Conflict Minerals, Subsistence Farming, & Good Intentions

The subject of subsistence farming came up, reminding me of really interesting lecture that Laura Seay of Colby College gave at the College of the Atlantic on conflict minerals. In it, she talks a bit about subsistence farming and the disconnect between the impressions that people have of it, and the less pleasant reality of it.

Here’s the video:

Laura Seay – A Forum on Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act from College of the Atlantic on Vimeo.

It’s about 40 minutes long. If you’re not interested in that, here are some articles:

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12 thoughts on “Conflict Minerals, Subsistence Farming, & Good Intentions

  1. Here is an interesting New Yorker article about corruption, mineral rights, and another under or undeveloped African nation.

    I think the reason American’s mythologize sustenance farming is that there are probably a lot of small farmers who think they are sustenance farmers when they are really not. We have a disconnect between the reality and the actuality of small farms in America.


      • I know a couple that moved from SF to another state to start a farm. They wanted one in the Bay Area but the prices were too high. They needed to move to a largely economically depressed area. They have/had an intern and everything. Both have college degrees. Last I heard they were considering moving to another state so one of them could enter a vocational training program and get a day job.

        As liberal as I am, I dislike the “buy local” ethos that many in my cohort seem to embrace because it is anti-agri business. By local doesn’t scale and makes everything expensive. Plus sustenance farmers in other countries would not have access to day jobs and vocational programs.


        • you actually like Monstersanto?
          That’s a new one.
          Of course buy local scales… it scales to the size of the locality. Know how big Pittsburgh’s area of influence is? A hundred miles in all directions, more if you’re looking east or north.

          Buy local just says Don’t Waste The Gas. It’s kind of a thing in Pittsburgh, as we’re poorly connected to just about everyone.


  2. The cry is always that we MUST DO SOMETHING. I wonder how many people actually stop and think about the possibility/probability that they might actually make the situation worse? I’m thinking not many.


      • Entropy ALWAYS wins.

        But my comment was not to dissuade people from wanting to help or to help. Just that a more thorough review and decision making process be involved. There’s enough evidence of the “tyranny of good intentions” to warrant caution when starting a new campaign that everyone “thinks will solve the problem”. Has anyone actually taken devil’s advocate and said that this new campaign will make things worse? Or done scenario analysis that factors in likely reactions from other parties? Doesn’t seem so. Seems like everyone just wants to “do something” or appear that way.


    • Some things it’s kind of hard to make worse, Damon.
      For all I talk about having orphans working in a glass factory,
      at least they’re learning decent skills, even if it is dangerous work.


      • Well the OP has links that indicate that this whole conflict minerals law made a lot of things worse in the areas that it was supposed to help. Lots of other examples abound…..


        • What’s there to say?
          Bullets are quick and safe and relatively painless, if you shoot on target.
          Boycotts and softer things tend to have less predictable consequences — I’ve seen charity that has unvarnished positive effects, in the main. But it’s certainly not everything.


  3. In it, she talks a bit about subsistence farming and the disconnect between the impressions that people have of it, and the less pleasant reality of it.

    Do you mean “even less pleasant”? I thought the consensus view of subsistence farming was “Thank God for the industrial revolution!”


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