American Consequences - May 2020

A Step Back From Crisis

It also shows the virtues of capitalism. By providing a reward to risk-takers, land that would have been abandoned was coaxed into becoming a productive asset. When we look at the markets today, lots of people are eager to buy discarded assets that can create generational wealth over time. We’d like to say, “Yes, today is the moment”... But the reality is, we have to be cautious. And we need to follow a different part of Alexandra’s story. Just like Cather’s heroine interviewed the successful farmers along the river to understand her options, we need to carefully study the crisis before us and understand the moment we’re in...

Even if it has been a few years since you sat in a high school English class, you might recognize Alexandra Bergson’s story. She’s the heroine of Willa Cather’s 1913 novel O Pioneers! Her story is in many ways the quintessential American dream... The notion that with some insight, hard work, and the courage to act at the right time, you, too, can build generational wealth. As Alexandra tells her brothers when pushing them to expand their holdings... The thing to do is to sell our cattle and what little old corn we have and buy the Linstrum place. Then the next thing to do is to take out two loans on our half- sections, and buy Peter Crow’s place; raise every dollar we can, and buy every acre we can... As sure as we are sitting here tonight, we can sit down here 10 years from now independent landowners, not struggling farmers any longer. The chance that father was always looking for has come.


Perhaps it’s a good thing that Willa Cather never wrote a sequel to O Pioneers! ... because the early 20th century was hard on the farmers who had settled there a generation earlier.


May 2020

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