chapter  4
15 Pages

Cash Subsidies

It is hard for people leading comfortable lives today to appreciate the desperation that farmers in the industrial world felt during the Depression of the 1930s. In the United States, the price a farmer could get for a bushel of corn plunged by half in the three years before Franklin Roosevelt's election in 1932. But many of the farmers' bills, such as loan payments, fell not a whit. Farmers found themselves squeezed between the cruel whims of the weather and the inflexible demands of banks, faraway commodities brokers, and families that needed food and clothing. Farm foreclosures became epidemic in the countryside, and the sight of a hardworking family's repossessed land being auctioned for a pittance drove some communities to violence. John Steinbeck captured the desperation in

his Grapes of Wrath:

Men stood by their fences and looked at the ruined corn, drying fast now, only a little green showing through the film of dust. The men were silent and they did not move often. And the women came out of the houses to stand beside their men-to feel whether this time the men would break. The women studied the men's faces secretly.... After a while the faces of the watching men lost their bemused perplexity and became hard and angry and resistant. Then the women knew that they were safe and that there was no break. Then they asked, What'll we do? And the men replied, I don't know.... As the day went forward the sun became less red. It flared down on the dust-blanketed land. The men sat in the doorways of their houses; their hands were busy with sticks and little rocks. The men sat still-thinking-figuring.1