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Selected Works of Henry A. Wallace
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The Cotton Plow-Up
Henry A. Wallace
- A speech delivered by radio, August 21, 1933.
From Henry A. Wallace, Democracy Reborn (New York, 1944), edited by Russell Lord, p. 52.
- On one of the largest cotton plantations in Mississippi I saw a dramatic instance of America's present effort to catch its balance in a changed world.
- There were two immense fields of cotton with a road between them. On one side of the road men with mules and tractors were turning back into the earth hundreds of acres of thrifty cotton plants nearly three feet high. On the other side of the road an airplane was whipping back and forth at ninety miles an hour over the same kind of cotton and spreading a poison dust to preserve it from destruction by the boll weevil.
- Both of these operations were proceeding side by side on the same farm, and both in our present critical state of economic unbalance were justifiable and necessary. There are those, of course, who would say that with too much cotton the right thing to do would be simply to let the weevil at it and trust to luck. We have been trusting to luck too long. Insects have very small brains. They cannot be counted upon to get us out of troubles of our own making. Clumsily, to be sure, but with a new vigor and an eye to realities, we have started to take hold of this strange situation at both ends in an effort to bring sense and order into our use of land.
- Thus far we have been ruled by events quite as much as we have ruled events; but considering the shortness of time and the pressure upon us I think that we have done a fairly good job. What we have done is only the barest beginning of all we shall have to do. The new social and economic machinery that we have set going in this country since March 4 is as crude and as promising as Robert Fulton's first steamboat.
- Our present efforts are only hasty patchwork when compared with the intricate thinking and social planning that will be required. All of us working together will learn how to do these things better as we go along.
- Nearly nine-tenths of the nation's two million cotton farmers agreed to co-operate in the emergency adjustment drive. They are taking ten and a half million acres out of cotton and reducing the national cotton acreage more than one-fourth. Is this a good thing to do? In view of the circumstances, yes. It was too bad to have to turn all that product of wasted effort back into the ground. But it would have been a great deal more destructive and wasteful to have kept on going blindly, driven before the forces of a rampant, competitive individualism to a general smash.
- Leaders of the Cotton South assure me that they will soon have a plan ready so that next year they will not plant cotton in the unlimited, plan-less way they have in the past. Instead of planting around forty million acres of the United States to cotton, it seems likely that we shall put in only about twenty-five million acres next spring.
- This month, with the aid of 30,000 field workers, most of them volunteers, we are putting before the 1,200,000 American farm families that grow wheat a proposal to reduce, perhaps as much as one-fifth, their sowings of wheat for the next two years. The exact degree of reduction depends on whether other nations decide to come along with us in this effort to adjust wheat harvests to prevailing demand. They have promised to let us know by next Thursday. I will make an announcement then. If these other countries will not co-operate the United States will go ahead alone.
- We have had more time to plan and organize for a balanced wheat crop than we had in the case of cotton; but the three-year plan we are now putting into operation is an emergency measure only; it will not take care of the long-time situation. Again, like the cotton plan, it is only a start. The cotton plan, the corn and hog plan, the dairy, tobacco, fruit, and wheat programs that we are now launchingall these are experimental first steps in a new direction. Once you take the first step in that direction, you are forced to other steps and a wider outlook.
- From that outlook, we begin to see that American progress thus far has been very largely a matter of beginner's luck. What we have called business sagacity in the past often turns out, when candidly examined, to be no more than a bet on the future of a continent which, at the time the bet was made, was incompletely exploited.
- "Don't sell America short," was our motto; and for three hundred years or so our pioneers, our businessmen and all of us scrambled without limit to put our stakes on a sure thing. If you couldn't make money farming, you could probably make it speculating in land. If you couldn't make it by building a better mouse trap than your neighbor, you could probably get along by selling gilt-edged shares in Mouse Trap, Preferred. No wonder, as a nation, we came to believe that some sort of economic magic took care of us, and got us out of all the troubles that our greed and thoughtlessness brought down upon our heads from time to time.
- We are not at the end of our progress as a civilized people. When we lose faith in gambling and turn toward fundamental values we shall make this country a better place in which to live. As a start, we have undertaken to put our farmland, the basis of our entire national structure, into better order. In consequence, we are forced to think of what we ought to do with the forty million marginal acres of plowland we are going to take out of cultivation, because the world no longer will pay us for the extra wheat, cotton, and corn we have been growing there. It looks as if we were being forced for the time being toward a self-contained national economy, whether we like it or not. It is certain that we are farming a good deal of land that ought not to be farmed. Much better land, on which a family would have a chance to make a decent living, could be drained, irrigated, rescued from washing away, or otherwise reclaimed. In view of this, President Roosevelt has announced that as fast as good new land is brought into production, a corresponding amount of inferior land will be taken out. This may mean bringing in one acre and taking out ten. It may mean planned migrations from one region to another.
- But we are not going to have a random expansion of farm production, conducted without regard to human values, as we have had in the past. One of the great tragedies that has come out of the haphazard settlement of this country is to be found where families of the best blood and training, folks with a fine point of view and a fundamental philosophy, are slaving their lives away on farms that are not fit to work or live on. We want to fix things so that people are working where their labor will readily do some good, where they will have a real opportunity and the joy of working and creating without being penalized for it. The thing to do now is to farm only land that is worth farming and farm it better than ever. We need clearer thinking and the kind of efficiency that strikes down to fundamentals and builds from there.
- When a country fills up and all the land and easy money are taken, the people of that country face problems that they have never met before. In attacking these problems Americans will shift in same measure from their ancient competitive, individualistic standards. Sooner or later, the question, "What is there in it for me?" will have to be translated into, "What is there in it far all of us?" I know how hard it is to change human nature, but human nature does respond to changed conditions; and it becomes plainer all the time that modern capitalistic society faces the choice between a widely, generously shared prosperity or none at all.
- The millennium is not yet here, although the makings of it are clearly in our hands.
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