John Ikerd

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The Essentials of Economics of Sustainability 

Ten years ago, I wrote a book titled The Essentials of Economic Sustainability. To avoid perceptions of cultural and geographic bias, I wrote the book without references or specific examples. This seemed like a good idea at the time, but it hasn’t sold many books. In another attempt to share these essential principles, I have written a series of blog pieces. This time, I plan to explain the essential principles of economic sustainability in relation to farming and food production.


The American Covenant--The Collection

I believe the Founding Fathers anticipated and facilitated the transition of the United States from a republic to a democracy. In the Declaration of Independence, they affirmed the God-given “equal rights of all” to participate fully in society and in the processes of governance. In Article V of the U.S. Constitution, they defined the process for amending the Constitution to facilitate the transition from a republic to a democracy. 

Thomas Jefferson wrote: "Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."


Finding Common Grounds--The Collection

We in the United States currently live in a deeply divided nation – divided economically, socially, and ethically.  The “great American experiment” cannot be sustained without a political system firmly rooted in a moral sense of responsibility to secure liberty and justice for all – including those of future generations. It has never been unpatriotic to criticize one’s government when it fails to serve the common interest of the people. In fact, I believe it is unpatriotic to support one’s government or consent to one’s society when it fails to give the good of the people in common priority over the collective self-interests of individuals. Read More...

We Must Make Government Work!

Even if government is seen as a necessary evil, it is nonetheless necessary.  As the libertarian Thomas Paine wrote, “Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices.”  He concludes, that government is “rendered necessary by the inability of moral virtue to govern the world.”[i]  Apparently, we humans lack the virtue to ensure the freedom and liberty of others without using the government to interpret and enforce our social standards of acceptable behavior. Read more...

Why Do We Need a Farm Bill?

The only defensible reason for a Farm Bill and the USDA is to ensure domestic food security. Like people in most nations of the world, Americans recognize that governments need to be involved to ensure that everyone has enough safe, nutritious food to support healthy, active lives. In fact, many other nations accept universal access to food as a basic human right. There have always been significant populations within all societies who are unable, through no fault of their own, to earn enough money to buy enough good food to meet their nutritional needs for a healthy, active life. The resulting hunger or malnutrition is what economists call a “market failure.” Read More

Is Sustainability the Right Word? 

Disagreements about using the word “sustainable” as a guiding concept for the future of agriculture are not new. Sustainable agriculture first came to public attention with the USDA “low input sustainable agriculture” or LISA program in 1988. I wrote an essay in the mid-90s making the case that we didn’t really need to define sustainable agriculture, as long as we could agree on 1) what we wanted to sustain, 2) for whom, and 3) for how long. My answer was that we wanted to sustain agriculture, which is a purposeful intervention into nature, for the benefit of people, specifically but not exclusively, for as long as the sun shines or forever.  Read More

Family Farms are Multifunctional

It’s the sense of interconnectedness of the family with the farm that makes the farm a “family farm” and the family a “farm family.” Such farms and families are inseparable. The same farm with a different family would be a different farm, and the same family with a different farm would be a different family. Such farms are managed in ways that reflect the social and ethical values of the farm family as well as the economic value of farming: they are multifunctionality. Farms that are managed for the economic bottom line are monofunctional, even if they are owned and operated by families. Read More

Is A New Sustainable Food System Possible

I am occasionally asked if I actually believe that a new community-based sustainable food system could possibly replace our current corporately-controlled industrial food system. My answer consistently has been, yes. I am convinced such a change is possible, but I am not so naïve or idealistic as to think that the transformation will be quick or easy. In a previous series of blog pieces, In this and other blog posts, I describe how such a transition might happen and what the future of farming and food production might be. In essence, I believe regional, national, and global food systems of the future will be made up of networks of sustainable small “community-based” food systems – both rural and urban.  Read More

Twenty Responses to Defenders of CAFO


When speaking at public events about the negative environmental, social, and rural economic impacts of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operators or CAFOs, I am often asked how best to respond to “talking points” used by defenders of CAFOs. This post provides a summary of my typical responses to twenty of the more common questions and comments of CAFO defenders.   John Ikerd 


Abundance or Scarcity: Which is it

Do we live in a world of abundance or a world of scarcity? The economic world is a world of scarcity. The economy is a means of allocating “scarce” resources among competing uses or ends. Scarcity means there is not enough for everyone to have all of everything they need or want. The natural world is a world of abundance. The bounty of nature is enough for everyone to have all of everything they need. The challenge is learning to share so that everyone’s needs are met.

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On The Meaning of Love

No matter how much I think I understand some things, I find I can always learn more. Love is one of those things. Love is the only thing I can think of that is as important to life as purpose. Life without purpose is meaningless, but life without love is hardly worth living. Love probably has about as many different definitions are there are people capable of loving.  There are also different kinds of love.  Over the years, I have come up with my own definition of love, which I feel encompasses all of the others. It is not a particular catchy or compelling definition, but it is concise – and I think “it works:” Love is a belief in inherent goodness.  Read More