Doug French

Food is vital for survival, yet less than 2 percent of America's population works in agriculture. That's a big change from 100 years ago, when over 40 percent of the workforce was toiling away on the farm. If I had been born at the start of the 20th century in Kansas, rather than at the end of the 1950s, no doubt my life would have been spent on the farm.

Agriculture was labor-intensive then, requiring plenty of strong backs, human and animal alike. In addition to nearly half the human workforce, 22 million animals worked the fields. Now 5 million tractors and a dazzling array of farm implements do the work of thousands. Farms have become more productive and specialized. And the number of farms has plunged, while the average-sized farm has quadrupled.

According to the USDA's website, in 1945 it took 14 labor hours to produce 100 bushels of corn on two acres. By 1987, it only took 3 labor hours and one acre to produce the same amount. Now, it takes less than an acre.

We have a wider array of food available to us than ever before. Created by fewer people. The division of labor continues to work wonders. Thank goodness we're not all stuck on the farm. According to the occupational employment numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 419,200 were employed in the farming, fishing, and forestry occupations in May of 2009.

The same May 2009 report listed 8,488,740 people employed in education, training, and library occupations. So more than 20 times more people are needed to educate a small portion of the population than to grow food for everyone. But what about serving the food? Yes, food-preparation and food-serving occupations totaled 11,218,260 employees, serving the entire population of over 308 million.

Meanwhile, it takes more than 8 million to educate the 81.5 million that are enrolled in school. History and technology would say this surely can't last. A proud father recently told me of quizzing his kids about scurvy. And while his young daughter gamely took a wild guess, his crafty teenage son ducked into the next room to google it, quickly emerging to give the correct answer that the disease that killed so many centuries ago is caused by a deficiency of vitamin C.

What schooling is for many is a 12- or 16-year sentence wherein young people are penned up, talked at, cajoled, quizzed, and tested, for the most part on facts and figures that can now be retrieved in seconds with a handheld device.

Doug French

Doug French is is president of the Mises Institute and author of Early Speculative Bubbles & Increases in the Money Supply and Walk Away: The Rise and Fall of the Home-Ownership Myth

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