Donald Worster wrote about the causes of both the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression in his appropriately titled book, The Dust Bowl. In his book, Worster explains how the two disastrous events were actually connected by one major cause – – capitalism.
As immigrants poured into American society in the early 1900s, the cities became more inhabitable, forcing many to move further inland. The relocation was not just to help supply the new immigrants with places to live, but with places to work as well. Worster explains this by stating that What brought them to the region was a social system, a set of values, and an economic order. There is no word that so fully sums up those elements as capitalism (5). Due to the cities on the coast harboring almost all of the industrial commerce circulating within the United States, it became vital that those that moved inland produce the majority of the agricultural commerce.
Once in the Southern Plains of America, those involved in the growing businesses of agriculture began looking at the land as a commodity to be bought or sold and like the stock market, would eventually be manipulated. Like American agriculturists elsewhere, he plainsman increasingly began to view farming and ranching as businesses, objects of which were not simply to make a living, but to make money(6). The agricultural commerce of the Southern Plains developed just as the factories of the industrial commerce did across the nation; quickly, hastily and without regulation. Plains operators . . . ignored all environmental limits in this enterprise, just as wall street ignored sharp practices and a top heavy economy (7). The fields were being plowed heavily, without rest. This practice exhausted the land and drained it of all its nutrients and unfortunately this was done without haste. The mentality of the plainsmen was ideally that the more crops they produced, the more money they would earn. The lack of regulation in commercial farming left the plainsmen starving for more profit, depriving them of the ability to control their abuse to the land. Southerners might have known little about the capitalism of huge factories and Wall Street investors, but they understood very well the idea of using the land without restraint (59). Eventually the unlimited wants of commerce and society challenged the limited resources of the land and created the phenomena known as the Dust Bowl.
The Dust Bowl occurred during the 1930s, developing the popular saying, the dirty thirties. Although a drought and other natural factors in the early thirties contributed to this eventual phenomenon, the major cause was the work of man striping the land of its own natural defenses.The dust storms became so common that no one was surprised to see it them appear . . . however, no one was prepared for what came later: dust storms of such violence that they made the drought only a secondary problem . . . (12). These dust storms sometimes had . . . such destructive force that they left the region reeling in confusion and fear (12). These ghastly black storms not only destroyed their crops and land, but damaged their health as well. An epidemic of respiratory infections . . . They plains victims spat up clods of dust, washed the mud out of their mouths, swabbed their nostrils with Vasaline, and rinsed their blood-shot eyes with boric acid water (20). The morale originally felt across the plains in the 1920s was destroyed with every storm that raged; and by 1935 the capitalist ideology in the Southern Plains of America was quickly losing its momentum. Essentially, the destruction man inflicted on the land came back in two fold and created an intolerable living environment.
I believe that it is really only in the beginning of Chapter Three that Worster makes a successful attempt to connect the Dust Bowl with the Great Depression.
Between Black Thursday on Wall Street and the many black days of the Dust Bowl there
was no great difference. In each situation diehard optimists were sure that it could not happen, then were equally sure that it would not last long and in each there were people who failed to survive. Whether they lost their jobs in Depression cutbacks following the crash or their farms to blowing dirt, the effect could be the same: as shattered moral, an eroded sense of worth, a loss of the future . . . Linking the two disasters was a shared cause a common economic culture, in factories and on farms, based on unregulated private capitalist seeking its own unlimited increase. (44)
This major connection, although extremely important and necessary, is only given clearly a few times throughout the entire book. It is my opinion that this connection could have been developed more thoroughly throughout the entirety of the book instead of solely reiterating the explanation of the Dust Bowl, the destruction it caused, and the governments attempts at fixing these problems, such as the New Deal.
Capitalism instigated a great amount of chaos in America, bringing it to its knees and lowest levels of economic despair and hardship. The people living in the United States would have never chosen to experience the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, but due to an uncompromising and manipulative ideology called capitalism, these inevitable phenomena will go down in infamous history.
Worster, Donald. The Dust Bowl; The Southern Plains In The 1930s. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.