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Regulation and Revolution in United States Farm Productivity

Series: Studies in Economics History and Policy: The United States in the Twentieth Century

By: SH Clarke

326 pages, 14 illus, 12 diags, 45 tabs

Cambridge University Press

Hardback | Jan 1995 | #54531 | ISBN: 052144117X
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £92.99 $120/€102 approx

About this book

Since the 1930s when the government began active regulation, U.S. agriculture has undergone a revolution in productivity. Sally Clarke explains how government activity, from support for research to price supports and farm credit programs, created a climate favorable to rapid gains in productivity. Farmers in the Corn Belt delayed purchases of the tractor, the most important agricultural technology, despite the cost savings it promised. Tractor purchases required large sums of cash at a time when families faced unstable prices and unattractive credit markets. The New Deal inadvertently changed this investment climate. Regulation stabilized prices, introduced new sources of credit, and caused tool manufacturers and private creditors to revise their business strategies. Competitive farmers took advantage of these new conditions to invest in expensive technology and achieve new gains in productivity.

...a fine and provocative study. We can only hope that this book will generate many other works that also seek to challenge prevailing simplistic explanations of change and that build on Clarke's elegant assessment of the emerging issues. Technology and Culture "This is a model monograph that judiciously employs economic theory and business history to tackle an intriguing question...Clarke's methodology should be extended to other regulated industries, for she has shown that focusing on a broad array of forces (productivity, finance, technology, competition, political action) over time can yield fruitful analyses of ideologically charged subjects." American Historical Review "Although Clarke is a historian her work provides more than standard historical perspectives, and this book should prove useful and interesting to a wide range of economists...Clarke's book is well researched and thought provoking. Those interested in the economic history of agriculture will find this book interesting and challenging..." Journal of Economic Literature "This is a theoretically informed and empirically careful and thorough study with important implications for public policy." The Journal of American History "Clarke brilliantly shows the circumstances and conditions under which business and government could and did work together to further the development of one of the nation's critical industries...America's farmers, politicians, and pundits would reap a huge harvest if they could consult Clarke's insightful book before the nation embarks on a new set of agricultural policies." Business History Review "By combining economic and business history, Clarke has produced a study with much to say about the economics of twentieth-century agriculture in general and the New Deal period in particular...The book has many strengths. The argument throughout is stated forcefully and with great clarity, and is buttressed by extensive research in the published records and unpublished manuscripts of the USDA, the state experiment stations, and implement companies and farm lenders. It explains in detail the role of credit in midwestern farming, the behavior of agribusiness, and the impact of the New Deal in the Corn Belt--all subjects too often slighted by historians studying agriculture in the 1930s. It also focuses attention on the long-term implications of the farm programs. Finally, its epilogue offers a perceptive appraisal of the causes of the farm credit crisis of the 1980s." David E. Hamilton, Agricultural History


Part I. Regulation and Productivity: 1. Introduction; 2. Agriculture and the organization of knowledge in the early twentieth century; 3. Accounting for the slow rate of productivity growth; Part II. 'Power Farming' in the Corn Belt, 1920-1940: 4. The tractor factor; 5. Depressed markets and market regulation; 6. 'If You'll Need a Tractor in 1936 You Ought to Order It Now'; Part III. A Legacy for New Deal Regulation: 7. Regulation, competition, and the revolution in farm productivity; 8. Conclusion; Epilogue: The credit crisis of the 1980s; Appendix A. The tractor's threshold, 1929; Appendix B. The tractor's threshold, 1939; Appendix C. Sources of preharvest and harvest labor productivity, 1929-1939.

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