Friday, March 27, 2015

A pictorial history of the Rural Electrification Administration - and the resulting New Deal lesson

All images below are from the U.S. Department of Agriculture publication, "Rural Lines – USA: The Story of the Rural Electrification Administration’s First Twenty-five Years, 1935-1960."

Above: Before electric power, life in rural America could be hard. How many of us can imagine what it would be like to wash our clothes on a board? Unfortunately, many private power companies weren't interested in supplying electricity to rural Americans. Other were interested...if the government and the farmers were willing to pay through the nose for it. Other companies felt that American farmers didn't need electricity, so why bother? Is it any wonder that, in 1935, only 11% of American farms had electric power, while citizens in more urbanized areas had been enjoying it for many years?

Above: Where the private power companies hesitated, the New Deal moved ahead aggressively, beginning in 1935 with the creation of the Rural Electrification Administration.

Above: Since the private power companies decided that they weren't going to play ball, New Deal policymakers decided to engage rural Americans more directly (through "co-ops") with long-term loans set at reasonable interest rates (i.e., not the loan shark interest rates that we see today with credit card and payday lending companies). Even better, individuals would not be personally liable for loan defaults, so there would be no predatory debt collectors knocking on the farm house door if things went sour (the electric power materials that had been bought and constructed would be the collateral).

Above: And so the work got started.

Above: Between 1935 and 1943, some of the prime years of the New Deal, nearly 400,000 miles of power lines were put up.

Above: Back in those days, they did whatever it took to get the job done.

Above: Once a home was hooked up to electricity, people could enjoy many new things; and also many old things a lot better. This man is enjoying his radio.

Above: A farmer works on his electric motor. By 1960, the Rural Electrification Administration had helped the percentage of American farms with electric power rise from 11% to 97%. New Deal policymakers and rural Americans had worked together to electrify the nation.

Today, many people say "The New Deal didn't work! It was a mistake!" They say this because wealthy self-interested people like Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Rupert Murdoch, and the Koch brothers have convinced them that the government is always wrong (except when it bombs other countries, of course). But if Americans stopped listening to these people, and did real research, they would discover that almost everything they've been told are lies designed to excuse usury, cuts to education, stagnant wages, lack of adequate health care, crumbling infrastructure, extreme wealth inequality, record levels of child homelessness, rich Americans hiding money in foreign bank accounts, financial fraud, and our world-leading prison population.

The success of the Rural Electrification Administration is just one of the many stories about how a federal government that focuses on helping the middle-class & poor, instead of pampering the super-wealthy, can make incredible things happen. Other New Deal examples include the CCC's development of hundreds of state parks, the WPA's modernization of our infrastructure, Social Security's mitigation of old-age poverty, FDIC's protection of bank deposits, TVA's supply of massive amounts of power, PWA-built ships that helped us win World War II, and the list goes on and on.

And make no mistake about it, our collective ignorance of American history has real consequences. For example, Americans pay more for Internet service than other developed countries but receive less adequate service. Further, as if this were not bad enough, some corporate-bought governments have made it illegal for local communities to provide themselves with better Internet service.

And so this is what happens when voters pay more attention to self-interested millionaires & billionaires, and not to the history of good government policies like the New Deal and the Rural Electrification Administration.

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