I was resting at home when Marshbaum called to ask if I wanted to go with him to look at the lettuce.
“The supermarket’s got lettuce for less than two bucks a head,” he said enthusiastically.
“What’s so unusual about that?”
“Because it’s going to be extinct in a few weeks.”
“You’re buying up lettuce and selling it on eBay as antiques?” I sarcastically asked.
“Don’t be ridiculous! I’m buying the best heads, storing them, and selling them for four bucks in a couple of months.”
“What makes you think anyone would pay four bucks a head when they can get them now for less than two bucks?”
“Weren’t you listening, Ink Breath? I said, I’ll be selling them in two months. I’m buying futures. You know, like pork belly futures.”
“Your future looks like Chapter 11,” I said.
“California and the Southwest are in the worst drought in decades. Wiped out much of the agricultural land. Drought’s almost as good as winning the PowerBall. Prices have to rise.”
“But California and the Southwest got heavy doses of rain a couple of weeks ago,” I replied.
“I’m being patient with you since you are a city boy,” said Marshbaum, “Drought left the land barren. Rain wasn’t enough to solve the problem, and what there was of the rain destroyed what was left. Picking season is almost here, and there’s not a lot to pick.”
“Even if farmers have to raise their prices to four bucks a head to survive, they should be able to break even.”
“You think farmers get even a third of that? Wholesalers mark it up, then distributors, and then the supermarkets.”
“I hope the farmers survive,” I said.
“With the drought and heavy rains, the farmers are having trouble making their mortgages, and are selling what’s left of their crops at a loss.” Marshbaum thought a moment, and then brightly said, “They can always get food stamps.”
“Congress sliced and diced the food stamp program,” I reminded Marshbaum.
“There’s always welfare.”
“Governors have been cutting that to show they care about expenses—and because they don’t think people on welfare vote.”
“At least the farmers will make some money after the banks and corporations buy them out at a fair market value.”
“Banks? Corporations? Fair market? You must have been smoking some of that lettuce. Besides, what’s a bank going to do with a farm?”
“Turn it into a shopping mall. Better yet, they sell it to the some fancy-suited gold-chained MBA dudes who sneak in, undercut the family farmers, and in a year or so, they’re growing 15,000 acres of lettuce in Oklahoma.”
“Suits with business degrees aren’t going to pick lettuce. They have the farm workers to exploit,” I said. “If the banks and corporations take over, the bosses will sit back, order high quantities of everything from seed to tractors at bargain basement discounts, buy mountains of cheap pesticide to dump on the land, hire out a few dozen 18-wheelers to deliver the crop, and get an overpriced ad agency to promote new-and-improved lettuce.”
“You finally have it right,” said Marshbaum. Lettuce goes up. My profits increase. Corporate America will rule.”
“They’ll be ruling from a skyscraper in New York,” I said. “There will be board meetings, corporate expense accounts, bottom lines, cash-flow, liquidity, and stock options, with MBAs and lawyers worried more about puts and calls than fertilizer and seed. They’ll plan annual conferences on Bermuda beaches, eat salads with spiny lobster, and write off everything as business expenses. When they have taken over all the family farms, they’ll raise prices when there isn’t any drought or flood. They’ll charge whatever they want, whenever they want. Just like the oil companies.”
“And what’s so wrong with that?” asked Marshbaum. “God bless the U-S-of-A!”
“When do you think all this will happen?” I asked.
“It already has.”
Sadly, I asked Marshbaum if we could immediately go to the supermarket. “I think I’d just like to stand there and look at our future.”
Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist and professor emeritus of mass communications. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting with Disaster, an in-depth analysis of the effects of fracking upon public health, the environment, worker safety, and agriculture. Dr. Brasch also investigates the history of energy policies in the U.S. and the relationships between the energy companies and politicians at local, state, and federal levels.