The Moral Economy of Tobacco



ABSTRACT  Even faced with overwhelming evidence that tobacco threatens human health, along with economic developments undermining their status as independent producers, North Carolina tobacco farmers view tobacco production in ways congruent with a moral economy. A shift from independent to contract production of tobacco and the dismantling of government price supports have challenged this moral economy, converting tobacco producers into a quasi–working class dependent on tobacco companies while leading to fewer tobacco farms and an increase in the average tobacco farm's size. These changes signal a shift away from a moral economy of tobacco, although moral-economic dimensions remain. Producers today emphasize different moral dimensions of economic behavior, such as producing quality human beings, than during earlier eras, when moral-economic actors pressed for state intervention in economic crises. Moral-economic principles are not restricted to either non-Western or historical peoples but, rather, influence economic production and ideology in advanced capitalist settings today.