James Leroy Wilson's blog

Thursday, May 02, 2013

The Dust Bowl

I didn't see Part 1, but I did see Part 2 of Ken Burns' The Dust Bowl on PBS.

Burns made it all too clear that it was a man-made ecological disaster, as farmers implemented eastern farming methods to a grassland to which it is not easily adapted.

But he also kind of makes FDR and the Works Progress Administration somewhat "heroes" for not abandoning the Dust Bowl area, whose epicenter was in the Oklahoma panhandle. Those who got WPA jobs got some income and were better off.

And yet,  FDR's Treasury Secretary, Harold Ickes, recommended abandoning the area and its people altogether. I'm inclined to agree that this should have been the course to take. The whole system - conquest (or purchase) of land, the homestead guarantee, exterminating Indians, the creation of the Federal Reserve, the boom-bust cycle - all were predicated on the federal "government" trying to "do something." 

West of the Missouri River, much of America really is a "desert" in which the prospect of bountiful crops is unreliable at best. Only modern machinery and irrigation, that depletes the Ogallala Aquifer, supports grain farming.

Perhaps we would have been better off if "the government" that Ken Burns worships got out of the way. Instead of bailing out Dust Bowl farmers, FDR should have abandoned them entirely.

The area naturally belongs to ranchers, not farmers. It's for cattle grazing, not commodity crops. The Nebraska Sandhills should've been an example. It's a fairly pristine ecosystem. It's great for cattle grazing, but little else.

Instead of depleting fresh underground water, free trade is the best way for the world to feed its people. Where there's drought in one place, there may be bountiful crops across the ocean. No one needs to go hungry if trade barriers were eliminated.  

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