Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Derek S. Hoff's "The State and the Stork"

Derek S. Hoff is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at Kansas State University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The State and the Stork: The Population Debate and Policymaking in U.S. History (University of Chicago Press) and reported the following:
Page 99 of The State and the Stork details the intellectual backdrop of the New Deal’s efforts to relocate rural Americans from “distressed” lands (e.g., the DustBowl of the southern Great Plains) to government-sponsored new towns and “subsistence homesteads.” I became nostalgic when rereading this page because it contains what must be the oldest paragraphs in the book—it’s a good thing MS Word has backwards compatibility! I started out writing a book about American population policies strictly speaking: those related to birth control, immigration, and, in this case, population relocation. But gradually the project morphed into a study of how economists and intellectuals and policymakers—from the colonial era to the 1970s—have thought about the relationship between America’s remarkable population growth and its economy. The book shows how the nation’s current widespread celebration of never-ending population growth is of very recent vintage, dating only from the conservative ascendancy of the 1970s.

Birthrates declined significantly during the 1930s Great Depression, and demographers erroneously predicted that America’s population was headed toward stabilization or even decline. The key idea in chapter 3, which contains page 99, is that disparate commentators welcomed the expected population stabilization. To date, historians have focused on “pronatalist” or pro–population growth arguments of the 1930s, especially famous British economist John Maynard Keynes’s view that population growth would bolster economic confidence and spur recovery. But many articulated what I call “Stable Population Keynesianism”—the idea that a stable population is not only harmless but in fact promotes economic growth and a more equitable society assuming that the state promotes mass consumption.

Page 99 itself is one of those pages that historians write reviewing other people’s work before they reveal their own findings. I describe some well-known desires behind New Deal population-relocation efforts: agricultural crisis and environmental exhaustion; “romantic esteem for the countryside”; the decentralization of industry from city centers to what we now call exurbs; and a desire to help target the worst regional pockets of poverty, for example in Appalachia. But this page also links to the central ideas of The State and the Stork by noting that that we should see resettlement programs as part of a campaign to manage and benefit from the expected end of zero population growth. Historians, I write on page 99, “overlook how New Deal population redistribution also reinforced the prevailing idea that the United States was already sufficiently populated as a whole. Relocation policy was Stable Population Keynesianism in practice.”
Learn more about the book and author at the official The State and the Stork website.

--Marshal Zeringue