Rexford Tugwell and the New Deal

By Bernard Sternsher | Go to book overview

21. The Task of the Resettlement Administration

I

The Resettlement Administration was concerned with poor people and poor land. Poor people needed emergency aid. Poor land required long- range conservation measures. The "borderline between the emergency and the basic problem," Tugwell observed in 1936, "is not absolute." To help poor people it was necessary either to help them make their poor land better or to persuade and help them to move to better land. The RA's operations were related to the whole agricultural economy and the national economy. When farm prices rose, farming on poor lands increased, undermining the more efficient farmers' position in the supply- demand situation. When farm prices fell, farmers on submarginal lands, without purchasing power and unable to pay taxes, required constant, sizable expenditures by local and national governments. Thus, Tugwell noted, attempts to cultivate poor land were a drain on the economic well-being of the nation as a whole.1

Tugwell advocated the creation of an agency such as the RA because he believed that existing agencies were not doing enough about poor farmers and poor land. He concluded that the AAA was the big staple farmers' agency. It was, he recalled in 1947, "an answer to a lobbyist's dream," bestowing outright benefits without requiring, in return, better conservation practices and a recognition of the national interest in land.2 It did not, he wrote in 1950, represent the nation or even all farmers. Dominated by the alliance of Extension Service, Land Grant College, and Farm Bureau, the AAA's "grass-roots democracy," like that of the TVA and SCS, served a "very useful purpose for those people who are content with things as they are and for bureaucrats who must come to terms with them."3 It may be, as Professor Schlesinger has suggested, that Tugwell did not do justice to the county production associations and "the extent to which the vast apparatus of local committees . . . actually did produce both popular education and popular consent."4 In any event, Tugwell's recollections were consistent with the stand he took in the USDA. In 1933 he said to Wallace, in front of a meeting of state and federal extension officials, "No, I haven't a damn bit of confidence in Extension Directors, Henry."5

More important than Tugwell'sconsistency was the fact that twenty years after the passage of the AA Act four commodities--wheat, corn, dairy products, and cotton and cottonseed oil--comprising 23 per cent

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