Robbing the Earth of its Capital Stock

Robbing the Earth of its Capital Stock: An Introduction to George E. Waring’s ‘Agricultural Features of the Census of the United States for 1850,’” [PDF], Organization and Environment, vol. 12, no. 3 (September 1999), pp. 293-97. DOI: 10.1177/1086026699123004

In his influential Letters to the President on the Foreign and Domestic Policy of the United States, U.S. economist Henry Carey (1858) quoted at length from a talk by an “eminent agriculturist” who had provided rough calculations for the whole United States of the loss of soil nutrients resulting from the failure to recycle organic matter. In that statement, as quoted by Carey, the dire, long- term ecological consequences of the shipment of food and fiber in a one-way movement from country to town were raised:

What with our earth-butchery and prodigality, we are each year losing the intrinsic essence of our vitality. . . . The question of the economy should be, not how much do we annually produce, but how much of our annual production is saved to the soil. Labor employed in robbing the earth of its capital stock of fertilizing matter, is worse than labor thrown away. In the latter case, it is a loss to the present generation—in the former it becomes an inheritance of poverty for our successors. Man is but a tenant of the soil and he is guilty of a crime when he reduces its value for other tenants who are to come after him. (quoted in Carey, 1858, pp. 54-55)

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