Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Government's New Business

The crash of wheat prices in 1929 was followed in 1931 by one of the worst droughts that the Great Plains had seen in over a hundred years.  With no visible sources of water, farmers were forced to let their fields lie fallow.  The suitcase farmers abandoned their lands, leaving millions of acres of plowed-up dirt open to the elements.  When the high winds whipped across the prairie they began to pick up immense clouds of dust, which turned into dust storms that tore through towns and destroyed homes and crops.  As the dust storms continued farmers' lives were in danger, as the dust filled their homes and their lungs.  Over the next 8 years the drought continued, threatening to turn most of western Oklahoma into the Sahara Desert.  After starving and nearly losing their land many farmers began to do the unthinkable--ask the federal government for assistance.  Amazingly, the same man whose policies had created the Dust Bowl by arbitrarily fixing a high price for wheat, Herbert Hoover, was now President of the United States; but he would have nothing to do with helping the farmers.

Angered by Hoover's policies the nation elected Franklin Roosevelt, who was specifically elected on a platform the use the intervention of the federal government to aid the victims of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.  He dispatched federal agents to the Great Plains, having them buy up and destroy surplus livestock and crops (what little there was left) to create a scarcity and drive up prices.  He also issued the first-ever farm subsidies, which paid farmers federal money for not growing crops.  He ordered banks to issue loans to farmers for new equipment.  For many victims of the Dust Bowl this was the first income they had seen in nearly a decade.  However, his policies led to an increasing number of farmers continuing to take farm subsidies.  Also, most farmers could not function without living in debt to banks and loan agencies.  Consequently, U.S. farmland has been transformed into being nearly entirely dependent on the federal government for survival.

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