The welfare state
The United State is the world's greatest economic power in terms of*both Gross National Product and per capita GNP, with its exports accounting for more than 10 % of all world trade.
Although the importance of industrial production is falling and that of services growing (as in most of Western Europe), the United States remains the world's greatest maker of industrial goods and around 20 million Americans are still employed in manufacturing.
The industrial heart of the nation is the Midwest around the Great Lakes, especially in the region stretching from southern Michigan through Northern Ohio and into the Pittsburgh area of Pennsylvania.
Another important industrial region is the Northeast, which is the home of the major computer manufacturers. Service industries are also very important in this region and New York is the country's banking and insurance capital.
The nation's fastest growing region, however, is the Southeast, where the chemical industry and high-technology industries are now catching up with the traditional textile industry as many firms exploit the warm climate and low labor costs.
47 per cent of the land area of the United States is farmland, of which 152 million hectares are harvested cropland and 560 million hectares are permanent pasture land. And yet, only 6.2 million people live on the Nation's farms and today farmers make up a little more than 2 per cent of the American population.
The Midwest is the most important agricultural region in the United States (though California is the number one state in terms of the value of its agricultural products) and alone produces almost twice as much as the American people can consume. Corn and wheat are the main crops here, and livestock and dairy farming are also carried out on a large scale.
Although the South is still important for traditional crops, such as tobacco, corn and. cotton, there is now far greater variety, while Texas is the nation's leading producer of cattle, sheep, cotton and rice.
The West is important for cattle and wheat farming in the Great Plains area, and for fruit in the fertile valleys of the States that border the Pacific.
The American farmer's success is one of the less publicized wonders of the 20th century. By the mid-1970s a single farmer could grow enough food to feed himself, 45 other Americans, and 8 foreigners. Agriculture is one of the biggest and most basic productive enterprises. It feeds the Nation and supplies raw materials to most industries. In a single year farmers in the United States grow crops valued at some $25 billion.
The ever intensifying production has exacted its price. In an attempt to stabilize farm income, the US Government has paid farmers billions of dollars in the past decade. Spokesmen for the consumers have charged farmers and the food-processing industry with sacrificing nutrition and taste in their efforts to mass-produce meat, poultry, fruit, vegetables, and grain products.
Much of the machinery on US farms is automated, computers determine what cows eat. Such technology costs money. In 1940 American farmers invested about $52 billion in land, livestock, buildings, and equipment. By the 1990s the amount had climbed to more than $400 billion, even though farms had dropped in number from 6 million to fewer than 3 million. Many people had to sell their small family farms because they could not find the necessary capital to run them. Nevertheless, about 95 percent of US farms are still family owned, although nowadays they tend to be large and are often incorporated. Meanwhile, true corporation farms, supervised by boards of directors and professional managers, are increasing in number.
Intensive farming methods are being implemented everywhere, farmers are experimenting with new crops. This is necessary if the US population, expected to grow in the next century, is to be fed. It is anticipated that the number of American farms will be cut in half, to about 1.5 million, while the amount of cultivated land will remain about the same. Farm output, however, will probably double.
Some agriculturists envision a future where weather will be made to order, robots will operate the farm machinery, millions of identical cattle will be produced as clones from a single superior "parent", and crops will grow lush and green under a pollution-free sky. It is a fairy tale, but the truth is that the amazing productivity of American farmers has ensured that much of the world will have enough to eat for the next 20 or 30 years.