OUZILLY, France – Another flattish day on Wall Street. Another coldish day here.
France is beautiful in the summer, though. Sunflowers or lavender blooming in the fields. Rolls of hay dotting the pastures. Flowers in every pot and garden. Squint… and you see a painting by Monet or Van Gogh.
But it’s not all idyllic.
“Farming is a catastrophe here,” said a neighbor yesterday.
“The whole area is changing,” added another. “These family-owned farms are practically a relic of an earlier age.”
One of the things that attracted us to the region 22 years ago was the farms.
Each one was its own community, with people who had lived on the land for generations. Each had its workshops and barns, too, where you could fix a tractor or build a door.
And the community had a stable social structure, built around agriculture.
Each farm had its large, stone house – often a chateau – where the owner lived.
There were smaller houses, too – for the farm workers – less imposing, but more charming than the owner’s place. We have one apartment over the stable… and another, where refugees lived during World War II, over the workshop.
And in the local towns lived the mechanics, merchants, butchers, bakers, plasterers, painters, doctors, and lawyers needed to make a farming community work.
Each family knew its place. Each had its work to do. And all expected it to continue almost indefinitely.
One morning, soon after we arrived, a short, round man with blond hair and a smile like a retriever showed up at the door and explained the system to us.
“Bonjour,” he introduced himself, “I’m your plasterer.”
This came as news to us. We knew we had plaster work to do. But we didn’t know we already had someone to do it.
“How comes that to be,” we asked… or words to that effect.
“My father was the plasterer here. And my grandfather. We’ve always done the plaster work on this house.”
Fine with us. Without realizing it, we already had a corps of plumbers, carpenters, masons, and painters. Each one knew his role.
Only one let us down – the painter, who let his drinking get in the way of doing a good job.
A Dying Town
We did much of the work ourselves. But there was a lot to learn.
Our team of professionals didn’t make it easy. And they weren’t cheap. But they helped us avoid a disaster.
Mr. Goupil, for example, worked by the hour and was agonizingly slow. He set floor tile as though he were assembling a bomb. Every tile had to be in exactly the right place – with no help from plastic spacers or grids.
We had pulled up the old, handmade terracotta tiles and were reusing them. The tiles were irregular. Some had the prints of a cat that had walked across the clay before it had set.
They had been set directly onto a mud floor. We pried them up, then poured a light concrete subfloor and set the tile back on top in a lime paste.
The tiles were probably 150 years old. Mr. Goupil laid them down carefully, as though he expected them to last another 150 years.
Mr. Goupil retired a few years ago. No one took his place. “People don’t want real plasterwork anymore. Or they can’t afford it,” he explained.
“They use wallboard. They buy cheap things from the do-it-yourself store.”
Then, the carpenter, Mr. Lardeaux, retired. Same story.
Then it was the metal worker.
“People don’t have windows made anymore,” explained Mr. Lardeaux. “They just go out and buy them readymade.”
Little by little, the town is dying.
And now, it’s the farms, too. But it’s not just a matter of money.
End of an Era
“I have two daughters,” explained another neighbor.
“One moved to Paris. The other lives with her boyfriend on the coast. Neither of them are interested in taking over the farm. I will have to sell it when I retire.
“But it’s that way everywhere. The next generation isn’t interested. Mr. Delacroix’s son works in some kind of computer design firm in Toulouse. Mr. Pickard has two boys. One of them is in Paris selling cars, I think. The other tried to take over the farm, but he found it too hard.
“That’s been a real local tragedy. Because it tore the family apart. The son and his wife don’t even talk to the parents.
“That’s another thing. Running a farm requires a couple. You can’t do it on your own. You need a real farm wife… just to do the paperwork. It’s unbelievable how much paperwork there is, with all these regulations.
“Young Jean wanted to run the farm, but his wife had a full-time job in the city. Doing all the paperwork himself and still taking care of the cattle and everything else. It was just too much for him.”
Farmers complain. About the weather. About the banks. About the regulators and the environmentalists.
“Yea… farmers always complain,” continued our neighbor, “but this time it’s more than that. It’s the end of an era.”
Springtime in France was particularly wet this year. Fields were flooded. Plants rotted. Crop yields, in our area, are only about a half of normal. To the north, they are said to be even worse.
Bad harvests used to mean higher prices, which salved the pain a bit. But today, prices for grains depend on a world market – including Canada, the U.S., Ukraine, Australia, and Argentina.
These other countries produced so much grain that prices were weak, making the French farmers’ complaints even more bitter.
“It’s almost impossible to earn a living on these small farms. The costs are too high. Prices are too low. And if you have a bad year, the bank puts you out of business.
“Half the farms in this area are either for sale now… or will be in the next couple of years.”
BY CHRIS LOWE, EDITOR AT LARGE
It’s been rough sledging for investors in agricultural commodities…
Today’s chart tracks the PowerShares DB Agriculture Fund ETF (DBA) versus the S&P 500.
DBA tracks a basket of agricultural commodities, including cattle, corn, cotton, soybeans, and wheat.
As you can see, DBA is down 36% over the past five years. That compares with an 86% gain for the S&P 500.
Why Hillary Clinton Could Start World War III…
In a private interview, Bill Clinton’s former classmate talks U.S. politics, his personal encounters with the Clintons, and why he thinks Hillary is more likely to start World War III than Donald Trump…
Demand for Gold Hits New Record
Investment demand for gold soared to a record for the first six months of this year, as investors sought a safer place to park their money against a backdrop of political and economic uncertainty.
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No matter which side of the aisle – Republican or Democrat – Bill pokes fun at… he gets into hot water with readers.
From the title [“The Problem With Trump’s Tax Plan”] I was expecting some useful information about Trump’s tax proposal. Instead it was a rant against the Democrats.
You forgot to mention a key fact in your document: If tax revenues fall to below what is spent by the government, the country goes bankrupt. So, while the wealthy do pay more in tax as an absolute amount, the amount that they actually pay to Washington is much less a percentage of their income than ordinary Americans. If not, then they would fire their accountants.
You also forgot to mention that most wealthy individuals have moved most of their money off shore which helps the national debt get higher. I have to question the information presented in your articles as they are clearly biased and therefore unreliable.
– Barbara B.
No question the Deep State exists. It may be that one man can’t change it by himself. But are we not to try because it is too difficult or because it seems impossible?
Donald Trump is not perfect. I have no idea how a Trump presidency will turn out. But we can be sure the Deep State will continue under Hillary Clinton. We can be sure Clinton will continue government spending and the welfare state. I’m willing to give Trump a chance.
– Nicholas P.
LMAO at your truths nearly daily. What are your thoughts (or fear) of Hillary getting the White House and nominating Obama as her Secretary of State?
She gets what she wanted – to be the first female president. He gets at least four more years to finish what he started. She’d be a puppet. We’d no longer be the USA. But that’s the sad result of what happens when too many people drink the Kool-Aid.
– Paul D.
I am sort of disgusted with all you millionaires – Bill and the rest. You have taken most of your millions from America. And when talking about America’s troubles, you seem to think you have no responsibility in the situation.
But what about your responsibility to mankind? None at all? Just be born, have a little fun as a kid, then amass as much money as possible, and then die. Great life. Fantastic money gathering ability.
You’re too interested in money to see that Trump is the only man that might not be connected and controlled by the Deep State you talk about.
We don’t know that Trump isn’t controlled by the Deep State, but he is the most likely man since and including Lincoln that may not be controlled by them. And of course, no sense in you risking a single dime of you overfilled coffers in saying anything like that to help America. Just hold that money tightly to your breast.
– Jim H.
In Case You Missed It…
Currency expert Jim Rickards is absolutely convinced that the U.S. dollar will begin to crash in 50 days.
And that it will send gold’s price as high as $10,000 an ounce. But before you rush into the gold market, Rickards says that you should read The New Case for Gold first.
In it, he shares his top advice for gold investors, including why storing gold at home could be a huge mistake.