Working Harder, Getting More Efficient and Losing Prosperity: Arguments for New Rural Coalitions and Social Contracts or On Getting the Problem Right

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  • Canadian agriculture and the rural economy are caught up in the process of global economic integration. This paper argues that new coalitions and contractual agreements are required to keep up with this globalization. The Uruguay Round of the GATT is an example of the effort of the international economy to keep up with global change as various coalitions renegotiate a trade agreement. Market processes at work on restructuring the rural economy should be supplemented to cope with the concomitant effects of market failure. Coalitions among rural interests, cutting across all sectors from agriculture through to forestry and services can supplement the market. Contracts can link rural and urban economies where markets fail. The window of opportunity for substantive gains from coalitions within agriculture alone is almost closed. The meaning of rural is changing rapidly. Greenness, countrysides, smallness, simplicity and remoteness still convey ruralness. However, the many different types of rural lifestyles and preferences render simplistic rural/urbam distinctions meaningless (Fuller et al, 1991). There is now a need to combine identity with one's home and community with the requirement to interact in several places at once to achieve the quality of life expected today. A global awareness of opportunities, risks, competitors and predators is now indispensable for achievement in rural places. The new Canadian agriculture is becoming less and less important to the new rural economy, and indeed to the larger national economy. Economic linkages for agriculture have been redirected to urban industrial manufacturing and services. Agriculture has been decoupled from rural (Apedaile, 1991). It not only plays a less important role generally, but also in the nineties is increasingly seen to be somewhat of a nuisance as the global economy integrates. This situation is new and troublesome. Up to about 15 years ago agriculture was accorded high status as a key sector for advancing the national interest. In the best of the European Mercantilist and Physiocratic traditions dating from the time of the founding of Quebec City by de Camplain, agriculture in Canada provided the base for a strong, competitive low cost trader economy. In this century, agricultural products joined fish, forest products and minerals as a major export industry. Agriculture was a leading sector in the industrial revolution and in achieving overall productivity gains in the Canadian economy. Agriculture was the national hearthstone of individualism, thrift, social prestige and the spirit of competition. Agriculture was rural and rural was agriculture. Rural was still almost the whole economy as late as the early 1800s. Then industrialization, long distance sea transportation and the development of prairie agriculture progressed rapidly. Agriculture and mining joined forestry and fishing as important sources of raw materials for export. Agriculture helped to maintain the stable purchasing power of industrial wages. However economists foresaw a decline of rural economic activity and a tendency for rural incomes to approach the level of basic needs, the so-called \"iron law of wages.\" Technology, overlooked by these economists, has so far offset the effects of depletion of the agricultural land and water base. However pressure has mounted for some years on farm incomes and indeed the revenues of all rural resource enterprises no matter how industrialized in forestry, mining and transportation (Freshwater et al, 1991). Much of the pressure arises from global change, some from cyclical recession and trade wars, some from slack operations and some from resource depletion. Can faster technological change, harder work and better marketing shore up farm revenue in the long run? Will liberalized trade, less government and getting the prices right provide the signals necessary to achieve healthy rural communities? Can wealth be expected to accrue from better technology and greater trade volumes to those who hold rural assets? The answers are far from obvious.

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    Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 International