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1931 "The Country Home" magazine had plan to cure country’s woes

Bob Cox • Feb 3, 2019 at 12:00 PM

Recently, while perusing a June 1931 edition of “The Country Home – The Magazine of Farm, Garden and Home,” I spotted an article titled, “Now What?” The state of affairs mirrored the tough economic situation of the Great Depression.

The article was illustrated with a caricature depicting Uncle Sam sitting at a table and being flanked by two farmers. The papers on the table were identified as "Co-Operation," "Reduced Production" and "Surplus Problems."

The attempt of the Federal Farm Board to peg the prices of wheat and cotton had failed to the tune of $125,000 of taxpayer money. That was something for all taxpayers, including farmers, to contemplate.

And then the board’s huge holdings of wheat and cotton hung over the market, menacing the price of crops being grown. That was something more for farmers to think about. How did it all happen? In a word: Politics.

The Administration was reluctant to undertake a policy of governmental buying; Mr. Hoover was on record against such interference. Even the Farm Board itself showed no faith in it. Political pressure, noting else, forced it upon the country.

“But once undertaken, no plan ever had a fair test. No man could have been better fitted to carry it out than Alexander Legge. If price-fixing could possibly have succeeded during the previous two years, Mr. Legge and his board would have made it succeed. But not so, it failed.

“Now what? Wasn't it time to take account of stock? Wasn't it time to consider the outcome of political meddling, the consequences which reflect in tax bills and upset economic conditions? The farmers' stake in those things was just as big as anybody else’s, in fact, bigger that that of most city men.

“Shouldn't they have gone on, like mad gamblers, throwing good money after bad? Shouldn't they have let the politicians lure them into more extravagant and possibly disastrous ventures? Shall they be deceived by promises of other political panaceas - call them equalization fees, export debentures or what they will? With a government corner on heat having failed to keep prices up, could they have expected fees or debentures to do it?.

“Let’s throw away the rose-colored glasses and look at this realistically. What does the politician want? Votes, naturally. Very well, let him have them and welcome it and if he can do anything for the farmer, let him do it, by all means. But let’s stop paying such big prices for his votes. Let’s not pay for them any longer with our money thrown into schemes that sound good but simply do not work.

“The fundamental fact is that agriculture must be relieved chiefly by farmers, not by politicians. Agriculture is in a transitory stage. While farms are substituting machines for men and animal labor, prices are disordered. Fewer men are needed to do farm work. More is being produced that the world will buy.

"Farm prices may never rise again to prewar levels. Therefore it is imperative that farm production costs be lowered drastically in order that the farmer may make a profit.

"Meanwhile, the only way to keep prices at a profitable level is to adjust the supply to the demand. And the Farm Board, even though its price-pegging operations are foredoomed to failure, has pointed the way: cooperation. So long as millions of farmers make their plans without regard to market demands, farmers are going to suffer.

"So let the government do what it can. It is ready and eager to help the farmers make living organizations out of their cooperatives.

"Through cooperatives, individual farmers can jointly conduct their affairs so the "Law Of Supply And Demand" will work for them instead of against them. Cooperatives can do for agriculture what corporations have done for industry and trade."

The article concluded with this oft-repeated statement: “More political tinkering can only mess things up worse than they are now.” Haven't we heard that before? That was uttered in 1931.

Reach Bob Cox at [email protected] or go to www.bcyesteryear.com.

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