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Abstract

This article is intended as a synopsis of the purpose and efficiency of the Tennessee Valley Authority. The stance is taken that the TVA has had an overall positive effect upon the United States and has performed its job well. The information is largely common knowledge and is not quoted directly from any particular source, so a Works Cited page has not been added. Much of the information is based upon Kennedy, David M. and Cohen, Lizabeth. “The American Pageant”.

The Tennessee Valley Authority: A Second Look

Controversial yet indestructible, the Tennessee Valley Authority, brought into existence in 1933 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, has wrought unmistakable changes in the infrastructure of the United States. One of the only entities of the pre-WW2 era that still remains today, the Tennessee Valley Authority is today’s largest and most powerful public power company. The TVA owns dams, fossil fuel plants, nuclear power plants, combustion turbines, wind turbines, and solar panels, serving over nine million customers in the Tennessee Valley area alone, besides those it serves indirectly through other companies throughout the country. While some have charged that the TVA was a wasteful use of government resources and unnecessarily expanded government, these claims are blown aside in context of the tremendous benefits the TVA has wrought in America since the 1930s.

The most remarkable and lasting benefit of the Tennessee Valley Authority is the public ownership of utilities such as electricity, sewage, and water. Before the TVA Act, utilities were owned privately, which resulted in conflicts of interests between competing corporations; there were also imbalances of cost for utilities. Because they naturally existed for profit, almost no private sector providers had the incentive, time, or capital to fundamentally reconstruct the infrastructure of utilities. In other words, the providers enjoyed their own regional, private ownership of utilities and did not bother uniting the utilities so all those who used them could benefit equally. Consequently, some parts of the country had easy-to-pay utility rates and an abundance of utilities, while other parts lacked utilities entirely. As is to be expected with any significant policy change, there were some who spoke out against this supposed “communism” of resources. Eventually, however, the overwhelming practical benefits stopped the criticism.

Another benefit of the Tennessee Valley Authority which continues to this day is the fundamental reconstruction of the Tennessee Valley itself. In the 1930s, before and after the Great Depression, the Tennessee Valley resembled the Oklahoma Dust Bowl. Erosion was rampant from years of overfarming by poor, desperate farmers. Trees were nowhere to be found, and as a result, wind conditions were extreme. Any spare water was carried off, or simply did not remain in the ground. The TVA applied science and agriculture to help the local farmers. It taught them how to cycle crops to keep the soil healthy, plant trees to hold back the soil, and use newly-developed fertilizers to stimulate plant growth. As a final cherry on the pie, the TVA invested hundreds of thousands of dollars modernizing the area with electricity, dams, and generators.

A little-considered but nevertheless vital benefit of the Tennessee Valley Authority was the role it played in the Great Depression and in World War II. While no particular factor alone pulled America through the Depression, the TVA certainly aided a great deal. By modernizing agriculture and utility usage, the TVA helped farmers who were struggling with the horrible conditions in the Tennessee Valley to cope with the Depression and laid the foundations for America’s future agricultural strength. As did the entire country, the TVA multi-tasked during WWII, adding the manufacture of aluminum and other raw materials to its task list. From an economic perspective, it was undoubtedly America’s industrial power which helped it win WWII. The TVA, with its size, resources, and influence, certainly contributed greatly to the war effort. Without the TVA, America certainly would not have recovered as quickly from the Great Depression and might not have even won WWII as easily as it did. While this is still just speculation, the fact remains that the TVA had a profound influence upon America’s affairs in the earlier half of the twentieth century.

In numerous ways, the Tennessee Valley Authority contributed lasting benefits to the United States during the twentieth century. For one thing, it revolutionized and modernized American usage of utilities, creating industrial infrastructure which lasts to this present day. Additionally, the TVA transformed the Tennessee Valley itself into a thriving and flourishing agricultural region. Finally, the Tennessee Valley Authority contributed greatly to the recovery from the Great Depression and the war effort in WWII, helping to give us the prosperity and international status we enjoy today. It may have been controversial, and it certainly could have been better, but the Tennessee Valley Authority was and is a major force for good in the United States.

Politics History United States


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