The Political Economy Of Mechanization In U.s. Agriculture
Author(s): Barry Price
For more than a decade the trend toward increased mechanization in U.S. agriculture has been the source of farm worker protests, legislative hearings, and lawsuits. (The recent case pitting the University of California’s prestigious agriculture research establishment against Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers is a prominent example of such litigation.) A key question in the controversy is whether federal and state governments should continue to invest more than $1 billion per year in the development of large-scale, capital-intensive technologies known to have significant social costs. Opponents of continued public support for these new technologies argue that they will eliminate thousands of farm jobs when the nation already suffers from a serious unemployment problem; proponents contend that such capital-intensive technologies keep food prices down for consumers while generating the potential for increased wages for farm workers. This book explores both sides of the debate, tracing the history of the mechanization issue and assessing the economic and sociological bases of the opposing positions. Maintaining that present methods of analysis are not adequate for resolving the conflict, Professor Price suggests an alternative approach, highlighted by a detailed case study of the costs and benefits generated by a new harvest technology adopted in the tomato-processing industry in California. He singles out the role of market structure as the most important variable in the distribution of benefits resulting from mechanization. Finally he relates his research findings to policy alternatives concerning farm mechanization in general, as well as to other problems involving technological change.