Why were tenant farmers stuck in an endless cycle of futile, backbreaking labor and poverty in the 1930s? Whose fault is it? Is the system of American capitalism to blame, or human greed?
The book I'm using for reference is You Have Seen Their Faces by Erskine Caldwell. The excerpt that is referenced mentions the imminence of the invention of the tractor and the mechanical cotton picker, which will eventually run sharecroppers out of business.
The tenant farmers were stuck in an endless cycle of futile, backbreaking labor and poverty in the 1930s due to several reasons.
The Agricultural Adjustment Administration, set up during the New Deal, restricted the production of a few key crops like tobacco, cotton, corn, wheat, etc. This was done by providing incentive to the farmer to grow less. Unfortunately, only the land owners got the payments and the scheme did not trickle down to the tenant farmers and sharecroppers. This was during the Great Depression when thousands of people were unemployed.
Another issue was the rapidly falling productivity of the Great Plains due to repeated cultivation which lead to more suffering for the tenant farmers. This was alleviated by changing to alfalfa and plant clover.
Sufferings were intensified by high mortgage rates; Corn Belt farmers were losing land to the banks and were growing restless. This was taken care of by the Farm Credit Act.
Finally, the rapid machination of agriculture was forcing people out of work and increased productivity due to the use of machines was out-competing tenant farmers.
So it is not only capitalism but human greed as well that led to the suffering of the tenant farmers.