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Some curious, perhaps meaningful, statistics relative to the Populist Crusade


Background to "Agricultural Revolution" -- revolutionary in the sense that the American plains farmer is "forced" to join the business class (though he quite often refused to accept the changed status).

1. More and more land (often marginal in nature) brought into production: Homestead Act of 1862 and subsequent legislation (federal and state) opens over one-half billion acres of plains land; most of this land comes through the hand of various kinds of middle-men (speculators: ah, Henry George!), for which the farmer must pay considerably more than the nominal (and original) homestead amount of ten dollars...this means a large cash out lay, or a large mortgage (don't forget interest) which means a fixed amount each year shot.

2. Eighty eastern acres were about the productivity equivalent to about 360 plains acres -- that is a parcel of plowing, and tilling, and reaping -- by hand. This develops a great market for technical innovation -- like reapers, etc. Plains farmers able to farm more and more land with less and less manpower:

In 1890s Time worked/Acre Labor costs (dollar) /Acre
Hand Machine Hand Machine
WHEAT 61 hours 3 hours 3.55 .66
CORN 39 hours 15 hours 3.62 1.51
OATS 66 hours 7 hours 3.73 1.07

Machines, new-fangled or old, cost money; those without ready cash, borrow -- AT INTEREST RATES NOT FIXED BY LEGISLATION: this makes another yearly payment the farmer can look forward to; TIMES HAD BETTER STAY GOOD: THEY HAD BETTER GET BETTER!

3. The railroads expand into (or onto) the plains, bringing the plains farmer closer and closer to the world markets (the whole world eats bread -- it's un-American and un-Christian not to; the means of production for the world market (give up the Jeffersonian notion of self-sufficiency) are painfully (yearly mortgage and debt payment, interest and principal) obvious. The plains farmer becomes, therefore, a capitalist, a businessman producing for a world market -- a market over which he has no control. TIMES HAD BETTER STAY GOOD: BETTER, THEY GET BETTER!

OF COURSE, THEY GET WORSE! [they always do(?)] By the 1890s, the farmer needed to produce three times as many bushels of wheat to pay off the dollar borrowed in 1860s. He produced more (so did Canadians, Russians and sundry other farmers of the world), and more, and more -- all of which drove the prices down, and down, and down (I'm talking about the price received by the farmer from the middle-man; food prices at the consumer level did not go down, down, down.) Where did it all go? Where does it go today?
1,000 bu. (WHEAT)
1,000 bu. (CORN)
COTTON $/bu.
1866 169,703 2.06 730,814 .66 .43
1870 254,429 1.04 1,124,775 .52 .24
1875 313,728 1.01 1,450,276 .42 .15
1880 502,257 .95 1,706,673 .40 .12
1890 449,042 .83 1,650,446 .50 .11
1895 542,119 .50 2,534,762 .25 .07

GUESS WHO THE POPULISTS WERE? Guess who they blamed? Who do they blame today? Why the difference?


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