As a farmer’s son but educated in economics it is impossible not to comment on last weeks WTO efforts. In today’s ”Dagens Næringsliv” the CEO of Cancer Cure, Phd. Gunnar Myhr, himself a successful entrepreneur, questioned the national farmers association in Norway on why they were so protective and negative to a new WTO-treaty (yes, we had farmer-demonstrations as well!). They claimed it would reduce the number of farmers/farm related jobs in Norway by 40 000, from somewhat 55 000. Even though such a slope may seem dramatic, this number has declined ever since the end of Second World War. Then we had some 220 000 farmers in this country. No one (except the farmers association themselves) really believe that such a dramatic change would be the direct outcome of a WTO-agreement, and if so would it really be bad? No, I do not think so. Here are an aspiring entrepreneur’s not so crazy thoughts on why.
Norway has a need for workforce. We have never had lower unemployment rates than we have now, 2,5 %, and we use foreign workers, especially from Poland to do dirty jobs. Well lubricated by oil, our government now employs near one third of the Norwegian working population, and increasing. A main chunk of these, being within health care. We have a large generation of people born under and immediately after the mentioned war that will soon be old, and we need someone to look after them. Where would be better suited to establish geriatric institutions than in big countryside farm houses where the farmer can no longer live off what the land gives?
The elderly will love being at the countryside, the farmers will have a job, and due to the WTO treaty we would probably have had food from abroad also. All the farmers would have had to do is grab the opportunity and be a little bit entrepreneurial. Unlike in other countries, where, on the countryside, poverty and care for elderly goes hand in hand, we could (and probably would) have government funding to support these new centers. In addition, Norwegian elderly are not poor elderly as in third world rural elderly poor; these are elderly that are fairly well off after having had good jobs for years before they retire, they can even pay for them selves – but wait, Norweigan elderly pay for themselves in Spain instead – where the food is cheap and the sun is on. Do not tell me they will not have a good time if someone offered them a good old Norwegian farm rebuilt as a service centre for the elderly with a golf court nearby in the summer and whiskey (or something) in the winter.
Alternatively, the farmers could come up with local food specialties and sell them to the tourists, local people or to the city markets where people will pay more for Norwegian quality. All they have to do is be entrepreneurial! Those 15 000 farmers that would have been left, will have a lot of land to take care of, around the new golf courts and the new elderly centers. Or, they could even be wilder and start an MIT Fab Lab (yes, we have a farmer that did that!).
Last, how does this appeal in the States? Maybe the negotiators back in the White House should have given entrepreneurship and their own elderly population a thought before telling India and China off? And maybe the U.S. farmer’s association lobbyists should have thought twice before robbing the U.S. farmers from an opportunity to change now when prices are high, and U.S. is still wealthy. They of course also rob the chinese and indian farmers for their much wanted market access. Fortunately, globalization is put on hold for a few more months, and the U.S. farmers can do business as usual. No entrepreneurship needed – yet!