Author: Curt Bear, Founder of LoCo Think Tank
We’ve been calling this month “Relational April” around the LoCO HQ office, focusing on the many interwoven relationships that provide richness and texture to all of our lives, and the perspective, accountability, and encouragement that our members seek when they join. In today’s blog, I’m going to go deeper into some of the factors that form and shape us, examining the roots and the fruits and fallouts of our individual and collective thoughts and actions on the family front. I’ll also be touching on birth rates and trends, global warming and gender pronouns; starting with how my origins on the farm in North Dakota shape my long view of the future.
Most of my regular readers will remember that I’m a farmer’s son. I don’t really say “farm kid” because I wasn’t raised on a farm, per se. We lived in the village of Buchanan, North Dakota, and dad commuted to Jamestown 12 miles away for his motorcycle mechanic job at Gun & Reel Sports. In the evenings and on the weekends, dad could be found farming the modest tracts of land he was able to rent from his cousins, and eventually from others when they saw he did a good job. He borrowed shop space from his mother and step-dad when repairs were needed, kept growing the farm, and eventually was able to acquire a machine shed in Buchanan, just a block from our house. It was fun driving the tractors in and out of town on the way to and from the fields, starting when I was twelve.
Eventually, just about the time I graduated from high school, dad was able to quit his mechanic job in town and become a full-time farmer! While I was in college, he was able to purchase a farmstead, and over the ensuing years they’ve grown the operation to three separate farmsteads, two of which with substantial grain-handling capabilities. Between my father and brother and a few hired men, they now farm over 10,000 acres!
My farming roots definitely influenced the way I’ve approached small business during my career. The openness and transparency that we encourage in our small business members is something of a throwback to the farm - where you can’t hide nothin! In our region of North Dakota the farms are non-irrigated and often broken into fields of ~160 acres (a quarter-section by definition, or just “a quarter” in common language usage). A section is 1 mile square and 640 acres, and thus a quarter is ½ mile by ½ mile. So - it’s a big open field and everyone can see what’s going on at any time.
An Inside Look at Farming Practices
Farming is a complicated game to explain in a blog post, but I’m going to do my best as it sets the foundation for the remainder. Basically, the game is to have your fields in good shape in the fall, with the weeds under control and enough debris from the previous year’s crop to catch snow, and then to get the new seeds into the ground as soon as practical in the spring. They’ve had so much snow this year that they’re already 3 weeks later than normal, and when the snow finally melts and the fields are ready it will be a mad rush to get the wheat in the ground ASAP. The corn and soybeans will follow, and part of the game is to keep rotating your crops - crop diseases flourish and weed control falters when crop rotation isn’t kept up with.
And then, once the crops are up and growing, weed control happens again - large field sprayers and advanced chemical herbicides kill the baby weeds easily, the bigger weeds not so much. So it’s about timing - wait until all the baby weeds come up…but not so long that the early risers get too big! You can’t afford to run the sprayer twice - unless you can’t afford not to! - so get it right the first time!
Once the crops have matured, it’s time for the harvest, which again is a timing game. Take the crop off too early, and it’s not fully mature, or not dry enough, so the crop is small or there is added expense of grain drying before the crop is storable. Too late, and the earliest maturing grains start falling on the ground before the combine can harvest them up - and those seeds will basically count as weeds for the next year’s crop - because it’s been rotated!
After the harvest, you’ve got fall tillage and fertilizer. Again, all about timing. If the soil is too dry, it won’t break up properly, and will quickly deplete the wear surfaces on the tillage equipment - expensive!. Too wet and you risk clods in the soil that make it difficult next spring, or you might get the tractor stuck and spend a day rutting up your field and pulling it out with the other tractors. (and remember, it’s all right out there for everyone to see!)
To do all this work right, requires a lot of work. Traveling from one field to another, checking on the moisture conditions, or the numbers and types of baby weeds, or which field is next up on the harvest schedule. When I was a kid, a good wheat crop was 30 bushels per acre - now it’s 80. Nowadays, a poor crop might come in at only 30 or 40, and a bumper crop might be 100. And while it’s not precise - you can pretty much see how the crop is prospering from the road, and so can your neighbors.
What Can I Control?
So, in case it’s not obvious, the fruits of the farm are the crops, and they vary wildly based on the inputs, and on the luck of the weather cycles. The roots, however, is where all the important stuff happens - the timing of the planting, the nutrition level and water availability of the soil. The sun will shine when it will, and the rain will fall when it will, but the timing and calculations and thought that goes into the inputs makes the difference between a prosperous farm and a poor one over time.
People and families are like farms in this way - the rain will fall and the sun will shine when it will, but the inputs that we can control make the difference over time.
We economists have a saying, “Economics Rules” and it’s not said in a competitive kinda way like “Class of ‘92 Rules”, but more of a concession to the notion that Mr. Market does what he does, and to try to hold back the forces of economics is an exercise in futility. On a global scale, we’ve got some examples of this coming into focus - and they represent fairly significant challenges!
A Farmer’s Son’s View of Economics & Population on a Global Scale
Let’s talk about China first, and the downstream economic (and social) consequences of the Chinese “One Child Policy” that took effect in the early 80’s, was relaxed in the early 2000’s, and was finally repealed in 2021. We’ve all heard the story, China’s population was growing too fast to sustain itself, so they adopted the one-child policy, which resulted in a few unintended outcomes. A cultural preference for boys already existed, but expanded, such that girls that were born in China too often were abandoned, or secretly placed for adoption overseas. The sex ratio at times for registered births was as much as 117% - meaning there were 117 declared births for boys for every 100 girls. The birth rate has recovered in recent years to 1.7 children per woman, only a bit below that of the US, clocking in at ~1.8 per most data sources. (Here’s a link to the wiki article that was a base for much of this data)
So now, China has tens of millions of sexually frustrated young men that can’t find a wife, and worse, a looming demographic challenge - currently 18% of their population is over 60, but some estimates suggest it could be 40% by 2050! Because it’s China, I imagine they have some creative solutions for this looming challenge, but they might not be popular…and remember they have tens of millions of sexually frustrated men! The only reason I see China staying together for that long is that totalitarian regimes are hard to overthrow, but I’m not shopping for real estate there, if you know what I mean.
South Korea owns the global stage for lowest birth rate however, and looming demographic challenges. 0.78 babies per woman is their current ratio, significantly below the 2.1 babies per woman that represents a stable population. Though one of the most economically successful nations in the world - space is at a premium and the costs of living are high - child care in particular. As a result, many couples choose to have only one child - if any - and large families are exceedingly rare. Also interesting, is that South Korea is one of the most ethnically homogenous countries in the world, with ~99% of the population identifying as Korean descent.
For a South Korea soon desperate for a labor force, the best they might hope for is a complete failure of their neighboring state to the north and a re-unification - which could well happen - especially if China falters. There is plenty of development opportunity, and a large labor force to provide more-affordable child care, and I’m pretty sure there’s some American subsidies in there somewhere! For those that don’t remember, there was a thing called East Germany and it reunited with West Germany in 1990. In 10 years I predict that the Koreas will be reunited, it makes too much sense not to - what’s uncertain is who they’ll have strategic alignment with.
Shifting Gender Norms in Relation to Global Changes
I expect that we’re about to see our birth rate in the US trend down even faster, if my farsightedness is any indicator. About five years ago, maybe a little more, I started hearing more-frequent stories about gender identity issues - sometimes girls who used to like boys deciding to date girls instead, more-openly were boys dressing and acting effeminate in public, and other situations I’d describe as confusion, to me a different conversation than the more-obvious “are you born gay or lesbian?” conversations we were having back when the Germans were reuniting.
Since that time - it’s gotten significantly more common - here’s an article about it. Huge numbers of puberty-age females are identifying as a he/him or they/them or something other than she/her in many classrooms and communities. One of the input factors that could be influencing this shift is something we’ve been hearing more about: climate grief.
Girls, with their own long view, may be at this point convinced the world is going to end by the time they get out of college that they don’t even want to think about the amazing act of birthing and raising a child, or worse, more than one of them! Unfortunately and for many reasons, the landscape presented to them does not appear to be fertile ground to cultivate a family. With that perspective, it makes more sense that they would get their relationship needs met by other girls - at least they won’t have to worry about babies!
Here’s another scary input factor: Over 6 out of 10 men in the US (63%) under 30 are electively single, compared to only 34% of women in the same category. According to this article in the NY Post, there is one overwhelming reason why - porn. No reason to find a girl when I’ve got ONE MILLION GIRLS at the touch of a few buttons, and soon we’ll have AI powered sexy online friends (maybe already we do?), and probably plush and washable sex robots soon, and really, all our needs will be covered by technology, except the making babies part. But still again, maybe technology can save us - we could harvest eggs, and select only the best spermies, and have big multi-tier incubators with professional childcare starting soon after birth. Babies R Us, rekindled for the postmodern age!
Seriously though, if we’re already at an unsustainable 1.7 babies per woman or so now in the US, and we’ve got girls who think they’re boys, and boys who think they’re girls, and over half of young men who’d rather use the DIY method - and beer companies telling us this is all normal and OK - I’m here to take a bold stance to say I don’t believe it is.
As with farms and families, the inputs determine the fruits
Before I close, I want to assert that the values we choose to live by are one of the most significant inputs that we control. To the extent that we follow our chosen value system for the higher good, we can expect our crops & families of whatever size to flourish and sustain themselves through the tough seasons. I want to confirm here my own value system that informs how I do relationships in my personal and business life: that all are loved by God, and every human should be treated with kindness and dignity. Life is confusing, and puberty and gender differences and sexual mistreatment make it all the more so, and I have nothing but compassion for anyone in the position of the “outsider” - whomever and however that may be.
If we want to have a flourishing society we can’t just coast into the future, paying no heed to the soil conditions or the nutrient levels or the weeds creeping in. Liberty and truth are two of the most significant values of our Western ethic. If we don’t carefully tend to them, we may not notice weeds like unquestioned immediate gratification, unquestioned societal groupthink and unquestioned media & communications - my own included! - creeping up to smother the lifestyle we really want to live. I invite you to take the opportunity, instead, to pause and consider your relationships to others, your stewardship role upon the earth, and the values you live by and promote. Cultivate truth, seed liberty and love, and harvest the good fruits of a nation aligned with our roots and with nature and protective of our God-given natural rights.
I invite and encourage civil discourse on any topic, since that’s one of the things that make up a thriving community. I’ve created a space for this with my podcast The LoCo Experience, featuring in-depth conversations with local business leaders in Northern Colorado. We explore their journeys, points of view, and craziest business and life stories. You can also check out my recent appearance on Tell Me More, a podcast of Courageous Conversations with Matt Lehrman. The topic was “The Nature of Our Division.”