The Rural Economy of New England: A Regional Study

By John Donald Black | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
The Facts and Figures

Under ordinary circumstances it would be poor strategy for an author to devote an early chapter of his book to telling about the sources of his information. The best place for such discussion is surely in footnotes and appendices. But some of the most exciting parts of this study have to do with discovering the real truths that are concealed in the figures that are collected from time to time, reported in current releases to the newspapers, and passed off on the unsuspecting public, and finally compiled in ponderous volumes filled with nothing much but tables. Half of the energy spent in this study has gone into discovery of the truths in these figures. Suppose, Dear Reader, you were to find in your evening paper a report that the number of farms or cows in your state had decreased by 6 per cent since the last census was taken, would you believe it? You would not if you had studied the federal and state census figures for New England since 1880 as the author has studied them -- at least not until you had had a chance to see how they were collected and summarized.

Consider, for example, the figures in Table 4 for number of farms reported by the federal census in the several New England states since 1910. The swings in the New England totals are startling enough. But note how the 22,655 farms reported for Connecticut in 1920 became 17,195 in 1930, then 32,157 in 1935, and then fell off to 21,163 in 1940 and 22,241 in 1945. The reports of amount of land in farms, of number of farms, and even of farm population, swing back and forth in parallel with the reports of number of farms, but with less amplitude in the swings. Did these swings really occur? Or if not, what did happen? Surely, any prognosis for New England agriculture is contingent on whether or not the number of farms actually did increase from 1930 to 1940 and 1945. A little examination of the data of the two censuses quickly uncovers reasons for doubting that any change of

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