george washington carver and hemp, federal contractors cheating everyone, june lang photo

A fascinating read from the U.S. National Park Service of all places – George Washington Carver: For His Time and Ours(pdf)

Carver could himself have talked on any of these subjects. In 1915, in his local botany, he
had written of the hemp plant:

Hemp, Cannabis sativa… The plant is a native of India, but has escaped cultivation in America, so that in some sections such as Iowa, it has become a noxious weed. In this sections it is grown in clumps, here and there as an ornamental plant only… [It] is grown in Kentucky and many sections of the U. S. for its strong fiber, which makes an excellent quality of linen cloth, thread cordage, etc… The seeds are also sold in large quantities for making bird- seed mixtures. In Persia and other hot countries the plant is said to exude a sort of resin, which the natives smoke like tobacco, or make into an intoxicating drink of which they are very fond.”

Harry Hans Straus, the speaker on paper from flax and hemp who preceded Carver, had 2,000 acres in Minnesota planted in hemp when the U. S. Government, in that same year of 1937, imposed a ban on hemp growing and shut down his operation. Hemp for paper, as is the case with alcohol for fuel, has the chemurgic virtue of renewability, the source plant taking four months to mature compared to at least twenty years for a pulp tree. The strength of the hemp fiber which Carver mentions causes hemp paper to last hundreds of years longer than paper made from trees.

The government’s claim that their motive for the law was the potential use of hemp as a narcotic was questionable. Hemp grown for fiber has no narcotics in it. The type that is grown to exude, as Carver said, “a sort of resin” could easily have been outlawed separately. The law appears to have been aimed at keeping hemp’s economic niche empty. Hemp had supplied up to 90% of the world’s paper until after the U. S. Civil War, when it was replaced by the cheaper, less labor- intensive, but toxic wood- pulp sulfide process. Newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst gained a virtual monopoly on the market by acquiring vast holdings of pulp timber and paper mills. In the 1930s, a new invention called the “decorticator” for separating the wood from the fiber enabled hemp fiber to be made into paper even more cheaply than wood pulp, potentially rendering the wood pulp sulfide process obsolete. Hearst responded to the huge threat to his financial empire with some of his infamous “yellow journalism” tactics, threatening the nation with drug- induced ruin if it was not outlawed. He was joined by DuPont, who owned the patents to the sulfide process, and who had patented Nylon, a petrochemical fiber also in hemp’s economic niche, in 1935.

A temporary lifting of the ban for military uses of hemp fiber during World War II as much as proved that suppression of a drug was not the motive. Carver, at the time the ban was lifted in 1942, wrote to Reuben E. Blumenfeld of Savannah, Georgia who had an intense interest in fiber plants: I notice… that the Government has lifted the ban on hemp under certain restrictions. I do not know just how this will affect the fiber situation, but in dealing with a fiber all the mineral in the form of extraneous matter must be taken out, instead of putting some into it because it would seem so out of place to put something into it and then
turn around and take out some of it in a similar nature as you want pure ligneous bast just unctuous as it is possible to make it, and the oil process helps to make it quite unctuous.

(unctuous: to have a greasy or soapy feel)

Depending on the variety is legal to grow some hemp in the U.S. between deforestation, drought( and the wildfires associated with the more frequent droughts of recent years) and land use/cost issues Carver and other hemp advocates may see their vision realized by force of economics. Hemp is one of the fastest growing and versatile known biomasses.

It figures that once again two legendary captains of industry and capitalism, Hearst and DuPont, would rig the system and be part of a massive lobbying effort to make something illegal which threatened their profits.

the moon woman by jackson pollock 1942. oil on canvas.

Pay Workers Fairly and Save Money

Our government shops for half a trillion dollars in goods and services each year. Nearly one of every four workers is employed by a company that receives federal contracts. But many government contractors routinely violate minimum-wage and maximum-hour laws. A 2010 study of the 50 largest wage penalties by the Government Accountability Office found that half were against companies that received federal contracts in the 2009 fiscal year.

Bevel it or not the government cut off for considering a family of four poor is $22k per year. That seems very low for means testing. That said if these federal contractors paid the wages required by law that would mean  fewer people on Medicaid and food assistance – society at large is making up the wage -living gap because contractors are breaking the law. People at the working poor level are generally the people who conservatives ridicule as lazy shiftless folks trying to get by on hard-working tax payers. The working poor, poor senior citizens aside, make up the bulk of the poor in the U.S. They work forty or more hours a week. They cannot provide the basics such as food, shelter, utilities and clothing for themselves( if I had comments insert the obligatory right-wing anecdote about seeing someone at the grocery store buying champagne with their food stamps). It probably does not matter to the same conservatives or libertarians that this endemic part of the economy is a clear failure of the most basic social contract. If you work, you should also be making enough to live in reasonable circumstances, including health care.

black and white city matrix

And related to the previous article, Squeezed Dry: Why Americans Work So Hard but Feel So Poor

Since the recovery began, corporate profits have captured nearly 90 percent of the growth in real income. Wages and salaries have accounted for 1 percent. That’s “unprecedented,” say Northeastern University economists, but it ain’t new. Productivity (that’s work/time) has increased seven times faster than wages in the last 30 years.

There is a strange element to this phenomenon. Those workers are more productive, they are making less in proportion to their productivity and yet the lower middle-class has not quite felt the pain as deeply as they might because much of the stuff they want is relatively cheap.

It is both a psychological and sociological phenomenon in the U.S. for just about everyone to identify as middle-class. If you ask everyone in a family of three that makes $75k a year if they are middle-class they’ll say yes, even though with the exception of a few high cost cities they are upper middle. The same is true for a family of three that has an annual income of $25k. They are technically lower middle-class and in some cities – New York, San Francisco, Miami would clearly be poor.

So wait a minute doesn’t this idea that stuff is getting cheaper contradict the idea the working poor are having a rough time. Not really.

This is the American worker’s saga. The stuff you’re making is getting cheaper. The stuff you need is getting more expensive. That’s why you feel so squeezed.

“That’s a provocative idea,” James Manyika tells me on the phone when I read through my theory. “I want to make a key point.” The things getting more expensive fall into two categories, he said. You have the failures of productivity, including education, government, construction, and health care. Then you’ve got natural economic scarcity, like physical living space and crude oil.

“Health care is our most important failure of productivity,” he says. “Many of the costs that go into health care are not open to competition. The nice thing about retail is that the costs are transparent. The management fees on your brokerage account are transparent and competitive and competed for. You don’t know what the management costs for your health care plan are, because those are opaque. There’s less incentive to make them cost effective. That’s one reason why you’ve seen so few gains in health care productivity.”

PCs continue to get more powerful and yet are cheaper. The PC I’m using right now is three times more powerful and has more features than a PC I paid twice the price for five years ago. My gas, utilities and health care, which I cannot do without, is costing more. Where did things go so wrong. Was it getting away from the gold standard. No. Was it not cutting taxes low enough. No.

GDP growth has been decoupled from job growth. Productivity has been decoupled from wages. What’s good for work has been decoupled from what’s good for workers.

June Lang 1930s photograph by Anthony Ugrin. Lang’s bio at Wikipedia. For an 80-year-old photograph the style is remarkably timeless.

Junkyard: Photography – Photographed & Edited by: The Artist, Makena Peet.

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