I'm very unhappy that I have to take Wendell Berry's essay collection What Matters?: Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth back to the library; it's overdue. I may have to break down and buy it--not only is it a fantastic collection of essays, it will now forever be connected in my memory with a time I've found somewhat trying but also memorable. By which I mean, I read most of this book after 3 a.m. baby feedings, when CRjr actually agreed to go back to sleep and I stayed up for a few additional moments, just to enjoy the quiet, the sense of being untethered that being up in the middle of the night gives you, and a granola bar.
The collection consists of five essays written recently, in 2009 (or 2006, in one case), and ten essays written up to several decades ago (1985, etc.). All have to do, ostensibly, with the economy, but they all have that special Wendell spin: looking at the economy in terms of not only money, but in terms of lifestyles and choices, as well as land and community stewardship.
They are, of course, sensational, which makes it all the sadder that the people who need to understand his principles the most will never read them. I didn't even bother to bookmark great passages (primarily because that would have involved heaving my ass off the couch, and I've done enough heaving around of my body and another little body the past few weeks), but also because there's a great passage on nearly every page. Here, I'll just open the book at random and I'm sure I'll find one:
"But the 'free market' idea introduces into government a sanction of an inequality that is not implicit in any idea of democratic liberty: namely that the 'free market' is freest to those who have the most money, and is not free at all to those with little or no money. Wal-Mart, for example, as a large corporation 'freely' competing against local, privately owned businesses, has virtually all the freedom, and its small competitors virtually none." (p. 182.)
Okay, I cheated a bit. That's from the essay "The Total Economy," the entire text of which is as brisk as that paragraph. Buy this one. Hand it out to people you know. Give it as a gift. Or, if nothing else, get it from the library and read it at 3 a.m., and be comforted that Wendell Berry is out there still saying the things he's saying.