Back in the 1880’s politicians and reformers were alarmed at the mass exodus of farm workers and farmers looking for a new life in America, Canada, South Africa and Australia, because they could not survive the competition of cheap food from some of these countries that was undermining British and Continental agriculture. So the reformers campaigned for legislation to promote a back-to-the-land movement, and the Conservative “radicals,” Chamberlain and Jesse Collings, got Acts passed to create a new peasantry, under Codings’ slogan, “Three acres and a cow.” It fitted in with their general philosophy of helping the “little man” against the big landowners and big combines, in agriculture and in industry. But capitalism just marched over them.
At that time there were in this country a million agricultural workers; by 1948 it was down to 890,000. In spite of laws and lavish government aid to farming it has fallen to 750,000 in 1951 and now to 600,000; so, too, with the small holders. The first enthusiasm for a new peasantry was trimmed to a more modest plan, after the first world war, to put ex-servicemen on the land as chicken farmers and fruit and vegetable growers. Later on in 1934 came the Land Settlement Association to put some of the unemployed into small holdings. Now the Association reports that its smallholders are doing quite well, but there are only 699 of them, and to get on the vacancy list you need five years agricultural experience and £500.
Two experts of the Ministry of Agriculture, Dr. Ashton and Mr. Cracknell, have been examining the statistics of land holdings. The official figures for England and Wales show about 370,000 holdings above 1 acre with an average holding of 70 acres. But their inquiries bring additional information. They find that 30,000 of the holdings are occupied by individuals who have two, three or more holdings, and that about half of the total (180,000) “are not strictly speaking farms at all,” but are occupied by people doing other jobs or who have retired from other occupations and have other sources of income. (Financial Times, 2/3/62.)
The fact is that agriculture, like industry, is more and more falling into the hands of individuals and companies who can afford to put up the increasing amounts of capital required to run them efficiently and with up-to-date machinery and methods. Government aid to farmers, costing £200 million to £300 million a year, may slow the trend of capitalism but can neither reverse it nor halt it.
And as a postscript, Mr. R. H. Turton, M.P., maintains that if Britain enters the Common Market, the Common Market policy of combining small farms into more efficient big ones will have the result that “more than 115,000 small farmers will be squeezed off the land in this country.” (Daily Mail, 6/3/62.)
Shadow over Steel
To the gloom over motor car prospects come worries over the future for steel.
1962 seems pretty certain to be a poor year and 1963 is hardly more promising with European competition likely to be making itself really felt. The Chairman of United Steel says that there is likely to be a surplus of capacity for some time to come, and the Chairman of Dorman Long talks about the present low order books in structural engineering being “ominous.”
British manufacturers have been pouring vast quantities of capital into the industry, but some European countries have been modernising their plant even faster. They also seem to have been sharper at accepting the fact that in modern steelmaking conditions the plant must be sited on the coast so as to get the cheapest processing of imported ore.
The American industry has, of course, been working well below capacity for several years and business still shows no real sign of picking up. The Europeans, are also feeling the pinch and German production actually dropped last year. Even in France, where modernisation has been going on at a hectic rate, production in 1961 was only a few thousand tons above 1960.
There are anxious days ahead for all of them as competition inevitably begins to get fiercer. We may be hearing of some of the weaker ones going to the wall before long.
A Liberal Party leaflet, Where Does the Money Go? dealing with the Cost of Living, promises that if the electors put in a Liberal Government, they could watch prices fall—unlike the years of Labour and Conservative governments with prices going up.
There were Liberal governments continuously from 1905 to 1915, with prices steadily rising. They rose about 11 per cent. up to 1914 when the War broke out and another 25 per cent. before Asquith handed over to another Liberal, Lloyd George, who headed a coalition. Before Lloyd George went out of office the price level was three limes what it had been in 1905.
Where there’s Smoke
In a recent editorial discussing the recent spate of mergers and take-over bids, we mentioned that these were going on everywhere and that there were probably more big surprises in store.
The Common Market has in fact just been considerably shaken about rumour of a big motor deal between Michelin Citroen and Fiat. Under this deal it is reported that Michelin, the French tyre manufacturers, would sell their present controlling interest in Citroen to the Italian Fiat company so as to develop what is alleged to be a breakthrough they have made in synthetic rubber. Such a merger would make the new company the third largest motor car manufacturer in the world behind General Motors and Ford.
As is usually the case, the rumours have been promptly denied by all the parties concerned and there are in fact quite a few practical difficulties in the way of such a huge merger. But in spite of all the denials there is obviously something going on behind the scenes which might end up in trouble for other makers both cars and tyres.
We can remember some big Continental manufacturer (we think it was the Chairman of Renault) saying that it would not be very long before there were only three car manufacturers in Europe. He was taking a pretty long shot, but who knows that he might not turn out to be right?
One thing is certain in capitalism. The big get bigger — and the small get swallowed up.
Food and Farming
The best joke of the month must surely be, not what Kennedy and Kruschev said when they met, but what they were saying about food and farming in their own separate capitalist countries. While Kruschev was storming about low productivity and the urgent need to step up the production of foodstuffs, Kennedy’s administration was planning to reduce American farm surpluses. According to Kruschev everything would be well in Russia if the peasants would produce more, but in America Kennedy was trying to grapple with the disaster that too much production brings. As the Financial Times had it: “The basic problem about the American farmer is that he is too productive.” (Financial Times, 1/2/62.)
If Kruschev has troubles now, what bigger ones he will have when Russian peasants catch up with American productivity.
Printing of Bank Notes
When Lord Dalton died the Daily Mail said he had been a disaster because, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he went in for “the printing of paper, and other inflationary measures’” (Daily Mail, 14/2/62).
As far as increasing the Note issue is concerned, Dalton as Chancellor of the Exchequer was responsible while in office. But his score was only £169 million, so what prevented the Mail from recalling other much higher scores? Butler’s £400 million and Heathcote Amory’s £250 million, and a total of £1,000 million since the Tories came to office in 1951?