June 5: Against landlords and squirrels

The target The enemy

The first thing I want to point out about this reading is that, if you're juvenile like me, seeing the phrase "butcher's-meat" about 10 times in the space of a page makes you smile.

The second thing I want to point out is that disciples of Adam Smith, such as people who write for the Wall Street Journal, like to lionize the captains of industry as the most productive members of society, the men and occasional token woman who endow us with the highest standard of living, etc. etc. Well, they are that -- maybe (although if they're the most productive members of society, how come they can't clean their own offices?) but, as their hero Prof. Smith points out, they are also dicks:

In adjusting the terms of the lease, the landlord endeavours to leave him no greater share of the produce than what is sufficient to keep up the stock from which he furnishes the seed, pays the labour, and purchases and maintains the cattle and other instruments of husbandry, together with the ordinary profits of farming stock in the neighbourhood. This is evidently the smallest share with which the tenant can content himself without being a loser, and the landlord seldom means to leave him any more.
The most boring part of science/social-science writing for the non-scientist/social-scientist is the fact that you have to be walked through all the first principles before you get to where the action is. Adam Smith is a sufficiently good writer, with the occasional waspish sting, that you can stand the walk-through:
The rent of land, it may be thought, is frequently no more than a reasonable profit or interest for the stock laid out by the landlord upon its improvement. This, no doubt, may be partly the case upon some occasions [emphasis added]; for it can scarce ever be more than partly the case. The landlord demands a rent even for unimproved land, and the supposed interest or profit upon the expence of improvement is generally an addition to this original rent. Those improvements, besides, are not always made by the stock of the landlord, but sometimes by that of the tenant. When the lease comes to be renewed, however, the landlord commonly demands the same augmentation of rent, as if they had been all made by his own.
See? Landlords are dicks. But, if you ever rented, you probably knew that.

My "however" part of the post, however, is that I couldn't tell you what the point of this reading was unless I flip back to it. Something about rent, probably, and how the rent you get for turning land out for pasture is controlled by the how much you'd get if you grew corn (= "wheat" in American English, just like "lorry" = "maize"). Maybe I can't remember because I'm too entranced with the anti-landlord stuff. But maybe it's also not my fault. I pad into the other room (my shoes are off) and there pull out my best-of Galbraith, who says, "As a writer Smith was a superb carpenter but a poor architect. The facts appear in lengthy digressions which have been criticized as such." And then he adds, "But for any discriminating reader it is worth the interruption."

And it's true: if you can hang in with the 18th-century-ness of it all, you get a little discussion about whether you should build a wall around your kitchen garden (the ancients did not think so, but "in Great Britain, and some other northern countries, the finer fruits cannot be brought to perfection but by the assistance of a wall.")

Of course, Smith could not have known that, in our time, there would be a dwarf peach tree in California from which we have gotten one (1) ripe peach in seven years because of the fucking squirrels. Perhaps he wasn't as far-seeing as he is often given credit for.

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