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Butter & Denmark

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Date: [unknown] [unknown]
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Surname/tag: Petersen
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This note leans heavily on an opinion piece in the NY Times by Paul Krugman who wrote it while on vacation in Denmark in 2018. It has helped me understand two things about my immigrant ancestors. First, why my father was raised a dairy farmer, and, second, why the Coöp was a logical feature of farm life in early Twentieth Century Minnesota.

Krugman points out that industrialization divided the world into industrial nations and agricultural raw/material producers. As in the example of Argentina, often these agricultural nations first grew rich but shortly ended up as banana republic crippled both economically and politically. Krugman labels Denmark as a “butter” republic. A country that succeeded in the early Twentieth Century global economy by importing cheap feed from North America and exporting of dairy and pork to the U.K. It goes almost without saying that Denmark could not have succeeded in this manner without a preexisting base of farmers who were experienced in dairy farming in order to succeed in this manner

My great-grandfather emigrated from Denmark to the USA in 1878. He had been employed as a farm hand in rural Denmark South of Copenhagen. My great-grandfather would have been part of the experienced dairy farming base in Denmark. This provides a good explanation of why dairy farming was a natural part of Danish immigrant life in Minnesota. (By contrast, my father talked about Polish immigrants being much inclined toward the Minnesota mining industry, I presume, based on a pre-emigration base of a Polish economy with a large mining sector.)

The Coöp is a prominent feature of farming in Minnesota. The existence of coöps in capitalist America has always struck me as an anomaly. Coöps seem a more logical fit to a socialist economy than to capitalism. However, understanding that the Coöp structure was a prominent feature of agricultural communities in Europe, explains why immigrant farmers readily imported this structure.

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