By Franklin Sanders
WESTPOINT, TENN. — I showed up at the office on 2 June and the noise was boiling out of the woods behind my daughter Liberty’s house, maybe 600 yards away. Chains clanking, a giant saw blade whining, diesels rumbling and grudging. It sounded like someone had set up an extermination camp behind her house. And they weren’t being quiet about it.
All day long the office floor was thrumming as the trucks rolled out, grinding gears as they hauled out logs. This will go on for weeks, even months.
Here’s where I am really torn. The property belongs to someone, and that someone has a right to do with it pretty much as he pleases, as long as he doesn’t harm his neighbors. Thus far, I am the world’s staunchest property rights supporter. How harm? Clearcutting. Spraying poisons. But then I remember, timbering offers jobs, too.
All owners are not equal
Problem comes when we talk about the nature of that owner, and harming his neighbors. That owner’s nature is non-existent, imaginary, a juridical creature, a fiction of law that hath no soul to damn and no body to kick. I mean, of course, a corporation, for, LO! over the years a corporation – which never dies, and therefore never passes title to anyone else – accumulated hundreds of thousands of acres in my county. At that time it was a paper company, buying the land up during the Great Depopulation when people were moving off the land, giving up on farming and taking jobs at factories in town. The paper company needed lots of land for future timber to feed its paper mills.
But a corporation, unlike a person, hath no progeny, no future descendants to provide for, and so, except for it next bottom line, no vision of the future. A human, on the other hand, if he has as much sense as a doorknob, will try to improve his land so that he hands it over to the next generation in better shape than he found it. That’s how the accumulation of capital operates.
That’s how lasting prosperity is built, by men thinking generationally, with a 100 year time horizon. Since the corporation cares not about such trifles which might shave something off the next bottom line, it careth not how the timber is got, only that it is got. So it clear-cuts, i.e., cuts every tree down and takes only the ones it wants. This leaves a wreck behind, but it’s better for them to leave the tops and trash because it slows water and erosion.
Stewardship vanishes with absentee landowners
But not enough, so gradually our creeks have silted up, and now are too shallow to afford fish a home any longer. Worse is the loss of topsoil, which takes many, many years to build. The forest is very resilient, and life is tough and resilient. Something will come up, briars and weeds first, then the pioneer trees like elms and maples and poplars, and they will fight it out until 25 year later another hardwood forest stand there.
That’s what grows here, hardwoods: oak, hickory, ash, beech, sycamore, sassafras, tulip poplar, and red maple. In evergreens we have Tennessee red cedar and white pine, but not many others. After clearcutting, the paper companies usually come back and re-plant non-native fast growing pines. Used to they planted with Mexicans, but now they have a machine that’s even cheaper.
Then one paper corporation bought out the one holding huge acreage in our county. The successor corporation began selling land. I heard about that and called the land agent in Waynesboro. Oh, yeah, they acre blocks. That left me out, but it illustrates how banks, insurance companies, and fiat money play a part in degrading the environment. Speculators who already have a big line of bank credit can buy 600,000 acres, but he who owes the bank must flog the land. Not stewardship, but quickest turn for quickest profit will decide this land’s fate. And that cheap money, newly printed by the bank for the occasion, artificially raises the price of all land beyond its economic value.
Then appeareth the insurance companies. Loaded with cash and looking for something to spend it on, they create timber holding companies that buy big blocks of land, content to own it until the paper companies need the wood off it. Most of these timber holding companies who own the land around here are located in Boston, but then, it wouldn’t matter if they were located next door, because corporations have nobody to visit anywhere anyway.
The bottom line
So this is how the land is degraded. It passes out of personal into corporate ownership, with absentee owners further and further removed from any personal interest in or knowledge of the land. They see only numbers on a spreadsheet. They care about only how much profit they can squeeze out of it this quarter, and next year be damned. And because corporations never die, the land never re-enters the market, so available farmland shrinks while new bank-created money keeps the price high.
So I listened to the clanging and grumbling and whining out of the woods. I couldn’t see it, but it sounded like an extermination camp, exterminating land and a way of life.
Used by permission. June 2014 Moneychanger newsletter. Franklin Sanders is publisher of The Moneychanger, a privately circulated monthly newsletter that focus on gold and silver and the application of Christianity to economics, culture and family life. We have subscribed to this newsletter for more than 20 years, and consider it a must read. F$99 a year. Franklin is an active trader in gold and silver (he’ll swap your green Federal Reserve rectangles and give you real money in return). He trades with savers and investors outside Tennessee. Subscribe to his daily price report and market commentary on the website.