Friday, August 24, 2012

The Great American Desert

The region of the country known as the Great Plains, extending in a wide band from New Mexico and Texas northward to include Montana and the Dakotas, but going on up into Canada, had a different name in the nineteenth century. People called it the Great American Desert. I show a map of the region on LaMarotte (link) in a post that briefly looks at drought conditions in 1934 and this year.

Here in Michigan, water, water, everywhere. My front lawn actually has fresh grass growing whereas, in ordinary times, it is by now a yellowish disaster. The backyard is lush. Our tomato harvest exceeds all expectations. But we have family living in the reemerging dust bowl. Such things prompted my glance back—and produced ambiguous feelings.

Two kinds of Great American Deserts. There is the physical and economic kind—and then the cultural kind. In the middle of the Great Depression, most of the agricultural regions turned to dust and produced a sizeable migration to the west and east. That era left a very deep impression on the people who passed through it—and in turn what now is labeled “the Greatest Generation.” It is very humbling to realize that genuine and collectively experienced hardship lifts humanity—whereas massive wealth, also collectively enjoyed, produces decadence, whining, deadlock, and galloping incoherence. If the tendency is upward, the collective benefits—no matter what induced that movement.

Ambiguity arises because I hear a lot of whining in the media over such matters as a sluggish GDP growth—and I do feel genuinely sympathetic to the people hurt by our Great Recession and our Little Dust Bowl—but it strikes me that a reminder, if not too harsh, that we’re actually living somewhere between the rock and the hard place, is good for the soul. Bring on the hardship, Lord. But, please! Not today.


  1. I very much enjoy how you often tackle a subject here, and then with a different emphasis on the LaMarotte blog.

    This topic, the cultural side of it, is something I've wondered at for years now, having first noticed it in the context of studying economic development. There is a relatively fine line in the economic development spectrum, if you will, in which a healthy balance is present...

    The timing of this post, having been written before I sent you "The Cheapest Generation," is a most telling coincidence, no?

  2. Agree. As a matter of fact, I read it some time after doing that post so that I could take part in the discussion...


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