PARALLEL LIVES….I’m currently reading a biography of Henry Wallace, the New Deal acolyte who ran for president in 1948 on the short-lived Progressive Party ticket. Earlier in his career he was editor of a popular farm journal and Secretary of Agriculture for FDR.
Farming, which had been in crisis in America throughout the 1920s, became catastrophic during the Depression, and as Secretary of Agriculture Wallace was convinced that the only way to solve the crisis was to reduce output so that prices would rise. To do this, he implemented a (then radical) plan to pay farmers to take acreage out of production.
However, he was also a corn researcher (sort of a corn obsessive, actually), and was the original promoter of hybrid corn, an invention that boosted corn yields from 24 bushels per acre to 31 bushels per acre and eventually to over 100 bushels per acre. Hybrid corn was a wild success, and by 1999 the company that Wallace founded was purchased by DuPont for nearly $10 billion.
So Wallace the politician was dedicated to cutting farm output, while Wallace the businessman was dedicated to increasing yields. As the book finally notes on page 150, “He recognized the paradox. But he could never resolve it.”
It’s an interesting example of the way that we all compartmentalize our lives.