In its examination of New Deal agricultural programs, this article takes issue with the pluralist, state-centered, and class-centered approaches which ignore the complexity of these policy programs' development and implementation as well as the role of organized interests. This oversimplification is rectified through a comparison of the AAA and FSA programs, which demonstrates the primary role played in these programs' existance by organized interests both outside and within, the state.
Political scientists and historians have long recognized the New Deal as an irrefutable break with the past. Since its inception they have had an obligation to explain how and why the programs of which it was comprised came into existence. Evidence of this obligation is the fact that the debate continues eve now--60 years after the New Deal's inception--on the origin of perhaps the New Deal's most focal program: the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA). The AAA's lure as an object of study for the political scientist should not be surprising, it is simultaneously a dramatic break with what preceded it and an enduring part of contemporary agricultural policy.
The New Deal's increased role for society's organized interests in the federal government's operations and the increased number of participating interest groups made them obvious points of observation. The pluralists responded. While no one disputes that the New Deal increased interest groups' participation, a political science version of the chicken-or-the-egg question was raised in the 1980s. Led by Skocpol, this group of political scientists whose "explanatory approach centers on the issue of state capacity" (Skocpol & Finegold, 1982, p. 260) moved away from the pluralist approach, which "suggests that the best-organized interests groups in society, and those with access to the greatest political skills and resources, would be the ones to achieve their political goals in the 'governmental process...'" (Skocpol & Finegold, 1982, p. 259), and shifted the examination to "the state."
The role of farmer organizations in the establishment of the AAA was rather the reverse of that suggested by pluralist theory. The pluralist conception, accurate in many contexts, is that groups represent individuals and influence the state. After Roosevelt's election, however, it was the president-elect and his advisors who were able to use the ties developed with the farm organizations during the campaign to "impose" their preference for a policy of production control upon the organizations. (Finegold, 1981, p. 23).
Now in the 1990s, authors such as Gilbert and Howe (1991, p.204) are taking exception to what they regard as Skocpol et al.'s disregard of the "interrelation of state and society" resulting from ignoring class influences which simultaneously affected the Roosevelt administration and society at large.
The proponents of these three approaches have all made valuable contributions to understanding the New Deal in general and the AAA in particular; however, the pluralist, the state-centered, and the class-centered approaches all have drawbacks which limit their explanatory effectiveness. Pluralist theory, while excellently handling the burgeoning phenomena of interest groups in American politics, loses its efficacy when confronted with areas of society which are under-or unorganized. Those such as Skocpol, Finegold, Hooks, etc. who advocate state capacity correctly identify the state's importance in policymaking regardless of whether the state confronts organized interests. However, in the case of the AAA, they over-emphasize the state's role by claiming the AAA as an example of "state autonomy" and asserting that its bureaucracy created and administered the program "independent of social groups" (Hooks 1990, p. 32; Skocpol & Finegold, 1982; Finegold, 1981). Finally, those advocating a reexamination of the role of …