The “farm problem” was a phrase that appeared on the scene in the 1930s after a continued inability of the market to absorb what farmers were producing. Actually, there had always been a farm problem, mostly one of overproduction, and lack of rural employment. Short-term crises were treated with short-term remedies. Banking “panics” came and went; tariff policy was a principal worry for farmers, and land policy (the public domain) had affected farmers since the time of Thomas Jefferson.

It was not until the Great Depression that the federal government intervened directly in the market place to affect prices and incomes. The government also intervened in labor markets and foreign trade to benefit the farm sector. Government has never been able to extract itself. The farm problem is that too many resources being committed to agriculture, and farmers and the rural sector are unable to adjust. Ultimately, the issue became political: how much (or how little) money should be spent on agriculture, and in what way should it be spent? So long as the agricultural budget dominated the federal budget there was “war.”

Today, agriculture has a smaller share of the budget but the farm problem remains. Henry Wallace, US Secretary of Agriculture under FDR, would be astounded!

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