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Wanted: The Nation’s Future for the South

ISSUE:  Autumn 1943

Planning for the South: An Inquiry into the Economics of Regionalism. By John V. Van Sickle. Van.derbilt University Press. $2.75. The Tennessee Valley Authority. A Study in Public Administration. By C. Herman Pritchctt. University of North Carolina Press. $3.50. Tenants of the Almighty. By Arthur F. Raper. Macmillan. $3.50.

Before things get better, they are likely to get worse. The South, if we can trust the Gallup Polls, was reconciled to the likelihood of war before the rest of the nation; and while, as Arthur Raper points out, the region cannot contribute its proportionate share of money to the war effort, it is contributing more than its proportionate share of young manhood. The South is characteristically optimistic about the war and the nation’s future; it is not so optimistic about itself. The new regionalism is an indication of this trend; and, if I had to phrase its implication, it would be in seven words—Wanted: the nation’s future for the South.

The idea of social planning, accordingly, is one that will not down. If one took contemporary journalism seriously enough, he might arrive at two quite contradictory conclusions about planning: first, that the war has brought us out of the never-never land of the social planners back to hard reality where hopes of social gains must be put away; and second, that the war itself is made tolerable only by the fact that we are drawing plans for a newer and better world. Thus it would seem as if the gentlemen in well-stocked clubs have driven social planning out of domestic affairs only to find it popping up in international affairs. The three volumes at hand indicate that as far as the South is concerned, no moratorium has been declared on planning our own future as well as the world’s. As economic problem number one, the leading have-not in a nation of wealth and power, the South is entitled to ask: what about the future of regional-national planning? The question, as stated in these three volumes, is a sensible one. Frankly, if we have done so little to correct economic and cultural inequalities within our own borders, what can we hope to accomplish in the postwar world?

John V. Van Sickle’s “Planning for the South” is significant on two counts. It is the first book-length analysis of regional planning by any economist outside government service, and thus serves to indicate that regionalism is by way of arriving. It is also a contribution from the newly developed Institute for Research at Vanderbilt and thus indicates that University is making the transition from the special pleading that has characterized both its early protagonists of industry like Gus Dyer and its agrarians to a more matured social science approach. In setting up possible goals for the South, Van Sickle at the outset rather cleverly disentangles himself from both extremes. The author is not a Southerner; in fact, because of long residence abroad he calls himself a regionalist without a region. To paraphrase a popular Southern columnist, he conceives of the New Deal as already dealt and proceeds to trace the play of the cards in the long-run economy developing after the war. He sees the federal union as “a magnificent and continuing experiment in the art of harmonizing profound and desirable economic and cultural diversities, regional in character.” Like Turner he feels that our regions can be viewed as potential nations, and the economics of regionalism thus resembles a study in international relations.

The volume accordingly represents the over-all approach of the liberal economist. Basic to the problem is the more adequate utilization of the nation’s natural and human resources, wherever found. To raise standards of living, to make for the better production and distribution of incomes, goods, and services in all regions is to do the utmost to increase national strength and unity. It is not the problem of existing regional inequalities but rather their persistence over generations that demands explanation. Here in this country we have the closest approximation to the assumptions underlying free individual initiative and liberal capitalism: namely, free trade, free mobility of the people, free education, no legal restriction on capital movements, no serious ethnic or religious barriers. If the assumptions of laissez-faire really worked, people might have moved out of the South if its condition were hopeless; capital should have moved in and developed the region, if its resources were as valuable and as plentiful as often claimed.

Before surveying the South’s natural and human resources, Van Sickle discusses the nature of planning in a democracy and identifies the control measures which seem adequate for the task. Planning, he concludes, depends on prediction and control. Scientific knowledge is needed to determine the direction in which society is likely to move, and control is demanded to effect needed adjustments. Adjustment, then, rather than security, should be the keynote of public policy. Social security may fail in its attempt to underwrite inefficient social arrangements; adjustment is more dynamic in that it impels individuals to remedy their own undesirable situations.

Having set up desirable goals, Van Sickle then examines the controls which the region itself might exercise through the state governments: he advocates reforms in land taxes, new tenant lien laws, the adoption of rural zoning and improved measures of land-use planning. He devotes succeeding chapters to measures falling within the competence of the Federal arm, including the social security and agricultural adjustment programs. Among federal obstructions to Southern progress he lists the tariff, the freight-rate structure, and, surprisingly enough, the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Urban Housing Program. In the concluding chapters he discusses the costs of adequate programs and presents a case for differential federal aid, together with a formula that attempts to preserve the vitality of local institutions.

We can agree on desirable goals of public policy. The question remains: have we the competence in public administration to achieve these ends? “If governmental interventions are necessary to stop these wastes/’ Van Sickle concludes, “then our state and local governments must first be reformed. . . . Unless public administration at every level can be made more efficient than at present, it is obvious that the tasks we have assigned the liberal state surpass its competence.”

In the Tennessee Valley Authority the Southeast has the outstanding development in regional-national planning so far projected in the United States. Van Sickle strangely enough fails to discuss this project except incidentally. C. Herman Pritchett, writing of “The Tennessee Valley Authority” as a specialist in political science, has no doubt that it meets the challenge to public administration. Pritchett readily admits to a bias in favor of the goals of TVA, contending that no one need be a disciple to Karl Marx to hold that the natural resources of a great river should be developed by and in the interests of the people. Like Van Sickle, he feels that the tendency toward statism and total government must be held within liberal democratic limits, but “in his judgment public operation of power monopolies falls well within those limits and he is quite willing to compare the democracy of the TVA with that of the Commonwealth and Southern Corporation.”

At the outset he tackles a moot question. Can a Federal Regional Agency operating in a local area presume to be democratic as long as local residents have no control over it or responsibility for it? Pritchett answers that obviously the primary responsibility of the Authority must be to the President, who appoints the directors, and to the Congress, which supplies the funds. He adds his endorsement of the policy that selects one director from the region and entrusts those parts of the program which require direct contact with the people to those agencies which the people support and control. While the general public realizes that Senator McKellar’s campaign against the Authority is dictated by the politician’s zeal for spoils, it is not too much to hope that the two policies mentioned above will eventually be incorporated in the TVA act.

We cannot discuss planning without considering whether improvements in the state of technology and the industrial arts in the Valley would not raise the standard of living both in the Southeast and in the nation. A. E. Morgan, the Authority’s first Chairman, once imagined that Daniel Boone might have sat down for a chat with an Indian hunter and told him: “There is ten times as much wealth in this Valley as you are getting out of it.” Today, with electrification, modern agriculture, and engineering, the TVA is in the position of saying to the people: “There is ten times as much wealth here as we are now realizing.” The presence within the South’s borders of this great project serves to show the importance of regional development to the whole national policy. The Authority’s goals in defense, in navigation, in flood and erosion control, in power production and distribution, and in increased economic well-being, and the ways and means of attaining them are examined by Pritchett, who pronounces them in the best tradition of democracy and efficiency. Here, as the war has made us realize, is a triumph in regional planning that has meant an equal triumph in public administration. In many ways this volume is the best yet published on the TVA.

Can we plan and execute as well on the level of the county and county government, that jungle of American politics? Here Arthur F. Raper’s volume under the strange title, “Tenants of the Almighty,” turns out to be a county history of the Greene County, Georgia, that he knows so well. It concludes with the first adequate examination of the workings of the unified county plan as developed by the Departnient of Agriculture. The volume is a real contribution to local history exhibiting both scientific and folksy qualities that such works too often lack. It also shows Raper in a more tolerant and kindly vein than in his previous work.

The county-wide Unified Farm Program was extended to Greene in 1939. It involved the attempt to have all the agencies dealing with agriculture and rural life work together in a local area. The Department of Agriculture wished, first, to bring about better integration among its various federal, state, and county agencies: Extension Service, AAA, FSA, BAE, Soil Conservation, Forestry Service, Farm Credit, Land Use Co-ordination; and, second, to increase its co-operation with other agencies such as the CCC, PWA, WPA, NYA, Social Security, Surplus Commodities, and county health and school services. The amount of help rendered and, it must be added, the amount of money spent seems almost incredible. The contribution of the Farm Security Administration seems to attain the highest level of competence. But Greene County has gone a long way down the hill since her days of cotton prosperity, and for all the humanity of the program, Raper’s volume leaves troubling doubts. Can subsidy and security programs involving vast expenditures really save Greene County from the drastic adjustments necessary to bring population into line with basic resources? And if we could keep the county from going back to the briers and the foxes, could we apply the method to all our depressed rural areas? No one really knows, but a book like Raper’s will finally help us to make up our minds. But undoubtedly, if the South is going to take its place in the nation, some Southerners are going to have to move out or move up.


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