This dazzling work in economic fiction is the third of Garet Garrett's novel trilogy, written and first published in 1924. Like the others, Satan's Bushel is a splendid book, not just from the point of view of economics but also as a piece of literature.
What is Satan's Bushel? It is the last bushel that the farmer puts on the market that ""breaks the price"" – that is reduces it to the point that wheat farming is no longer profitable. The puzzle that afflicts the wheat farmers is that they sell their goods when the price is low and have no goods to sell when the price is high. Withholding goods from the market is one answer but why should any farmer do that?
What is the answer to this problem? Working from this premise, then, as implausible as it may sound, but the central figure in this book is the price of wheat. It is the main source of drama. The settings are the wheat pit at the Chicago exchange (circa. 1915) and the Kansas wheat fields. Linking those two radically different universes is the mission of this book.
The action further explores the meaning, morality, and utility of wheat speculation. The plot is centered at the turn of the 20th century, a critical period when the agricultural economy was completely giving way to the fully industrialized one, and farmers were panicked about the alleged problem of falling prices. The allegory might equally apply to the computer industry today, so there is nothing lost in the passage of time.
It tells the story of one man's discovery of a brilliant speculator and his relationship with an old and legendary farmer/mystic and his daughter. The mystic embodies both the highest wisdom and the greatest economic fallacies of the day. The question that must be confronted is how to make farms profitable in times of falling prices, and the novel shows that speculation, even with all its human foibles, makes a contribution to stabilizing the market.
"No rule of probability contains him. To say that he acts upon impulse, without reflection, in a headlong manner, is true only so far as it goes. Many people have that weakness. With him it is not a weakness. It is a principle of conduct. The impulse in his case is not ungovernable. It does not possess him and overthrow his judgment. It is the other way around. He takes possession of the impulse, mounting it as it were the enchanted steed of the Arabian Nights, and rides it to its kingdom of consequences. What lies at the end is always a surprise; if it is something he doesn't care for, no matter. Another steed is waiting. Meaning to do this, living for it, he has no baggage. There is nothing behind him. If he has wealth it is portable. He is at any moment ready."
Garet Garrett (1878–1954), born Edward Peter Garrett, was an American journalist and author who was noted for his criticisms of the New Deal and U.S. involvement in the Second World War.
In 1911, he wrote a fairly successful book, Where the Money Grows and Anatomy of the Bubble. In 1916, at the age of 38, Garrett became the executive editor of the New York Tribune, after having worked as a financial writer for The New York Times, the Saturday Evening Post, and The Wall Street Journal. From 1920 to 1933, his primary focus was on writing books.
Between 1920 and 1932 Garrett wrote eight books, including The American Omen in 1928 and A Bubble That Broke the World in 1932.
In 1953, Garrett published The People's Pottage (later republished as The Burden of Empire and more recently as Ex America: the 50th Anniversary of the People's Pottage), which consisted of 3 essays: "The Revolution Was", "Ex America" and "The Rise of Empire"). Through these works, he questioned the aftermath of the Roosevelt administration and its impact on American society. In these works, he coined a phrase for a revolutionary methodology used by conservative thinking to understand the transformation of the old culture/regime: "revolution within the form."