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Discussion: (20 comments)

  1. Jon Murphy


    What happened in 1950 that lead to the gains in productivity?

    1. Benjamin Cole

      Well, we nuked Bikini Atolls pretty hard…who knew? Instead of giant ants or 40-foot-women we got huge increases in farm output.

      1. Jon Murphy

        A simple “I don’t know” would have sufficed.

        1. Technological improvements :

          i) Biotech : Hybrid seeds
          ii) Analytics that computers could crunch
          iii) More automated farm equipment.

          ….and others.

          The gains seem to be continuing. It is not like the 1980s were the top or anything – gains continue to rise..

    2. Jon Murphy

      I have found my answer.

      According to The University of Missouri, there were a number of technological changes that came about in the 1950’s that could explain the increased production:

      -Round Balers
      -Corn picker heads for combines
      -Bulk tanks for milk storage
      -small gasoline motors
      -Chemical fertilizers
      -vertical integration


      1. Benjamin Cole

        What about the so-called “green revolution’?

        Seriously, Monsanto and others have been developing better seeds too…

        1. Jon Murphy

          In the link I provided, they talk about that under “herbicides.”

          1. Jon Murphy

            Excuse me, I misspoke. It’s listed in the 3rd paragraph of the link.

        2. Jon Murphy

          And, of course, the list is hardly exhaustive.

          1. Citizen Buddy

            Yep. What about tractors? 1951 was a dramatic high for U.S. tractor production for decades.

            Horses were the primary force on farms for plowing until the 1950s. Here is a rough idea of the comparison of horse plowing vs. tractor:

            “Our estimate is that it would take the team of four horses at least 55 hours to plow a 40 acre field. The modern tractor pulling a 25-foot disc harrow unit would make it across that same 40 acres in a little over an hour.”

          2. Jon Murphy

            Yeah, they talked about tractors in the link.

          3. Citizen Buddy

            And yet, we still have a Plow Horse economy, but “likely to trot a little in 2014″

            Sorry Jon, but I could not resist. :-)

          4. I would add the expansion of truck transport, which brought more productive farm acreage within reach of the rail network and cities. This would cause the closer, but less productive farm land, to move to industrial and housing usage.

          5. Jon Murphy

            And yet, we still have a Plow Horse economy, but “likely to trot a little in 2014″

            Go sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done. :-P

    3. marque2

      I am guessing government subsidies started/were increases.

      Extra CO2 in the air is also supposedly responsible for about 30% of the increase in plant based foods.

      1. Jon Murphy

        Some were increased. Most were cut.

      2. Jon Murphy

        Although in the link they do talk about foot stamps being created.

  2. hell_is_like_newark

    With hydroponics (aeroponics, fogponics, etc.) you can grow just about anything anywhere with higher yields than what you get out of planting in soil. Hydroponics though is dependent on cheap power. If a power source could be developed (thorium, advanced nuclear?) to drive down electric rates, you could have the ‘farm’ in the city; providing vine ripened fruits and vegetables. You could also provide very fresh fish via aquaponics.

  3. Tom Sullivan

    Julian Simon is smiling. Paul Ehrlich, not so much.

  4. Phil Hayward

    A slightly tangential point of interest is that the trend in the relationship between the price of rural land and urban incomes has steadily widened in favour of urban incomes (urban productivity has risen a lot faster still); this is a little-understood factor in “urban sprawl”. In cities where there are no anti-growth regulations, new fringe suburbs include larger and larger lots without the real price of housing increasing. Ironically, this is one reason why LA and SF actually “sprawled” in the 1950’s and 60’s with much smaller lots on average than more recent sprawl everywhere else; which has made them the USA’s densest urban areas even though they are still regarded all around the world as the epitome of American sprawl. Meanwhile, cities in other first world nations have been slowly de-densifying and there are many that have ended up significantly less dense than LA and SF, especially in Australia, Canada and France. Even Germany has some.

    But there is no basis for containing urban sprawl to “conserve farmland”. There are efficiencies that should be sought in the regulating of urban economies, but pricing energy and infrastructure properly is the right way to go about it. Anthony Downs (urban economist) says that trying to affect energy consumption and emissions by enacting mandates regarding urban form is like trying to adjust the position of a picture on a wall by trying to move the house rather than the picture.

    There is an excellent essay by the economist Mason Gaffney way back in 1964 entitled “Containment Policies for Urban Sprawl”, in which he points out that the “support” for growth boundaries and so on largely comes from vested interests in property ownership and the exclusion of competitors from the urban economy; Gaffney states the obvious; land taxes and correct pricing of infrastructure use are the correct approach.

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