Time for a New Deal?

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“I tell you frankly that [the Agricultural Adjustment Act] is a new and untrod path, but… an unprecedented condition calls for the trial of new means to rescue agriculture.”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, March 16, 1933[1]

So pontificated FDR when he sent his draft of the AAA to Congress. I’ve mentioned before that I’m writing a fair amount on New Deal legislation—it marked a huge change in American agricultural policy. FDR’s policies legislated direct government involvement in farming practices and land use of individual farmers, which was revolutionary—it was the first legislation of its kind of be implemented on such a massive scale.

Roosevelt was acting at a time of national crisis—hundreds of thousands of people were in dire straits, farmers included.  There had been murmurings over the previous decade about making the kind of changes that the AAA finally legislated—price supports, purchase of surplus by the government, etc.  In the eleventh hour, the government enacted decisive legislation that took effective steps to address the problem.

A lot of conservatives then (and some conservatives now), say that the New Deal only prolonged the depression by preventing the free market from correcting itself–but the laws of capitalism and the laws of nature don’t play well together.  Nature when forced to obey the laws of economics wreaks havoc- supply and demand combined with the seasonal nature of crops tends to be a recipe for disaster without intervention.  Industry given free reign over agriculture– combined with a variety of other things, of course- created quite the perfect storm.

Sound familiar?

The New Deal was critically effective at addressing the problems that it was given, and revolutionized American agriculture in doing so.  Say what you want of the system that it created (and I will, and do!), but hunger in the US today is much less common than it was pre-New Deal.

Today we’re facing truly unprecedented conditions—a meteoric rise in obesity and its related illnesses, truckloads of unhealthy food depleting our soil and our pockets, and widespread disenfranchisement from our most basic food sources and knowledge.  The Agricultural Adjustment Act overhauled our food system at a time when it was desperately needed.  Has that time come again?


[1] Rasmussen, Wayne D. “New Deal Agricultural Policies after Fifty Years.” Minnesota Law Review (1983): 356. Print.

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