WASHINGTON, October 1, 2017 — Three years into President Reagan’s economic recovery, the Gipper had lowered the top marginal tax rate from 70 to 28 percent, cut inflation by half, and created almost 20 million new jobs. Americans saw their stocks, bonds and real estate holdings increase in value by $5 trillion.
From 1984 to 1989, the poverty rate dropped by one-sixth.
But one sector of the economy didn’t fair all that well: farming.
In 1940, one farmer could feed fifteen families. By 1960, that number increased to 65. Technology helped expand farm productivity to new heights, which inspired a substantial number of farmers to leverage their existing land to buy more acres for crop expansion.
But in the 1970s, OPEC drove up energy prices, increasing the cost of farming, eventually forcing many farmers into bankruptcy and their farms into foreclosure.
The farm crisis became a cause célèbre for the anti-Reagan left, with Hollywood producing such films as 1985’s “The River,” starring Mel Gibson and Sissy Spacek as a desperate farm couple battling rising storm waters and evil agri-conglomerates anxious to seize fertile farm land through bank foreclosures.
In September, 1985, in an effort to help American farmers, 52-year-old country singer Willie Nelson and friends performed at the first FarmAid benefit concert in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania.
Economic basket cases come in many forms: farms, businesses, industries, and even U.S. states, territories and possessions. Puerto Rico, already an economic basket case, was devastated by Hurricane Maria, a powerful storm that scoured the island.
Maria destroyed Puerto Rico’s entire electrical grid, along with most of the island’s roads. Like its Caribbean neighbor Haiti, which suffered a devastating earthquake in 2010, it’s possible that Puerto Rico will never fully recover.
Manufacturing once flourished in this American Commonwealth thanks to generous tax breaks. But these government subsidies ended in 2006, plunging Puerto Rico into an economic depression which was exacerbated by irresponsible government borrowing.
According to the website “If It Were My Home,” which compares conditions in countries around the world to those in America, if you lived in Puerto Rico you would be 2.2 times more likely to be unemployed. In addition, infant mortality is 25.28 percent higher, you would be seven times more likely to be murdered, and your income would be 69 percent less.
This was before Puerto Rico entered the equivalent of bankruptcy procedures and was subsequently overwhelmed by a heartless Mother Nature.
“People are drinking out of creeks here in San Juan,” complained Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz to CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “You have people in buildings and they’re becoming caged in their own buildings; old people, retired people that don’t have any electricity … If anyone can hear us; if Mr. Trump can hear us, let’s just get it over with and get the ball rolling.”
Like Willie Nelson’s endless “rolling” FarmAid concerts, it’s likely federal agencies will be pouring your tax dollars into the bottomless pit that is basket-case Puerto Rico three decades from today. And beyond.