Most of the people in the world are poor, so if we knew the economics of being poor, we would know much of the economics that really matters. Most of the world's poor people earn their living from agriculture, so if we knew the economics of agriculture, we would know much of the economics of being poor.
People who are rich find it hard to understand the behavior of poor people. Economists are no exception, for they, too, find it difficult to comprehend the preferences and scarcity constraints that determine the choices that poor people make.
My professional apprenticeship at Iowa State College from 1930 to 1943 could not have been better; the Great Depression made it so, and the talented younger economists at Ames during that period made it an exciting and profitable intellectual experience.
The adverse economic events following the First World War turned me toward economics.
My schooling was disrupted by the shortage of labor during World War I. It meant foregoing high school. Then, late in 1921, I entered upon a short course in agriculture at South Dakota State College. I managed to enter college in 1924, and I was permitted to complete my college work in three years.
In general, I avoided giving lectures or attaching myself while abroad to a university. To learn what I wanted to know, I went instead to rural communities and onto actual farms. Talk with university people, government officials and U.S. personnel stationed in the country was much less rewarding for me.
Farmers the world over, in dealing with costs, returns and risks, are calculating economic agents. Within their small, individual, allocative domain, they are fine-tuning entrepreneurs, tuning so subtly that many experts fail to recognize how efficient they are.
What many economists fail to understand is that poor people are no less concerned about improving their lot and that of their children than rich people are.