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Glen, Jim, Wolfram, and All,
Excellent discussion. Glen’s note on Arlo’s find is especially neat. Woody’s song, Deportee, is a classic, don’t miss the last two verses. I also suggest Woody’s “Ballad of Pretty Boy Floyd.” Again the last two verses are classic. Just as a tease “As through my life I’ve rambled, I’ve seen lots of funny men, some will rob you with a six gun, and some with a fountain pen.”
In the non-music category I suggest The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl, by Timothy Egan. I suggest not reading it unless you are prepared to be depressed.
The dust storms that terrorized Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and a bit of Nebraska during the years of the Great Depression were like nothing ever seen before or since (except maybe recently in China where dust storms have become more frequent). Egan’s book provides a historical record of some of families that “survived.” The dust storms were partly due to plowing more and more land to plant more wheat. More wheat was planted due to falling prices and on and on in a cumulative downward spiral. For small farmers Y= P x Q, so declining P means more Q.
Woody captured this with several songs including Tom Joad, This Land is Your Land (written in part to counter Irving Berlin’s song God Bless America, which Guthrie hated), Dust Bowl Blues, Hard Traveling, etc. I second Jim Peach’s selections of Guthrie, Haggard, Seeger, and Cash. So long as we’re commissioning singer songwriters to the ranks of institutionalists I’ll recommend Towns VanZant (Tecumseh Valley, and several more).
On another note, I suggest Lysenko and the Tragedy of Soviet Science, 1994 by Valery N. Soyfer, which details the damage done to the seed (especially wheat) development research institutes in Russia by the Lysenko affair (the attempt to vernalize winter wheat). That attempt was based on the premise that winter wheat could be selected to “acquire” the characteristics that would allow it to be spring wheat, planted in the spring and mature before first frost. An analogy would be that a specie of tail less cats could be developed by cutting off the tails of cats and successively breeding them until a new, tail less specie, emerged. Spring wheat that could be successfully grown in Russian would have been especially important since the growing season is relatively short, i.e., almost all of the former Soviet Union lay above the same latitude as Louisville, Kentucky. Of course, the vernalization premise was false to fact and the geneticists in the Institutes that rebuffed Lysenko were not funded— or worse. The damage to wheat production was enormous and Lysenkoism was not officially ended until the mid- 1960’s by Khrushchev.
BTW, Veblen wrote The Food Supply and the Price of Wheat, Journal of Political Economy, 1893. He expected the price of wheat would continue to fall (or at least not increase) for the foreseeable future, due in part to falling costs due to the use of more machinery and “better” methods. I doubt if he anticipated Lysenko.
I always knew that Woody Guthrie and Merle Haggard were institutional economists. Thanks for the reminder. Pete Seeger and for part of his career, Johnny Cash should be added to the institutionalist music hall of fame.
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Good point Wolf An important point institutional economists have made is the fiction of free markets is that our orthodox fellows keep pretending are real. It seems that we are talking about contracts rather than flexible prices. The links in supply chains are contracts. Anyone interested can do some research on Kern County (California) Land Company. It has the largest irrigated farms in the world that are threatened by the continuing drought.
Listen to some songs by Merle Haggard who grew up in Kern County in the railroad box car his Dad converted into their house during the Great Depression. Prosperity for some.in that fertile valley. Better yet, read Woody Guthrie's Bound for Glory and see the movie. His son, Arlo, found a note in Woody's papers from John Steinbeck that stated - Woody, you little bastard, you wrote in 17 verses what it took me a whole novel to write. That is the ballad of Tom Joad. That drought caused major changes in the agriculture sector. Banks foreclosed on farms when the farmers couldn't pay their debts. The economic effects of the Dust Bowl went well beyond the region.. There is a line in the ballad, "They've been tractored out by the Cats" which points out the coming consolidation of farms, the decline of farm work and the abandonment of country towns. There's more but I will move on. .
Merle and Woody escaped from Oklahoma during the short drought, compared the current climate change. What has the current drought contributed to our rise in agricultural prices? Have the changes affected current prices? What has it done to our economy and society? It's fertile ground (no pun intended) for research. We need to go beyond our data sets and do dome John R. Commons' type investigation.
One other song of Woody's you will appreciate is Deportee. Creative observers can help us see the word we live in.
On Monday, March 28, 2022, 09:44:19 AM PDT, <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
it would be most critical to get to know whether (or how far) these price increases stem from a particular speculation that is usually taking place in wartimes. Large parts of the gas price increases already before the Russian invasion in the Ukraine have definitely been a result of speculation. in this case, even the EU-commission was the speculator, as it reduced long-run contracts with Gazprom and went into the spot gas market at times, when they had hoped to buy cheaper (but the contrary did realize). Also, it is known that the Wall Street is the largest single institutional cluster to own global wheat reserves …
one could check anything currently, from gas at the gas station to semiconductors …
thanks, and best,
The global price of wheat has risen sharply. The price of wheat was rising even before the Ukraine crisis. The high price of wheat (and other food grains) is likely to lead to immense suffering of the poor people of the world, both in developing and developed countries.
Perhaps institutional and heterodox economists will have useful policy recommendations that can mitigate the suffering.
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Tanweer Akram, PhD
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