Which of these photos display the results of a natural disaster? Both? You’re probably right. It’s as difficult to understand the workings of a tornado and how it builds enough force to destroy a part of a community as it is to understand the workings of the policies and programs that resulted in the destruction of the small family farm.
Like the differences in temperature that gradually create a rotation and, ultimately, destructive forces, the temperatures of an economic climate create spirals and equally destructive forces.
Consider the Adaptive Program for Agriculture that half a century ago set out to solve the problem of farming. That problem was defined as an industry that was using too many resources.
The Committee for Economic Development, made up of 200 leading businessmen and educators, determined that the Adaptive Program was the solution. From the statement on national policy by the research and policy committee of the committee for economic development, “The retraining of farm workers leaving farming should be considered one of the principal objectives of the new Act. Those responsible for the administration of the Act should have it clearly in mind that farming is the leading case of misuse of resources in the American economy, that overcommitment of people to farming for their livelihood is the special form of the use of excess resources in agriculture, and that the Manpower and Training Act should consequently be applied with all vigor to solution of the farm problem.” http://www.normeconomics.org/adaptive.html
As a result of this decision, the youth of rural Minnesota were drawn away to be educated and trained since, “The maintenance of employment opportunities in nonagricultural industry and services is an essential condition for the most satisfactory agricultural adjustment.”
Offering educational incentives did indeed reduce the use of excess resources in agriculture. Farmers who stayed on the land were taught to use commercial chemicals and fertilizers, to increase their use of mechanization and ultimately increase both the cost of producing food and their income for the food they produced. While the CED’s plan was to redirect resources, primarily human resources, one might question whether the motivation was to increase the income potential of the individual or of the businesses and industries that sought to employ them.
From the concluding paragraph of the statement of national policy from 1962, “CED believes that by enabling businessmen to demonstrate constructively their concern for the general welfare is helping business to earn and maintain the national and community respect essential to the successful functioning of the free enterprise capitalist system.”
Fifty years after the CED initiated a program that was successful in directing rural Minnesota’s youth to urban livelihoods, the next generation is suffering under high costs of education, reduced income, unemployment, and disillusionment.
It’s time for a 21st century solution. What incentives can we offer to bring our young people back to rural Minnesota?