Feed on

Not that game silly, the real thing:

The role of twentieth-century agricultural mechanization in changing the productivity, employment opportunities, and appearance of rural America has long been appreciated.  Less attention has been paid to the impact made by farm tractors, combines, and associated equipment on the standard of living of the U.S. population as a whole.  This
paper demonstrates, through use of a detailed counterfactual analysis, that mechanization in the production of farm products increased GDP by more than 8.0 percent, using 1954 as a base year. This result suggests that studying individual innovations can significantly increase our understanding of the nature of economic growth.

The paper is here. If my impression of this result is correct, this means that mechanization leads to a permanent increase in GDP of 8% per year over what it otherwise would have been. The value of such an asset would be enormous. Here’s a thought question: how much of the gains coming from tractors do you think were captured by the tractor capitalists? And how much by the rest of us?

4 Responses to “The Productivity of Farmville”

  1. Rod says:

    Wintercow has often remarked at how the standard of living languished at a subsistence level for most human beings until the Industrial Revolution came along and made it possible to feed and house one’s self in a way that only kings could do in the days of ancient history. The John Deere plow revolutionized agriculture first, and then of course in the Twentieth Century the John Deere tractor boosted farm productivity by several quantum steps.

    When my father operated our farm during World War II, he did the whole farm and rented acres with just one John Deere model A. Once he bought the old A, he got rid of the work horses and didn’t want to see another horse on the farm ever again. Then after the war he built a milking barn modeled after the milking barns at Penn State, put up a big silo and bought more tractors, increasing the output of the farm by at least 500 percent. He also was among the first to use artificial breeding, and he also bought bulls from Winterthur Farms in the hope of selling them to a breeding company. All of this modernization increased output while employing the same or lesser input.

    The benefit of all this improvement was cheap dairy products for all the people who did not know which end of the cow to milk. Cheap food allowed people to spend a small fraction of their time earning the money for food, unlike the ancient Israelites who spent all of their time building useless monuments for Pharoah. Yes, John Deere prospered, but the rest of America prospered more.

    Maybe 20 years ago, I read an article about how it would be a mistake to farm in Africa with American farm machinery and with fertilizer and good seed. The idea was that it would put too many ignorant, half-naked cattle herders out of work. What a dummyhead article: it could have been written by someone from the United Auto Workers.

  2. Harry says:

    It amazes me how durable some tractors are. Even though some tractors cost an unimaginable sum new, over their useful lives, which can be over a half century or more, they will go through many sets of tires and several owners.

  3. chuck martel says:

    Dairy products would be even cheaper if the federal government wasn’t up to its elbows in the agriculture business.

  4. Harry says:

    You are right about both the states and the Feds being up to their elbows in the dairy business — since the New Deal. All of the people in the milk business then are dead. Who knows what a quart of milk would cost today without the overwhelming influence of the government at so many levels.

    Let’s not assume, though, milk would be cheaper than an equivalent amount of designer water, or a bottle of Pinot noir, or, for that matter, ethanol, straight or denatured. I blame it all on Rooseveldt, a tool of the Rothschilds.

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