The New Deal and Its Legacy: Critique and Reappraisal

By Robert Eden | Go to book overview

2
Tarnished Gold: Fifty Years of New Deal Farm Programs

Don Paarlberg

The essence of the New Deal farm programs was the effort to raise the incomes of farmers by reducing supplies and thereby increasing prices. Markets had failed, it was charged, and the remedy was for government to establish prices and control acreage. There were other New Deal initiatives, but the price-fixing and supply-control efforts of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration were central.

I feel qualified to discuss the past half-century or more of the New Deal farm programs; they parallel my adult life. Part of the time I was a farmer operating under their rules. Much of the time I was in the university, teaching and doing economic research on these programs. For sixteen of these years I was in Washington, helping to administer them. Since 1976 I have been in retirement, observing them with as much detachment as one can acquire after long involvement.


A VERY REAL CRISIS

The Great Depression laid the basis for the New Deal farm programs. Only the older people can recall it. A few figures will help to calibrate the disaster. From 1929 to 1932 the index of prices received by U.S. farmers fell 56 percent. I was farming then in northwestern Indiana with my father and brother, and keeping farm records in collaboration with Purdue University. The return to labor and management on our farm in 1932, a year of good crops, was a negative $1,203.

Farmers, needing help, undertook a number of desperate acts. In a dramatic protest against foreclosures, they threatened to hang a federal judge. They overturned milk trucks, picketed packing plants, and boycotted farm sales. The mood was ominous. There was anger, frustration, and insistence on action. The Great

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