Economics, the Environment and Our Common Wealth

Economics, the Environment and Our Common Wealth

James K. Boyce

Comprising a decade’s worth of essays written since the publication of the author’s pathbreaking book, The Political Economy of the Environment (2002), this volume discusses a number of diverse environmental issues through an economist’s lens. Topics covered include environmental justice, disaster response, globalization and the environment, industrial toxins and other pollutants, cap-and-dividend climate policies, and agricultural biodiversity.

Chapter 8: A future for small farms

James K. Boyce

Subjects: environment, environmental economics


The small farmer is today an endangered species. In the industrialized countries of the global North, the number of farmers has been dwindling for generations. In the United States, for example, the total number of farms fell from 6.8 million in 1935 to fewer than two million today (Stam and Dixon 2004). Referring to trends in Europe, where the farming population is declining by 3 percent annually, a New York Times editorial derides the idea that ‘every village that was inhabited in Charlemagne’s day must be sustained,’ and declares that ‘more consolidation, in the form of larger-scale farming and an abandonment of absurdly inefficient production, is inevitable.’ In the developing countries of the global South, governments and international agencies alike appear to be intent on following the same path. Fifty years after the publication of Sir Arthur Lewis’s (1954) dual economy model, in which economic development was identified with the transfer of labor from the ‘subsistence’ agricultural sector to the ‘capitalist’ industrial sector, the assumption that small farms are destined for the dustbin of history remains conventional wisdom. ‘Those indios,’ a Guatemalan government official told me, referring to the country’s indigenous majority. ‘As long as they grow maize just like their grandparents, they’ll be poor just like their grandparents.’

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