The Solution to America’s Economic, Social, and Structural Problems Is for the Government to Do LESS, Not More

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The American Enterprise Institute has reprinted Edward C. Banfield’s little-known 1951 book, Government Project, which was a post-mortem of a defunct, quasi-socialist New Deal-era agricultural project in drought-prone Pinal County, Arizona. The Foreword to the 2024 edition, written by Kevin Kosar, spouse of Banfield’s eldest granddaughter, asks, “Why would [the AEI] republish a 1951 book about a failed New Deal experiment that has been out of print for decades?” This is a good question, to which there are several answers.

First, Banfield (who died in 1999) was a pioneering political scientist and longtime Harvard faculty member who was, according to Charles Kesler, the editor of Claremont Review of Books, “one of the greatest social scientists of the twentieth century.” Banfield’s best-known book, the 1970 bestseller The Unheavenly City, was an influential — and contrarian — examination of America’s “urban crisis.” His blunt indictment of lower-class culture as the root of most urban ills was controversial and led to campus protests and undeserved pariah status in academia.

Second, Government Project, based on Banfield’s PhD dissertation at the University of Chicago, is an equally insightful analysis of the Casa Grande Valley Farms cooperative, which was created by the Farm Security Administration (FSA) in 1938 at the height of the Great Depression to provide economic security to distressed tenant farmers and migrant farm workers — many of them “Okies” displaced by the Dust Bowl. Banfield’s careful case study of the Casa Grande project, based on his review of the detailed government records (including extensive interviews with the participants) and his own experience as a “public information officer” for the FSA, is a sobering critique of government planning and social engineering.

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