Context is everything. If you haven't done so already, please take an hour or so and read this webpage:
Here are some very important historical markers leading up to the standoff in Oregon:
The Atlantic, January 1996: The Rancher Subsidy
Range Magazine, Spring 1998: Bah, Bah, Bruce
Texas Almanac, 2006-2007 Issue: Ranching in a Changing Land
The New York Times, October 2013: Vision of Prairie Paradise Troubles Montana Ranchers
Newsmax, April 2014: Chinese Solar Power, Harry Reid's Son, and the Bundy Ranch Standoff
Reuters Insight, May 2014: A Collision Between Ranchers and a Tortoise
Watchdog.org, July 2014: NM Family Ranch vs. Federal Government
(All of those links, the video interview, along with countless other sources far too numerous to list here, have helped form my opinion. So if you find this blog post difficult to understand or lacking in hard facts, you'll have to go back and read all that material because what I am doing here is strictly interpretive.)
I went to high school in Calistoga, California, the heart of the Napa Valley Wine Country. I graduated in 1979. When I started high school, any available top quality vineyard land around my hometown was just under $1000 an acre. When I graduated from high school that very same land was selling for $100,000 an acre or more. In one case, a five acre vineyard with a three bedroom stone chateau and 500 bottle a year winery sold for $5.5 million only a few months after I graduated. The family who owned it at the time had bought it in an estate sale for $250,000 the year before I started high school. Family homes that sold for $35k-$50k in 1974 are now worth half a million dollars or more, which is only half of the peak values they reached in the months leading up to the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the 2008 financial crisis.
This is happening all across our nation. Farmland that just a few decades ago sold for less money per acre than a factory worker's weekly paycheck is now only available to corporations and billionaires. The amount of land available has not changed. The biggest change has been in the easy availability of farm subsidies paid out to people who buy farmland for investment but never farm it coupled with a brutal estate tax that forces small family farms to sell off land in order to meet their federal and state obligations. So while the USDA report linked above claims that less than 1% of American family farms are subject to inheritance tax, what it fails to mention is that less than 1% of the family farms that existed only fifty years ago are still in the hands of hardworking farm families.
Farming has become a massive corporate operation that instead of putting fresh food on American tables focuses on filling the ever-growing demand of corporate food processors like Tyson, Kraft, and General Mills (2014 Top 100 Food Processing companies). I am a firm believer in free market capitalism, but food production in America has become a system of crony capitalism with large corporations operating independent of federal regulators while small family operations struggle to meet ever more stringent demands made by federal regulators coupled with the enormous financial burden imposed by hyperinflation in taxable land values. In a very real sense, the death tax on family farms is funding the subsidies used by movie stars and professional athletes to fund their lavish retirements, driving up agricultural land values in an ever escalating hyperinflation.
How did this happen? It's simple really. Americans became more urban and better educated. As they did so, their view of nature shifted from seeing nature as a source of food and materials into seeing natural surroundings as only suited for peaceful vacation spots where they can hike, camp, water ski, barbecue, and recharge their psychic batteries for another grueling work week sitting behind a desk, manning a telephone, and attending management meetings. Nature changed from a source of livelihood to a source of leisure. This meant two things: natural areas must be preserved as pristine as possible and the agricultural economy is the enemy of modernization.
American voters, office workers, government bureaucrats, and politicians all began to view farms and ranches as impediments to their ability to enjoy their leisure time. As a result, no one complained as more regulations were passed that only applied to agriculture while taxes on agricultural families grew until they became vital support for state tax larders feeding wealthy retirement plans for government workers. Since everyone in a decision making position assumed that farming and ranching was part of America's past, they also assumed anything which could hasten the end of a primitive agrarian economy could only help hasten the bright technocratic utopia of the future. This is one of the core inconsistencies in utopian thinking. Those who believe in a golden future assume that endless factory food will somehow replace natural food, therefore, in the future there will be no need for agriculture. It never occurs to them that factories which make food products need fresh meat and vegetables to process into the foods they buy at the supermarket or enjoy in their favorite restaurant.
There is a broad, all-encompassing assault on the family farm or family ranch in the United States of America. I see it in action in the Ohio corn country where I now live even as I saw it gaining steam in the wine-producing town where I went to high school. Every week the local newspaper in Wooster, Ohio lists a dozen or so auctions from family farms that are selling off land and equipment to pay estate taxes. Sometimes those lands and equipment are bought up by other farming families looking for an inexpensive way to expand their operations, but sometimes everything is bought up by corporate farms seeking to reduce "genetic pollution" from local farmers who grow heirlooms instead of hybrids or who specialize in organic products. The tension and competition between family farms and corporate farms is a very real element of life in Wooster, Ohio; especially when family farms are forced to transform into corporations in order to survive.
But the farmers and ranchers themselves are just as ignorant of life in the city as city people are of life in the country. They do not see the bright, technocratic future that scholars, business leaders, and politicians are driving toward and using the federal government to hasten into existence. The only thing they see is a monolithic and massive federal government hell-bent on destroying their way of life by any and all means necessary. They grow the food that feeds the nation and in return, the nation does everything in its power to destroy them. From the perspective of the family farm or ranch, there is no bright technocratic utopia in the future. The only future they see is bankruptcy, starvation, and children who are forced to work on the staff of a corporate farm inside of knowing the joy of producing food for themselves while offering their surplus to the market. If self-satisfied bureaucrats in both public and private employment cannot learn to appreciate the importance and value of families dedicated to producing the finest, most abundant food in the world, then standoffs like the one at the Bundy Ranch or the one taking place right now in Burns, Oregon are going to increase in both frequency and violence.
This inability of people in the city to appreciate the hard work and incredible intellectual capacity required to produce safe, nutritious food is leading our nation down a road that can only end in civil war. It far past time to reverse this trend and to remove this unfounded and unrealistic bigotry toward country living. We must put in place a political and economic structure that provides incentives for family owned agricultural operations to both continue and prosper. If we cannot secure the future of family farming in America then we risk both a breakdown in civil order and a collapse of American agriculture. Greater and greater monolithic farming practices have historically always led to environmental collapse. There is no historical exception. At just about the 250 year mark in the history of every great civilization, reliance on monolithic farming to feed a rapidly expanding civil society always precedes collapse of that agriculture followed by famine, civil war, and social collapse. This was true in Sumer, in Egypt, in multiple successive dynasties in China and India, it was true in the great Islamic civilization that spread from Vietnam to North Africa, it was true in the Roman empire, and it was true in the Persian empire.
We stand on a precipice of social collapse. It is not some mythical "global warming" or "New World Order" that threatens us. Our collapse is being brought about by the same forces that have always brought about the collapse of great civilizations: ambitious bureaucrats and unrealistic demands on agriculture. It will not take some evil shadow society to destroy us, nor will our industrial byproducts poison us into extinction. Long before that happens we will go to war with ourselves because too many bureaucrats (both private and government) are disdainful of farmers and condescending to ranchers. As long as the decision makers are determined to wish into existence some dreamy ideal of a technocratic utopia instead of facing the very real damage their dream is inflicting on everyone around them, our civilization will remain a slowly ticking time bomb that could explode at any moment, destroying us just as we stand on the threshold of greatness.
Civil war is coming. Whether it will be triggered by religious extremists, disgruntled urban poor, or bankrupt country folk with nothing left to lose, remains to be seen. The problem is not in the zeal of ISIS, the poverty of the inner city blacks, or the poor management of family farms. The real problem is everyone who stands around pontificating about "sustainable social progress" when they have never in their life picked up a shovel, planted a crop, put in a 12-hour factory shift, or served in the military. The ignorance of the highly educated is rapidly bringing on a civil war that will destroy the livelihood of everyone both rich and poor.
This is the year of the Red Fire Monkey and his mischief has already begun.
(same day, several hours later)
I just learned there are valuable mineral deposits beneath both the Bundy and Hammond ranches. I hate the thought of it, but this could very well be a major factor behind the BLM harassment of these two ranching families.
USGS Report 1740b: Mineral Resources of the Pueblo Mountains, including Harney County, Oregon and Humboldt County, Nevada
(January 6, 2016, 5:00am)
My apologies. I posted the last update just before going to bed. Humboldt County is in California, not Nevada. The Bundy ranch is in Clark County, Nevada and the appropriate USGS Survey for the Bundy Ranch is 1730d, which is here:
USGS Report 1730d: Mineral Resources of the Lime Canyon Wilderness Area