THE ECONOMIC PAMPHLETEER: Reflections on Cooperation

  • John Ikerd University of Missouri, Columbia
Keywords: Food Systems, Cooperatives


First paragraphs:

When I was growing up in the late '40s and early '50s, the local "farmers' exchange" was where we sold our chickens and eggs and bought feed for our chickens, pigs, and dairy cows. The exchange was operated by a cooperative, the Missouri Farmers Association or MFA. Its jingle on the local radio station proudly proclaimed, "MFA, MFA, it's the profit-sharing way. All agree, plain to see, it's the farmer's friend." I didn't have any reason to doubt its claims.

However, the MFA has long since betrayed its farmer-members' trust by supporting the industrialization of agriculture. During the mid-1990s, the president of the MFA regularly proclaimed that Missouri only needed a few dozen large farming operations, and smaller farmers should look elsewhere for their future. As a young agricultural economist, I had made similar statements. I didn't know any better at the time. The leader of a farmers' cooperative, however, should not have been so naïve — or perhaps uncaring. Economic efficiency is good only insofar as it improves the well-being of people. The large agricultural cooperatives in the U.S. have become virtually indistinguishable from the rest of corporate agriculture...

Author Biography

John Ikerd, University of Missouri, Columbia

John Ikerd is professor emeritus of agricultural economics, University of Missouri, Columbia. He was raised on a small dairy farm in southwest Missouri and received his BS, MS, and Ph.D. degrees in agricultural economics from theUniversity of Missouri. He worked in private industry for a time and spent 30 years in various professorial positions atNorth Carolina State University, Oklahoma State University, University of Georgia, and the University of Missouri before retiring in 2000. Since retiring, he spends most of his time writing and speaking on issues related to sustainability with an emphasis on economics and agriculture. Ikerd is author of Sustainable Capitalism; A Return to Common Sense; Small Farms Are Real Farms; Crisis and Opportunity: Sustainability in American Agriculture; and, just published, A Revolution of the Middle. More background and selected writings are at and

Why did I name my column “The Economic Pamphleteer”? Pamphlets historically were short, thoughtfully written opinion pieces and were at the center of every revolution in western history. Current ways of economic thinking aren’t working and aren’t going to work in the future. Nowhere are the negative consequences more apparent than in foods, farms, and communities. I know where today’s economists are coming from; I have been there. I spent the first half of my 30-year academic career as a very conventional free-market, bottom-line agricultural economist. I eventually became convinced that the economics I had been taught and was teaching wasn’t good for farmers, wasn’t good for rural communities, and didn’t even produce food that was good for people. I have spent the 25 years since learning and teaching the principles of a new economics of sustainability. Hopefully my “pamphlets” will help spark a revolution in economic thinking.

John Ikerd
How to Cite
Ikerd, J. (2013). THE ECONOMIC PAMPHLETEER: Reflections on Cooperation. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 3(2), 3-5.

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