Asset Building Financial Inclusion Working Paper

Mutual Wealth in Rural America

This essay contends that mutual wealth in rural America, particularly related to the use of land and other natural resources, has undergone three major paradigm shifts in the last 500 years, and may be at the threshold of a fourth. First, from the early 1500s to about 1800, European diseases and conquest destroyed the elaborate management systems for agriculture, forests, game, and other natural resources developed by North American Indians. Second, from the early 1500s to the early 1900s, European and white American settlers, induced by offers of land, repopulated the continent primarily with small and medium-sized farms and ranches. Third, beginning in the late 1800s, farmers revolted against low prices and high costs of production. a consequence of this revolt was the emergence of the rural cooperative movement in the United States, but a continuation of fragmented rural landownership. Fourth, largely as a result of increased productivity, the size of the farm population in the United States dropped dramatically in the 20th century. Especially in the past quarter century, there has been an emerging trend to manage land and other natural resources for the long-term. The essay concludes by noting the similarities and differences between the pre-colonial land ethic and the emerging one; and by identifying several public and private trends that are contributing to the current paradigm shift.

Project: State Assets Policy Project


Nadeau, E. G.,  & Howard, E. (2005). Mutual wealth in rural America (CSD Working Paper No. 05-46).  St. Louis, MO: Washington University, Center for Social Development.