existed since long before the environmentalists came along to blight the scene. That the environmentalists advocate gardening for dubious reasons and in the name of promoting an anti-human agenda is NOT a black eye against gardening any more than some strange irratonal cult claiming to be inspired by Ayn Rand’s novels would be a valid argument against Objectivism.

    I can’t speak for Jennifer, but my basic objection in this thread is that something I have enjoyed in the past (I had a garden every year when I was in high school) and something I have known several very decent people to have valued a lot is being put in a very negative light because certain unsavory people also advocate it. Michelle Obama is NOT a spokesperson for gardening. And I seriously doubt for one minute the woman would stoop to soiling her fingers in dirt the minute the cameras turn away. If anything, the woman is EXPLOITING gardening and using its genunine VALUE as a way of giving her evil agenda an element of legitimacy. It is bad enough that a valid area of endavor has suddenly been co-opted and been made to be “politically correct.” But to see it being attacked because of that – that adds insult to injury.

  • Inspector

    Dismuke,

    I don’t think it’s fair or appropriate to assume that gardening is being attacked. As you said, the context is key and the context that is CLEARLY assumed by the environmentalist ads is that people who are in no way into gardening ought to do so to save money. The context also clearly assumes that these are regular people with jobs whose time spent gardening comes at an opportunity cost and not retired people living in rural Kansas, miles away from convenience stores.

    By bringing up these points which were clearly not part of the equation, the only thing you’re accomplishing is lending legitimacy to the environmentalists’ call by muddying the waters.

    Speaking generally now, about what’s happened in this thread:

    Environmentalists are not gardening enthusiasts. Nor are they hikers, walking-exercise-health advocates, home knitting enthusiasts, or electric motor inventors. They have hideous and destructive agendas for calling for all of those things.

    If you happen to enjoy walking to the store for exercise (to pick an example), please understand that it is not necessary for you to react when anyone here demolishes an environmentalist call to outlaw the car and make us all walk everywhere. Nor is it appropriate to chime in about the health benefits of walking, etc.

    Please try to understand two things:

    1) We are at war, here. Telling people of the benefits of your hobby is not as important as being absolutely, 100% clear what is at stake and how the environmentalists must be absolutely opposed. There is a time and a place to advocate your hobby, and the middle of a thread like this is not it.

    2) Your hobby or interest is NOT under attack. If you understand that context is key, then don’t lose the context *here*. The environmentalist ad was clearly not aimed at gardening enthusiasts or retired, rural people. It was aimed at the average listener who has a job and for whom home gardening would be a horrible waste of time and therefore money, just as Myrhaf said. It is one of many environmentalists shell games in which they offer to save you a few pennies by “going green” while you lose out many times over somewhere else.

    Like hybrid cars, which save a few dollars at the pump, while costing a multi-thousand dollar premium at purchase. Most people would never drive enough miles to make up the cost difference, even after the thousands in subsidies and the fact that they may not even be selling the things at a profit.

    This is, just as Myrhaf said, not an accident or an innocent ignorance of the fact that time is money, but a deliberate attempt to destroy the division of labor society. They are not merely ignorant of the fact that time is money or that purchase prices matter as much as MPG. They are deliberately trying to obfuscate these facts!

    Does there exist someone who might drive so many miles, of a specific type of driving that they might save money with a hybrid? Sure, probably, at the thin end on a bell curve somewhere. Just like there exists someone who might save money gardening at home (or just enjoy it for its own sake). But neither of these people changes the fact that the environmentalists are selling a *LIE* that hybrids or home gardening are money savers that most people would do well to look into. They’re NOT.

    So please, please understand that THAT is the context, and not your hobby or interest. And that it is not necessary or helpful, therefore, to bring it up.

    I sincerely hope no offense is taken from the above, but I see this kind of infighting happen frequently among Objectivists over environmentalist issues and I get the impression that *this is exactly what the environmentalists want.* We need to stop playing into their hands with it.

  • softwarenerd

    The environmentalists have an agenda and want everyone to have a little home garden.

    Separately, with the economy down, people are looking for ways to DIY on some things they would otherwise farm out. I know people who canceled their mowing service this year. (same economics apply).

    I haven’t heard the HD ads, but the one Myhraf described sounds like it was aiming at the second motivation.

    Of course, I would not surprised if HD pushed the environmental motivation as well. Just this weekend, my son’s school had volunteers go plant stuff at school, and they chose to do some veggies. So, that ideology is around and not uncommon. It is just that the ad that was described did not have any environmental message, as described. Maybe it did actually contain one, but I did not see it in the description.

  • dismuke

    Just got back from a 4 hour return drive from Houston and gave some additional thought to this to pass the time on the trip.

    “Taking for example a 40k/year salary, that comes to about $19.23/hour, assuming a 40 hour work week. If you spend a couple hours gardening to “save money” on spinach, that’s stepping over dollars to pick up pennies.

    This would be valid only if the two hours spent gardening meant that the person would have to reduce his workweek down to 38 hours. That WOULD be penny wise pound foolish. But that is not likely to happen – people who are employed usually work on their gardens after work or on weekends.

    The fallacy here is to assume that all hours of a person’s day have the same earning potential and economic value. They don’t.

    Let’s take your example. Most people who earn $40k per year do their own housekeeping, laundry and mow their own yards despite the fact that one can easily hire a Mexican immigrant to do such work for far, far, less than $19 per hour. And I don’t think too many people regard vacuuming and washing laundry as a hobby. Ask yourself why such people don’t just go out and hire domestic help.

    The reason, of course, is that the time they spend doing such things is time that currently brings in ZERO income. They do such things in order to prevent the money they bring in from their $40 k per year job from being reduced by the expense of hiring domestic help. Let’s say that they can get someone to do such tasks for $9 per hour. By doing it themselves, they are saving $10 per hour – which is ten dollars that they would otherwise not have if they instead spent that time on activities such as watching television or surfing the Internet while the domestic help toiled away.

    Sure, it is possible to get a second, part-time job – assuming that the person has the skills and lives in an area where part time jobs can be had. But very few part time jobs pay as much money as full time jobs. Sure, there are exceptions. A plumber or a software designer might be able to do freelance work in his free time and earn just as much or more than he does on his day job. But a great many jobs do not really lend themselves to part time freelance work. Even if one did come to the conclusion that two hours working a part time job would bring in more cash than would be saved by spending the same amount of time working the garden – well, how many part time jobs can one find where one is allowed to work just two hours per week? To land such a job one might need to make a commitment to work 10 hours – which may not make sense if the person would more highly value spending the remaining 8 hours on other things.

    Before discussing the value of time and labor one must first ask: whose time and whose labor? When discussing the cost of opportunity, one must first ask: what opportunities and are such opportunities even available and viable to the individual in question?

    For the vast majority of people, the alternative to spending two h0urs per week in a garden that must be balanced against is NOT some endeavor that will bring in extra cash. The alternative is spending that time either in pursuit of leisure or in pursuit of other productive but non-renumerative work around the house such as cooking, housekeeping, cleaning out the garage, balancing the checkbook, etc. If spending two hours less per week surfing the internet in order work the garden results in knocking $25 off the family food bill, that is an extra $100 per month in their pockets they would otherwise not have (more actually when one considers the amount of taxes that are deducted before one can have $100 in take home cash.).

    The fallacy of Katrina’s argument is that it regards the economic costs as some sort of intrinsically derived number. There is no such number. A cost is determined by the hierarchy of values of the SPECIFIC INDIVIDUALS who happen to be party to a given transaction. And whether the particular hierarchy of values held by one of those individuals is valid and rational is a HIGHLY contextual matter involving private and personal factors that most random strangers are not going to be privy to in order to make a valid judgment one way or another.

    Now, turning to division of labor – that too is highly contextual in terms of whether it offers much benefit to a given situation. Division of labor generally works best for endeavors that are very large in scope, scale and complexity. But there are situations, especially when one is talking about things on a smaller scale, where the benefits of division of labor reach a point of diminishing returns and perhaps even become highly inefficient. For example, if a college student of limited means spends an hour a week doing laundry, it probably does not make sense to pay someone else to do it – assuming one can even find someone to show up for one hour’s worth of employment. The owner of a large company is going to have an accounting staff, secretarial and admin staff, a human resources department, a janitorial staff, etc. All of that makes sense on the principle of division of labor. But a business owner who is self-employed and has perhaps maybe a single employee is most likely going to to his own accounting work, type his own letters, do all the hiring himself and perhaps even help vacuum the office and empty out the garbage cans. The principle of division of labor for him will not apply to any of those areas until either the cash flow or more valuable demands on his time justify it.

    The fact that raising one’s own vegetables makes economic sense for many people does not invalidate or contradict the division of labor benefits of large scale agriculture. When you buy produce at a supermarket, you are paying for a) the cost of raising the product, b) the cost of transportation and bringing it to market and c) the grocer’s cost of stocking and selling it. In many cases, the cost of transportation and the grocer’s costs exceed what it costs to produce the item. Having one’s own garden eliminates the need to pay for transit and the grocer’s expenses. Furthermore, a farmer has no choice but to factor in the cost of his land – especially if it is mortgaged. The backyard gardener does not have to factor in such a cost because the land the garden sits on is already paid for in one’s house payment. Whether the plot of land holds a vegetable garden, a flower bed or a weed infested lawn has zero impact on one’s house payment. Farmers have to pay for their labor in cash and pay taxes on it. The labor of most backyard gardens is paid for only by a reduction in the owner’s non-renumerative free time. There really is no comparison between the two. One is a large scale professional endeavor while the other is a small scale, amateur do it yourself endeavor. There are all sorts of up front costs and overhead involved in bringing produce to market that are completely inapplicable when one is working on a very small scale. The fact that it would make zero economic sense for large scale commercial agriculture to be replaced by every homeowner converting his back yard into a vegetable garden does NOT contradict the fact that a garden CAN make economic sense for the specific individuals and families who have a yard and the free time and the inclination to start one.

  • Tom

    In the case of retired people, it still isn’t actually cheap, because you’re ignoring the cost of being retired. If you’re able enough to garden, you’re able enough to work a regular job.

    But then, strictly speaking, they’re not “retired.” They’re working as farmers.

  • dismuke

    “We are at war, here. Telling people of the benefits of your hobby is not as important as being absolutely, 100% clear what is at stake and how the environmentalists must be absolutely opposed. There is a time and a place to advocate your hobby, and the middle of a thread like this is not it.”

    I think what is at issue here is a difference in focus.

    You are focused on the environmentalist’s agenda and their motives for demanding people to garden, make their own clothes, etc. I am in complete agreement with you and Myrhaf on that.

    My focus is on the exception I take to to some of the specific points Myrhaf made in order to advance his larger point – a larger point I happen to be in full agree with.

    What am I supposed to do? Ignore my disagreement with the more specific points? If I think the specific points weaken the overall case he is making, how on earth am I helping anybody by remaining silent?

    One does not make converts to one’s cause by making arguments that seem to cast a negative light on an endeavor that many people legitimately regard as a value.

    Furthermore, a blanket statement that large farms can grow produce better and at lower prices than home gardeners is simply false – as many millions of gardeners can very easily testify based on their own personal experience.

    And this is ESPECIALLY true when it comes to the issue of quality – which is something I have yet to touch on . For example, the variety of tomatoes sold in stores are selected primarily based on their ability to be efficiently harvested (plants that bring fruit all at once are cheaper to harvest than plants that produce fruit over the course of the growing season) and their ability to have a long shelf life before they start to rot and need to be thrown away. Because of the economics involved, a given variety’s taste is but a secondary consideration.

    Home gardeners, on the other hand, are in a position to plant tomatoes which have MUCH better taste but are not well suited for large scale commercial production because they are not as prolific and not well suited for the stress and time frame of storage and transit. Furthermore, the tomatoes sold in stores are picked when they are still green and ripen while in transit – which is necessary because tomatoes do not last long once they are fully ripe. Tomatoes that ripen on the vine taste MUCH better.

    Again, none of what I am saying here will be news to many millions of people who have either had a garden or enjoyed the pickings of someone else’s garden.

    Making one’s case using statements that are easily proven to not be true does NOT help to advance one’s cause. And precisely because Myrhaf’s wider point is so important, it is NECESSARY for the flaws in the case to be pointed out so that the argument can be strengthened.

    I, of course, already understand and agree with Myrhaf’s wider point. But if his wider point were totally new to me – well, the very moment I read the statements that I have taken exception to, I would probably would not be very inclined to give his wider point much consideration at all. And I am sure that would also be the case for millions of others whose first hand experience is totally opposite of what is described. There are FAR more effective ways for his overall point about opportunity costs and division of labor to be made.

  • dismuke

    I wrote:

    “Furthermore, a blanket statement that large farms can grow produce better and at lower prices than home gardeners is simply false – as many millions of gardeners can very easily testify based on their own personal experience.

    Yikes. I just went back and reread the above passage and realize that VERY badly and sloppily written it is.

    The word “can” should clearly be omitted. OF COURSE large farms CAN grow better and less expensive food. I take no issue with that – only a broader brush suggestion that they NECESSARILY do so.

  • Inspector

    I think we have two problems here, Dismuke.

    1) You’re still missing the context of the original message. You’re now talking about things like how tasty fresh tomatoes are (something I don’t at all dispute). This is NOT, again, the context in play. The ad’s message was that it make ECONOMIC sense for people to garden – presumably MOST people – the people who are out there working and whose time is precious and already overdrawn with obligations, errands, overtime, children, and everything else. Moreso than the literal PENNIES on the dollar that most could save on produce.

    2) Which brings me to our second problem – you’re talking about saving $25 on a weekly grocery bill. That is an utterly unbelievable number from where I am sitting. Perhaps if I spent 2 hours gardening per week, with a 6 or so hour initial investment to build the thing, with a $30 investment at the local Home Depot, I could save $25 per YEAR in vegetables. Do you know what a tomato costs at the grocery store? Less than a dollar. No WAY do I spend $25 a week on vegetables, period, much less could I stand to save that much. The sheer number of vegetables we’re talking about in order to add up to that much, believe me, we’re talking about a lot more than 2 hours per week here. Your calculations of how much money can be saved are, in short, an order of magnitude off for myself and for the people I know to be the majority on this.

    There’s a very – very *specific* niche of an economic place in which the amount of spare money one has and the amount of free time one has is in just the right place where – from a purely *economic* standpoint, it’s worth looking into gardening. I don’t dispute that such people exist, only that, as the ad clearly assumes – that this could by any stretch of the imagination be said to include *most* people.

    Specifically it is best for those with a lot of time that they couldn’t otherwise spend making money, and who don’t already also have enough money that they’d much rather spend the extra 40 cents per vegetable than be gardening as opposed to enjoying their free time in the way that pleases them. (because remember this is an economic argument, so we must assume that they don’t already enjoy gardening for its own sake)

    You bring up the example of laundry, cleaning, and yardwork as examples where people also do it themselves. But I think that these examples are flawed and do not speak for the economic argument. All of these things involve entrusting your personal property – your home, your clothes, your yard – to other people. I don’t think most people don’t employ maids because the cost is too high (or they’re afraid of getting into legal trouble for hiring illegals) – but rather because they aren’t comfortable with letting other people be in their private space so much.

    For laundry, I can throw some heaps of clothes into a machine in my utility room which I can pretty much leave alone for a few hours, and then throw it all on some hangers and be done with it. That’s – what? 15 minutes – maybe – of work on my part? I’d spend at least as much time driving it over to some laundry service. Find me a laundry service that would get my clothes to me as quickly and with as little investment of my time as that, at any hour of the day and any day of the week, and you have yourself a deal, sir.

    As for yards – which people are these, which keep their own yards purely for economic reasons? I know of none. I know plenty of people who hire landscapers. I also know plenty who do their own work out of a sense of ownership of their yards (the Hank Hill type). I know a few who do it for the exercise. And I know still more who don’t care in the least for the state of their lawns – you don’t have to mow very often if you don’t water the thing. But I know literally nobody who mows themselves simply to save the money.

    If you enjoy the act of gardening, or are looking to get fresher produce than can be obtained otherwise, then – no argument – gardening may be worth looking into. But that is not at ALL what is being sold.

    What is being sold is that – on ECONOMIC grounds – gardening is something for EVERYONE – not just retirees, the underemployed, hobbyists, etc.

    What my issue is is not that you shouldn’t say something if you take exception. It’s that you shouldn’t be taking exception at all. You – the hobbyist – are clearly NOT the target here of ANYTHING that Myrhaf said, nor is gardening in general. I don’t see at all where Myrhaf has stepped on either issue. He said that – FOR HIM, and for the average Joe who is not retired, not interested in gardening, not skilled in gardening, and not possessed of a plethora of time to invest in learning it and working it, and doesn’t spend more than a couple of bucks every now and then on spinach anyway, it would be ridiculous to start gardening over the *price of spinach,* as the ad suggests he do. I don’t see a single, solitary thing wrong with that statement or anything else in his initial post.

    The average person I see as being *definitely* in that category – and those otherwise are exceptions who should realize they aren’t under discussion here. And so have no cause to object, especially given what I’ve already outlined about us being at war.

  • dismuke

    I wrote:

    “I just went back and reread the above passage and realize that VERY badly and sloppily written it is.”

    Gee – strike TWO. That should be: “realizeD HOW…”

    That’s what you get when you try to post comments when you in a hurry.

  • dismuke

    “But I know literally nobody who mows themselves simply to save the money.

    Gee – what neighborhood did you grow up in? You must not know very many people from certain parts of town. I grew up in a lower middle class blue collar neighborhood. MOST people mowed their own lawns to save money – for them there was no alternative. Go to any such neighborhood today and I am sure that is still the case.

    Oh, and by the way, you now know someone who mows his own lawn to save money: me! It takes me about 45 minutes every two weeks – and while it is not something I find especially thrilling to do, I would much rather do it and pocket the $80 per month I was spending a few years ago for the Mexican immigrant to come by every two weeks.

    “No WAY do I spend $25 a week on vegetables, period, much less could I stand to save that much.

    I live alone and spend about $18 – $22 per week on fresh produce – and I get it at Hispanic markets and produce stands for about half or more than what it costs at conventional grocery stores. I admittedly do eat more produce than most Americans. But if one has a family, that is not hard to do at all.

    Again, I do not dispute the fact that a garden does NOT make much sense for people who live very busy lives. Indeed, as I have already mentioned, it has yet to make sense for ME even given the fact that I do enjoy it, am more than capable of putting one in without blowing $30 at Home Depot to do so and consume lots and lots of produce. If I put a garden in, the single biggest cost out of my pocket would be the increase in my city water bill. I just flat do not have the spare time – my free time is already filled up with my radio station, my record collection, audio restoration and several other projects I enjoy plus routine chores I do not particularly enjoy. But not everybody is in my situation. There are a LOT of people who have TONS of free time on their hands – which is what keeps the TV networks in business.

    Again, I am not disputing the fact that it does not make sense for most people – I am only trying to establish the point that there ARE plenty of people for whom it DOES make perfect economic sense and those people are NOT taken into consideration in the initial posting and in many of the comments. And while those people might not constitute the norm, they do exist in great enough numbers not to be written off as some sort of statistical fluke.

  • Inspector

    “Again, I am not disputing the fact that it does not make sense for most people – I am only trying to establish the point that there ARE plenty of people for whom it DOES make perfect economic sense…”

    Well, good, I think we’re on the same page here.

    “and those people are NOT taken into consideration in the initial posting and in many of the comments.”

    I just don’t see it. Is it required to make mention of such people? He doesn’t say they *don’t* exist. Can you show me where the original post says that contextlessly NOBODY could benefit from gardening?

    As I said, the right thing to do here is make the very reasonable assumption that he’s not talking about you.

  • dismuke

    “I just don’t see it. Is it required to make mention of such people?”

    Yes, of course it is. Why say “All X is Y” when, in fact, the truth is “Some X is Y” or even “Most X is Y”?

    “Can you show me where the original post says that contextlessly NOBODY could benefit from gardening?

    Sure: “Farmers specialize in growing spinach on large farms, and they do it better and at less expense than Joe Gardener ever could in his backyard.”

    “As I said, the right thing to do here is make the very reasonable assumption that he’s not talking about you.”

    But I never assumed he was talking about me. As I have said, I am one of those people for who it has so far not made any sense. I have just known plenty of people for whom it has made a great deal of sense. And since such people do number in the many hundreds of thousands if not millions, ignoring them makes the case for the larger point far less effective. I guarantee you that any such person stumbling across the posting would very likely throw back objections similar to those that I have made – except that most of them, unlike me, are going not to have any prior understanding or appreciation for the wider point.

  • Inspector

    But he didn’t say *contextlessly nobody* – he said “Joe Gardener.” Which he had previously explained refers to that everyman who, like himself, it would not be a good bargain given the time and effort invested and how cheap vegetables are as is. Which, keeping the context of the post, are the ones that the ad is trying to convert. This would be the “most people” that we both agree for whom it would make no sense to stop buying from stores.

    That’s the context of the post, which it’s important to keep in mind.

    And by “you,” I was referring of course not to you Dismuke. I’m saying that the right thing for to do is to acknowledge that they’re the exception and make the very reasonable assumption that they’re not in any way the subject of discussion in the post.

    If it makes any difference, I personally have given thought to someday growing things simply for the freshness I’ve been unable to find in stores. So I certainly understand the appeal. But I have no illusions about it being anything other than a luxury that I don’t have the time for until I’m semi-retired. To try to sell that as a prudent money-saving measure to Joe Everyman is quite frankly ridiculous.

  • dismuke

    Well, another thing is that, in defending my point from various comments, I ended up having to make a far bigger deal out of it than I intended to when I made my initial comment.

    I am sure everybody makes overly broad statements from time to time, especially in areas where they may not have a lot of first hand experience. I know I certainly do. But the moment someone can provide counter examples, the broad statement needs to become more qualified to remain valid.

    Also, getting in the habit of looking for counterexamples to broad statements – either one’s own or other people’s – can be a great early warning alarm for possible emerging rationalism.

    Again, Myhraf’s overall point is valid and the sub point he was trying to make when he gave the example was also entirely valid and important. It is just that the example as it was worded does not work.

  • dismuke

    One more point:

    Environmentalists have a long habit of latching themselves on to perfectly valid things in order to hide their real agenda and to give themselves an aura of credibility.

    There ARE perfectly valid and wonderful benefits that can be obtained from gardening, from the exercise one gets in walking, from living a frugal lifestyle, etc. Environmentalists are very quick to champion and point out the virtue of such things – and, in doing so, they acquire a certain aura of respectability that they can use as the hook to get the uninformed and gullible to buy in to the rest of their agenda.

    In such situations, it is VERY important to proactively acknowledge any legitimate and valid benefits that such things may offer. Glossing over them could very well be regarded by misinformed people open to persuasion as a sign that one is either overlooking or ignoring important evidence. This is especially true if one’s audience contains individuals who have personally benefited from gardening, walking, frugality, etc.

    To use an older example, it is a tiring but absolutely necessary chore in any conversation about pollution to point out that one is NOT in favor of dirty air or dirty water or businesses that dump toxic material on other people’s property or pose a objective threat to public safety.

    When environmentalists champion things such as gardening, walking, frugality, clean air and clean water, one’s response should NOT be to deny the fact that such things are legitimate values to many people. One should acknowledge that they ARE values and then place them in their proper context.

    Clean air IS a value – but only as a means to certain ends, not as an end in itself. Same with frugality – it can be a very important means of achieving important values. But accepting it as an end in itself is NOT a value but rather a sacrifice and a willingness to submit to voluntary poverty. If one were to simply dismiss or ignore the legitimate benefits of clean air or frugality – well one could very well come across as being uninformed and disconnected with reality.

  • Mike

    Wow, you guys are going to town on this one. I know I’m the late guy to the table, but I figured I’d chip in this observation:

    In terms of it making economic sense, part of the equation is that Jennifer’s (or whoever’s) land is both suitable for growing and was land that was in need of maintenance anyway. This is, from my understanding, an accurate assessment of the backyards of most Americans, since America’s climate zones are overwhelmingly temperate. Some climate zones are a bit more challenging and change the equation. A person could probably grow a garden at ~80% efficiency in the Northwest’s Cascade climate. Move instead to the high deserts of the Basin-and-Range, or to the Taiga climate of the upper Rockies, or to the low deserts of eastern California and central Arizona, and it’s probably not viable at all.

    To add an anecdote, the plural of which is certainly not “data,” but take it for what you will: my yard in Chandler (Phoenix suburb) is “Xeriscape,” which means it is completely made up of desert scrub and rocks and such and requires virtually no water and little maintenance. It is a horrific waste of water to have a lawn here, though that does not stop some folks from having one. (and as long as their private dollars are paying for this, that’s fine. You can imagine my opinion of the lawns at public parks paid for by taxpayer money.) Our back yard has a patch of unimproved dirt in which my wife grows some herbs and such. Anything more than that, and we’re just asking for the months of 100-degree days to make a joke out of our efforts.

    The environmentalists’ call to action on home gardening in any of the climate zones that aren’t good for it is ignorance at best and idiocy at worst. The rural family in northern Idaho is better off either hunting or buying, the North Dakotan bachelor is better off either fishing or buying, and the young suburban desert-dwelling couple has no better option than the supermarket.

  • Mike N

    I agree with Myrhaf that: “The environmentalists have always been smart by cloaking their real agenda in what seem to be actual human values, such as clean air and saving money.”

    Environmentalists really don’t care whether the people succeed in growing their own food or not. When home gardening is advocated by enviros, it is just another ritual they want citizens to perform–much like the ritual of recycling, the ritual of Earth-Hour-turning off lights for an hour-and the various rituals performed on Earth Day. It’s just like any other religion, perform the rituals and you can feel good about yourself, that is, you will be a moral person. It’s all about appearances not substance. They want to see how many good little Kantians have emerged from the latest batch of progressive education indoctrination that man is evil and everything non-man is the good. Of course the enviros are the high priests who will decide what rituals the flock should perform. Home gardening is the latest inspiration/revelation.

  • Myrhaf

    Another thing to consider is that when I go to the supermarket, I buy exactly how much spinach I want when I want it. If I were to grow spinach, then I would have to go through some preserving process after the vegetable is harvested, such as canning or freezing or whatever to save the spinach for when I wanted it. This is more time and expense.

  • Rob Sama

    The variables are the cost of labor and of land. If you work a medium to high paying job, then it’s not cost effective. If you have to do a lot of work preparing your land, buying topsoil for a backyard that hasn’t been used for gardening in years, then it’s not cost effective. I fall into both categories. It’s not cost effective for me to do it, but I maintain garden because it’s fun.

  • dismuke

    “Another thing to consider is that when I go to the supermarket, I buy exactly how much spinach I want when I want it. If I were to grow spinach, then I would have to go through some preserving process after the vegetable is harvested, such as canning or freezing or whatever to save the spinach for when I wanted it. “

    Plus you can buy fresh spinach when it is out of season in your area – assuming it could even be grown in your area.

    Here in Texas, not many people mess with spinach in home gardens because the weather quickly becomes too hot for spinach to really do well. But it is easy to find in the stores.

    But if I ever put a garden in again, there are all sorts of things I wouldn’t even consider growing because they either don’t do well down here or because they are too much effort. Beans are a classic example. Ever shelled black eyed peas? Even with a shelling machine, it is time consuming. One can buy dried ones in quantity at Indian markets for very little money. Sure, fresh tastes better – but at what cost? Now, if I had kids around the house with nothing more productive to do with their time than watch TV that might be a very different story.

  • dismuke

    “The variables are the cost of labor and of land. If you work a medium to high paying job, then it’s not cost effective. If you have to do a lot of work preparing your land, buying topsoil for a backyard that hasn’t been used for gardening in years, then it’s not cost effective.”

    That is absolutely correct. The people for whom gardens work best from a cost standpoint are those who have a lot of non-renumerative free time on their hands. Households with a stay-at-home mom or dad and with kids is a classic example.

    When my father was growing up in rural Kansas in the 1950s, my grandparents’ house was on less than one acre. But they had a cow or two and every spring they would buy a bunch of baby chicks which they eventually ate as they grew older. Their surplus milk was collected by a local grocer in exchange for merchandise credit in his store. As a result, my grandparents’ rarely had to fork over cash for food – what they couldn’t grow themselves was paid for by their surplus milk. If my grandmother wanted to cook chicken for dinner, she would first go out, collect a chicken, wring its neck and butcher it. And she did not give it a second thought. Everybody in that part of the world knew how to butcher a chicken and she had the time to do so as she had interrupted her career as a school teacher to raise my father and aunt. And my father and aunt were expected to help out with such things each day before and after school. But once my father and aunt grew up and moved away and my grandmother went back to teaching school it no longer made sense for them to do a lot of that sort of stuff anymore.

    Much of that would no longer be viable today even in Kansas. There are no more local creameries and stores no longer buy milk or eggs from locals. Having a supply of fresh meat made a lot of sense back then because there were no home freezers and the freezer compartments in home refrigerators held little more than a few ice trays. To store meat, one either had to cure it or rent a locker at the cold storage plant in the county seat 12 miles away and then drive into town to pick it up. But backyard chickens apparently remain viable for at least some people as one of the concerns that locals here in Texas sometimes have when Hispanics move in to their neighborhoods is noise complaints from backyard chickens. I guarantee you the Hispanics do not keep the chickens out of a desire to be environmentally correct.

    One of the things that was used to rationalize and justify Great Society programs was alleged poverty in Appalachia – and there were several television documentaries at the time that presented a highly selective look at hard core examples. But the government statistics on the percentage of Appalachians living in poverty were very misleading as they were defined by income. Income is probably a pretty accurate measure of poverty in urban areas. But income was a very misleading criteria in 1960s Appalachia. Many of the people there lived on land that was paid for and had been in the family for generations. They grew or hunted virtually all of their own food. They lived in fairly remote areas without the expenses of city living such as commuting, having to wear nice clothes and lots of tempting diversions such as restaurants and entertainment venues. Because their cash expenses were low, they did not really need to have a lot of income in order get by. But because their income fell below an arbitrary threshold they were considered to be living in “poverty” despite the fact that they never wanted for food and shelter.

    Oh, yes…. many in Appalachia did not have indoor plumbing. But that was the norm for even middle class rural families in many parts of the country just a very few decades earlier. My grandparents’ house in Kansas is a very neat craftsman style house built in 1917, long before the advent of rural electrification. When my grandparents moved in during the late 1940s, it had no electricity and was illuminated by a small acetylene plant in the backyard that provided gas lighting. Because there was no electricity and no city water pressure, there was no indoor plumbing. The bathroom had a tub but no faucets and no toilet. Water was supplied to the kitchen by a pump attached to a windmill located just behind the house. To go to the restroom one used the outhouse in the backyard – and, for extremely cold weather, they had a chemical toilet in the basement which was a bit of a luxury item. Once my grandfather electrified the house, he was eventually able to have another well put in with an electric pump which made it possible for him to install indoor plumbing.

    Now, most people today would probably not care much for such a living arrangements. But to regard it as POVERTY is a huge stretch – especially during the early 1960s. But it was such conditions – which were perfectly normal for many in my grandparents’ generation – that were cited in order to shove the Great Society down everybody’s throats. And, interestingly enough, the exact same crowd that whined about the living conditions in Appalachia is now demanding that EVERYBODY return to such living conditions.

  • Jim May

    Writes Myrhaf:
    Does it not make you suspicious, Jennifer, that Obama and the environmentalists are encouraging Americans to plant gardens in order to save money? When you find yourself in agreement with statists, alarm bells should go off.

    I would agree with this, so long as it is understood that “alarm bells” is a signal to check one’s premises, not necessarily to immediately abandon the action or preference in progress when those alarms went off.

    Myrhaf once again:
    Were I the owner of a food garden, the fact that environmentalists advocate food gardens would be enough to make me destroy my garden and let the land lie fallow in protest.

    I wouldn’t. If I began to garden, it would be for proper reasons of my own, and those reasons are not contingent upon anything the Left does. If someone commented on how “green” was, I’d simply say that I was gardening before gardening was “cool”, and set them straight about what “green” really meant.

    I can imagine that there might arise a context in which merely engaging in that activity constitutes a sanction, but that’s a a whole other discussion — and I’m not convinced of that.

    After all, I *do* own a hybrid. I bought one for my own reasons, knowing full well that from a strictly monetary angle, it would not likely ever “pay for itself”. I did not buy it for enviro reasons, and I won’t sell it because of them.

    (For the curious: my reasons were that I like the technology and the challenge of maximizing fuel efficiency without driving like grandma, and the 600 mile range per tank offers the convenience of fewer fillups. And it so happens that for over half the time I’ve owned the car, my daily commute has been 110 miles per day; when gas was $4 dollars a gallon last year, the monthly gas savings versus a regular Civic actually did absorb nearly all of the price premium as seen in my monthly payment).

  • Inspector

    Jim, a point of curiosity: are you *sure* that thing absorbed costs? That would have to be 110 miles of stop-and-go because a regular Civic does just as well if not better on highway miles. It’s only in stop-and-go (“city miles”) where you see any benefit. If so… good lord, man, what on earth is worth that kind of insane commute?