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A faux crisis that's too good to waste

Elected on a platform including that policy plank, President Dwight Eisenhower's Ag Secretary Benson declared that "parity was costing the government (translation: urbanite taxpayers) too much money." Read it yourself in "Problems of Plenty", an ag-economics history by Douglas Hurt.

In a time when "we're waiting for the farm vote" meant it still mattered (today, it doesn't) an urbanite-oriented campaign based on the "crisis" of soaring consumer costs was needed. After all, butter in 1951 sold for 86 cents/pound, twice its price of 1941.

Folksinger Woody Guthrie was enlisted to rewrite an earlier tune with new lyrics describing "One pound of butter for two pounds of gold" and it made the pop charts at no. 15 the year "Tennessee Waltz" was no. 1.

Guthrie didn't sing about the growth in urbanite income: average non-farm wage in 1951 at $3732, compared to $1462 in 1941. Yes, butter doubled, but wages nearly tripled. Food was actually getting cheaper, in terms of the real measure, minutes-of-work-needed-to-buy.

Read the historical stats for yourself in "The Value of a Dollar, 1860-2004" by Scott Derks. A crisis too good to waste (a little Democrat Chicago politics lingo there) had to be created; it was and it gave birth to the then new farm subsidy principle: "Just enough to prevent supply reducing producer quits."

Things might have gone differently.

In the late 19th century, the progressives wanted to control lots of things beyond farming-the then-new utility industry, for example.

The progressives established the Public Utilities Commission in 1913. Since then, federal and state governments have regulated power and communications producers, but had to promise them 10 to 12 percent return on investment (ROI) to get the authority.

Why didn't farming get the same status and the same ROI guarantee? Well, not enough column inches here for a full discussion, but suffice it to say that the progressives (who proclaimed themselves to be above mere politics and ideology "nobody in here but us highly-skilled above-average-intelligence managerial-expert technocrats, shouldering the burden of governing all you ungrateful lesser-intelligence folks") were sufficiently politically sensitive to realize that a "10 percent solution" was essential to seize control of the communications and power companies-but it wasn't needed to conquer a sole-proprietorship farming culture.

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