The Dust Bowl: An End to The Gilded Age or a Critique on Government

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Clayton Koppes two part book review of Paul Bonniefied’s The Dust Bowl and Donald Worster’s Dust Bowl offers an interesting comparison on two books about the same general topic.  Koppes strongly favors Worster’s book as a more compelling use of the Dust Bowl for a general critique on capitalism, government policy, and technological impact on the environment.  As Price cunningly notes in his post, Koppes praises Worster’s use of the Dust Bowl as an example the failures regarding short term New Deal relief, the flaws in agricultural capitalism, the misuse of land, and the need to blame Midwest farmers for the Dust Bowl.  Further Koppes critiques Bonnefield’s emphasis on natural blame for the Dust Bowl, as Bonnefield insists that capitalism, free market economics, and technology had little impact on this disaster.  From my prospective, it seems almost impossible to argue one way or another about Koppes opinion. As I have read neither book, I am forced to accept Koppes’ interpretation of the author’s arguments as true, well thought out and warranted.  If everything that Koppes interprets and reviews is true, I would say his article seems justified.  Nevertheless, one must be careful as Koppes could very well have had an ideological bias behind his review.

When I was reading this book review, I could not think about the historical significance of the Dust Bowl.  As Koppes notes, there has been little scholarly work covering the Dust Bowl and of the work that has been done, there is still much debate about the cultural, economic, environmental, governmental, and historical significance. There seems to be large scientific evidence (as noted in Worster’s use of the lack of grass cover, diminished crop yield, and the lowered population rate in affected areas) that humans, pushed mostly by the government, attributed to Dust Bowl and the black blizzards.  While we can blame whomever we would like, the question must now be about the historical meaning of the Dust Bowl.  If we consider Worster’s argument and place the entire blame on the government and capitalism does this mean we should extend the Gilded Age through the 1930’s?  If it was truly the government wanting to extend power to large corporations through exploitative measures, certainly this seems justified.  As seen in this course, the Gilded Age was defined by disasters of premature technological innovation and favored the expansion of powerful companies.  However does this mean that the Gilded Age continued into the 1980’s like Koppes mentions?  How much does government favor large corporations and big business even today?  Should we blame capitalism for modern environmental disasters or do we blame the failures of technology and ignorance? Personally, I think Koppes book review opens up many different discussion points about the meaning of the Dust Bowl.  The 1930’s is often considered a hybrid time period mixed between the Depression and World War II and thus many of the events have been underreported.  I do not think we can expand the Gilded Age and place blame for the Dust Bowl on Gilded Age policy or any economic policy. From what I have interpreted about these two books, the Dust Bowl seems more an unknown consequence of government policy.  The New Deal policy was not purposely imposed for the destruction of natural land nor for the promotion of big business.  It was more what FDR thought would be the best temporary fix for the Depression and unfortunately the Dust Bowl was an unforeseen problem.

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