A Thumbs Down Book Review
Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered
By Woody Tasch
Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008
Review by Tim Boyd
“The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.” Franklin D. Roosevelt made that very astute observation about seventy years ago. Slow Money starts off by establishing the fact that any economy that tries to force food production to exceed soil capacity is doomed to failure. This is certainly a good point.
Several pages later Tasch questions the idea that all growth is good. All growth is not good. For example, economic growth that results from increasing demands for medical care is not good because it means that we are getting sicker. In the short run it may seem good to those in the medical system who stand to benefit. In the long run, however, they will run out of patients to kill—I mean treat.
Another example is increasing food production at the expense of our most critical resource: soil. The prevailing American attitude is that all growth is good, and the bigger the better. Again, I think Tasch is right to disagree with this premise. He also makes a good argument about what destructive devils we are. We work very hard at killing weeds, bugs, microbes, varmints and quite often each other.
Up to that point, he’s doing reasonably well. He goes on to list a number of businesses and pursuits that we should be engaged in rather than destroying the environment. I agree with most but disagree with some.
There are long stretches of seemingly aimless rambling through most of the last half of the book and an outline of a new kind of stock exchange that invests in a slower-paced, sustainable economy. I’m not convinced that starting another stock exchange is our solution, but there is a much bigger problem with this book and it’s not in what it says, but in what it doesn’t say. There is really nothing in there about sustainable money. Here is what I mean by that.
World War I should have ended after about six months because all combatants would have run out of money by that point. That didn’t happen because they simply started creating fiat money out of thin air, in other words, spending money they didn’t have. The U.S. (and most of the world) has been creating money out of thin air for most of the 20th century.
This has been done before, and it has never worked in the long run. It didn’t work for the Romans two thousand years ago, or for the Germans after WWI, or for Argentina later in the twentieth century, or for Zimbabwe as I write this. This currency always inflates until it is worthless, the economy crashes, and things in general turn very unpleasant.
If all Americans understood this chain of events then maybe they wouldn’t be so complacent as we threw huge amounts of money at our failing banks. Unfortunately many don’t understand the repercussions of such behavior, so a book like this has a responsibility to address them.
Nations resort to fiat money to increase production (of weapons most often) to levels that can’t be sustained in the long run. That kind of unsustainable production has spilled over into agriculture and the results could be even more devastating than a prolonged war. I think most people have noticed the economy is melting down but they don’t seem to really understand why. When it comes time to pick up the pieces and start over, if we don’t want to make the same mistakes again of overworking our soil and other resources (including human labor), whatever else we do, we need to go back to real money. Slow Money ignores this elephant in the room, so the thumb is down.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2009.