In the not so recent past Montana’s private logging contractors and saw-mill owners operated predominantly on privately-owned lands. The old growth was “high-graded” (stripped off), and much of that land was sold off to the federal government and real estate corporations (REITs). In other words, after the easy-to-access, high-value old growth on private land was liquidated, the timber industry has been going through a structural transition (merger, acquisition, liquidation) for decades. This is the trend. Mills have closed, workforce numbers declined, and the “timber economy” in Montana and other Northern Rockies states has trended downward, with no end in sight.
A significant portion of all wood-fiber production has relocated to the Southeastern states for a variety of quite logical, ecological and economic reasons.
Most remaining logging/milling companies in Montana are operating primarily on federal public lands. All are heavily subsidized. Subsidies are more than economic, as much of the ecological damage caused by clear-cut logging and associated roadbuilding activities are recovered/restored with federal funds, or not regenerated or rehabilitated at all. “Privatize profits, socialize costs.” Even when these lavish subsidies are gifted, Montana timber companies cannot effectively compete with timber operations in other regions with longer growing seasons, better climate, relatively more favorable economic conditions, and locations closer to end markets. The obvious trend is continued industry decline under current operating circumstances in the Northern Rockies, including Montana.
Another Montana sawmill recently announced it would close “indefinitely.” Of course, industry lobbyists and uninformed anti-environmental voices have come out of the woodwork, with major help from the local media, all blaming the cause on a lack of supply resulting from lawsuits filed by wildlife advocates in federal court. Classic scapegoating. Someone must be blamed, anyone but the timber bosses who cut forests down faster than they could possibly grow back.
So, I happened to be listening to the radio when a talk-show caller started in on “socialist” environmentalists, and “communists” as the cause of the mill in Townsend shutting down. Then it expanded to the demise of the timber industry, and the nation.
Well then, let’s investigate the claim, shall we?
In Montana it takes between 65 -100 years to grow a tree to 12 inches diameter, but you can produce a similar-sized tree in the South in ten years. In the Southeast, you get to cut 3-4 logging rotations over the same number of years. Logging operations go year-round and road-construction costs are far lower than in Montana.
This long-winded background leads me back to the title: What Keeps Montana’s Timber Industry Alive: Is it Socialism or Fascism? Which is it?
Webster’s 1828 – the year first pushed — has no definition of “socialism.” Webster’s today defines socialism as follows:
so·cial·ism | \ ˈsō-shə-ˌli-zəm \
1) any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
2a) a system of society or group living in which there is no private property
b) a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state
The Townsend RY Lumber Mill closure in Townsend, Montana continues a trend seen throughout the country. Although timber lobbyists and RY Lumber spokesmen suggests the cause is due to environmental regulations or “whacko environmentalist’s” lawsuits, this argument ignores the broader context I’ve tried to describe above.
fascism: The Italian (derived from Roman original) definition
The English words fascism and fascist are borrowings from Italian fascismo and fascista, derivatives of fascio (plural fasci), “bundle, fasces, group.” Fascista was first used in 1914 to refer to members of a fascio, or political group. Playing on the word fascista, Mussolini’s party adopted the fasces, a bundle of rods with an ax among them, as a symbol of the Italian people united and obedient to the single authority of the state. The English word fascist was first used for members of Mussolini’s fascisti, but it has since been broadened to those of similar beliefs (emphasis supplied).
So, mills have closed. Why? It’s not due to a lack of wood, as is suggested for RY Lumber. Private timber companies owned their own lands at one time, which gave them unrestricted access to their own lands for timber. They “mined” the good stuff and left. Lumber producers can’t compete with timber operations in the Southeast where tree growth is much quicker. Mills gradually become worn out, obsolete, requiring investment in modernization and automation, which eliminates jobs. In Montana, rather than recapitalize, industry moved, relocating their operations to the Southeast.
The few who stayed on, upgraded with federal development grants (subsidies). Montana timber companies cannot effectively compete with more efficient operations in the Southeast. Montana’s wood products industry is on a downward trend. No amount of blame-shifting will change that.
I’m leaning toward fascism, if, in fact, contemporary fascism is socialism with a capitalist façade. Where socialism sought direct state control of operation of the means of production, fascism seeks that control indirectly, through domination of nominally private owners. Where socialism abolished all market relations outright, fascism expresses appearances of market relations, while covertly planning and controlling all economic activities – denaturing the essence of the marketplace, abolishing entrepreneurship, all under the watchful eye of state agencies which determine what is produced, in what amounts (“annual timber-volume targets”, in this case) and under what conditions.
Fascism describes the Montana timber industry’s relationship to the federal government to a tee. But this is only one tiny example of the enslavement of all who toil as U.S. citizens. I blame no one other than myself. One closing thought if I might: This is only the tip of the iceberg.
It is perhaps the greatest fallacy of the citizenry of the United States in their patriotic fervor that this voluntary state of servitude called “citizenship” actually creates a state of betterment and of higher right and status. Quite the opposite is the case. And so let us be clear, citizenship is a punishment that carries with it an induction into the penal colony we call the United States jurisdiction. We are all penal prisoners of an open-air debtor’s prison (jurisdiction), accountable only for our innocent involvement in the penal crime of our adulterous parents; felons held in answer merely for the crime of our birth. Though attainder is unconstitutional to the private bloodline, the contractual relationship implied by birth and confirmation show the intent of the public citizenship is not to reserve any right in any private capacity. The constitution cannot protect fools nor those that treat their own religious status as anything but the Highest Law. (emphasis supplied). Clint Richardson, Strawman, p. 1089