My column in the Daily Beast: “Not Much Passes the 100-Year Test. Will Trump?”

In my time running SundayMagazine.org, it’s become increasingly apparent to me and my readers just how few of the most prominent people, places, and things from 100 years ago are still well remembered tgoday.

What does this insight reveal about who and what from this era might still be well remembered 100 years from now?

My prediction: despite how big the biggest people, places, and things seem to us at the moment, almost nothing and nobody lasts 100 years in the public’s consciousness.

Will Trump? Will Obama? Will 9/11? Will today’s technology? What about the biggest movies or songs?

I tackle these questions in my new opinion column for the Daily Beast: “Not Much Passes the 100-Year Test. Will Trump?”

https://www.thedailybeast.com/not-much-passes-the-100-year-test-will-trump

 

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Written by Jesse

June 4th, 2018 at 1:22 pm

Posted in Blog Stuff

Our Kill-Joy Autocracy

Prohibition’s ratification was but one piece of evidence revealing a larger trend: by 1921, wrote columnist Charles Hanson Towne, America was being run by “killjoys.”

There is one maddening phase of all this nonsense — a point that pricks a sensible citizen to the bone — and that is the fact that the minority who got together and did it to us are the type of folk whom we wouldn’t like to go out to dinner with in any circumstances; a pack of kill-joys who, even were they willing to absorb all the cocktails and champagne in the world, couldn’t by any stretch of the imagination be called “good fellows.”

While there’s no longer Prohibition, the same “killjoy” mentality could also be said of many of our most prominent politicians in the modern era. On the Democratic side, you have Hillary Clinton, who was parodied to a T with this fake op-ed in The Onion:

On the Republican side, Donald Trump refused to attend all three in-person White House Correspondent’s Dinners during his presidency, breaking a decades-long uninterrupted presidential tradition where the commander-in-chief was willing to endure all the jokes made about him. And as for whether Mitch McConnell is fun, I’ll let Barack Obama answer that:

 

Our Kill-Joy Autocracy (PDF)

Published: Sunday, April 3, 1921

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Written by Jesse

April 2nd, 2021 at 2:01 pm

Posted in Life

Mrs. Grundy On the Job of Reforming the Flapper

In 1921, a debate raged among people over a certain age: how to reverse this disturbing new trend of young “flapper” women?

In a general way the plans can be pigeonholed into two groups. There is the plan to chaperon [sic] the flappers on automobile rides and dances. And there is the diametrically opposed plan to develop in them self-government. Since the Young Things have got out into the great wicked world, argue the propagandists of the latter school, parents should put the responsibility up to the girls themselves to take care of themselves and keep up the old standards.

Apparently it went without saying at the time that the flappers were obviously “bad,” and the only debate to be had was not whether they were good or bad, but how to reform them.

Rhode Island’s Brown University — which since the late ’60s has earned a reputation for progressive politics, activism, and social attitudes — took quite the opposite approach in 1921.

One of the most amusing “plans” comes from Brown University. There the student editors of the student magazine have set out to “reform” the girls at their dances, by assuring them through the college press that the boys really prefer the girls who do not take to “petting.” One youth recounts in print his experience as he walked on the campus with the girl of his dreams. Just as he was reverently picturing her in the bridal veil, his emotions too holy even to touch her hand, his dreams were crudely dispelled by the lady’s announcing practically:

“Here, we’re wasting time in this moonlight.” Trembling with emotion, she ardently clutched his arm.

The editor sternly informs all flappers who henceforth shall attend Brown dances that men don’t like to have advances made — that men yearn for the old-fashioned reluctantly yielding type of female.

What actually caused the demise of flappers? The Great Depression. According to this Smithsonian Magazine article by Skidmore College professor of English Linda Simon, author of Lost Girls: The Invention of the Flapper, “Flappers receded from American life after the Great Depression pulled the plug on all the revelry.” So apparently there should have been a third idea at the debate in 1921: “chaperone the flappers,” “develop in them self-government,” and “destroy the global economy.”

 

Mrs. Grundy On the Job of Reforming the Flapper (PDF)

Published: Sunday, March 27, 1921

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Written by Jesse

March 24th, 2021 at 3:26 pm

Posted in Life

Should Women Choose Their Mates?

As women gained voting rights and more independence in 1921, a debate raged: should women choose their mates? Maude Radford Warren gathered several young men and women together to discuss the question for the New York Times Magazine.

This concept was so novel that first it had to be defined.

“Choosing,” said one of the men, “means that a girl meets a man, becomes friends with him, and then says, ‘By George,’ or words to that effect, ‘I’m going to marry that fellow.’ Then she goes after him. She invites him to call and to dine; provides him tickets to this and that entertainment, which she buys, but which she usually pretends were given her. When she sees him at other people’s houses she manages to be in the group with him. She can’t conceal that she’s after him, and unless he is an awful ass she doesn’t get him. If he is a vain fellow, being chased like that tickles his vanity, but mostly it makes him feel like a fool and ashamed of the girl.”

(When I’m dating, a woman using the phrase “By George” would be a dealbreaker.)

Men in 1921 weren’t having this whole “women choose” business.

“I wouldn’t mind,” said one youth, “if a girl showed she wanted to be friends with me, and went fully half the way in that. I’d really rather take that as a compliment. But after that if she overstepped the limits of comradeship one inch, and got into sentiment — goodnight nurse! She’d never see me again.”

Meanwhile, women weren’t having that.

It had been a manifest effort for Mr. 1921 to say this, and his listeners appreciated his contribution so fully that the slight sounds they emitted seemed more like gentle sighs than the gentle groans they really were.

And today? Any social stigma associated with women going after a man, especially among the younger Millennial and Gen Z generations, has largely faded. Still, old habits die hard: 79.4 percent of heterosexual first messages on Tinder are sent by men.

 

Should Women Choose Their Mates? (PDF)

Published: Sunday, March 20, 1921

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Written by Jesse

March 19th, 2021 at 1:13 pm

Posted in Debate,Life

Martin Van Buren’s Autobiography

Martin van Buren’s autobiography wasn’t published until 1920: 60 years after his death and 80 years after he was last president. That’s like if FDR’s or Herbert Hoover’s memoirs were only published now.

80 years ago in 1941, FDR was president. Excluding JFK, the president who died closest to 60 years ago (of natural causes) was Herbert Hoover in 1964.

Van Buren’s autobiography, with the captivating title The Autobiography of Martin Van Buren, is now in the public domain and available to read in full here:

https://archive.org/details/cu31924024892709

This New York Times Magazine review in March 1921 gave the book a stirring review:

The story of the fight over the United States Bank was never so clearly told, and in Van Buren’s hands it becomes a matter of absorbing interest. But that may be said of everything he writes.

It is a most remarkable book, a great autobiography despite its incompleteness. It covers an immense amount of ground, including the early days of Tammany Hall, and is embellished with the shrewdest and most thought-provoking commentaries on life and politics. He had a great reputation for common sense when he was alive, and his memoir proves that if anything it was underestimated.

You be the judge.

Here (and copied below) is the actual final paragraph of the book. To be fair, death stopped van Buren from writing further, so perhaps this should not be judged among the great endings in literary history. Still, if you can make it through this entire paragraph, you deserve a prize.

This charge which was also submitted to in silence, was not specifically applied to in silence, was not specifically applied to the $10,000 debt at the mother bank; but the extreme probability that such an occurrence could have happened at the Boston branch; and its being so much in harmony with the other transactions by which the advance of the ten or fifteen thousand dollars, obtained from Mr. Biddle at his country seat was characterized leaves scarcely a doubt that such was their meaning — and if so, and if the statements were well founded, we have here the explanation of Mr. Biddle’s persistent silence upon the subject. But be that as it may, one thing is, I fear, morally certain, if the notes and professed securities of the bank were reserved from the sale to the manufacturers of its archives by the ton, as waste paper, before referred to, have been preserved, and but a tithe of the reports of the heavy losses which that institution sustained from its loans to Mr. Webster, on straw securities, so prevalent at the time of its total failure, and then generally credited, be true, the note that was given for those ten or fifteen thousand dollars, or its representative, equally worthless, will be found amongst them. If so, and without the slightest personal knowledge upon the point, I feel as confident of the fact as I do of my existence, farther explorations of the dusty labyrinth of a defunct bank parlor, to trace the real character of the principal transaction, would seem to be superfluous, and the reader will decide whether, in such an event, farther speculations in regard to the political ethics or official purity of Daniel Webster would be equally useless.

 

Martin Van Buren’s Autobiography (PDF)

Published: Sunday, March 13, 1921

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Written by Jesse

March 11th, 2021 at 10:31 am

Posted in Books,History,Politics

Too Much “Verboten”

This 1921 column made an interesting case for why Prohibition should be ignored: because the constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to vote regardless of race was also being ignored.

Charles Hanson Towne wrote for the New York Times Magazine, describing his hypothetical monologue on the stand if he was arrested for drinking:

I know what I should do. I have my little speech all prepared in my mind against such a moment.

“Your Honor,” I would say, “I am a good American citizen. I love my country more than I love anything in this world. I wish to obey its laws even when they are as unintelligent as this one under which I have been brought before you. But I cannot; and I notice, your Honor, that I am not alone in my stupidity. How can I take seriously the Eighteenth Amendment to our Constitution, when the Fifteenth is not enforced? When that is attended to, I will begin to consider [sanity] of this amendment amendment which so flagrantly interferes with my personal liberty.”

The Eighteenth Amendment would be repealed in 1933. The Fifteenth Amendment would truly be nationally enforced starting in the mid-1960s.

 

Too Much ‘Verboten’ (PDF)

Published: Sunday, March 6, 1921

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Written by Jesse

March 5th, 2021 at 7:01 am

Posted in Life

Woodrow Wilson’s Administration: Eight Years of the World’s Greatest History

During Wilson’s last week as president, his reputation was already trending upward, due to blunders by President-elect Harding. As this March 1921 New York Times Magazine article noted:

The President’s unpopularity had been so violently expressed by the election of Nov. 2 that it was bound to be mitigated soon after, and this natural reaction was aided by the failure of the Republican Congress to accomplish anything in the short session and by President-elect Harding’s slowness in deciding among candidates offered for the Cabinet and policies put forward for his attention. As President Wilson prepared to turn over the executive duties to his successor there was already evidence that the American public was returning to a greater appreciation of his services.

Indeed, in C-SPAN’S 2017 survey of historians, Wilson ranked as America’s #11 president; Harding only ranked #40 of 43.

Wilson has certainly slipped a bit, from #6 in 2000, down to #9 in 2009, down again to #11 in 2017. If the survey is ever conducted again, he will almost certainly fall further from that #11 spot, given increasing criticisms of his views on race in recent years. Last year, for example, Princeton University renamed their Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Still, it’s impossible to imagine Wilson ever ranking in the bottom half of presidents. No matter how much historical revisionism drops his rank, he’s in no danger of ranking anywhere close to Harding, whose standing has shifted a few spots over the years but perpetually remained among the bottom five presidents all time.

 

Woodrow Wilson’s Administration: Eight Years of the World’s Greatest History (PDF)

Published: Sunday, February 27, 2021

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Written by Jesse

February 28th, 2021 at 10:31 am

Posted in History,Politics

How Germany Will Pay

This 1921 article questioned how Germany would ever pay off its World War I debts. The answer: very, very slowly. They only finished paying those debts in 2010.

Some day Germany will pay. How much and when are problems still to be decided. Cotinuance of divided councils among the Allies, more particularly within France, may defer the solutions for some time; but pay she will.

Part of the solution came from future Vice President Charles G. Dawes, who as a member of the Allied Reparations Commission in 1924 suggested a system whereby them U.S. would lend money to Germany, which in turn would pay back what they owed to the U.K. and France. The plan won Dawes the 1925 Nobel Prize.

Alas, the plan’s success proved short-lived. First, Germany suspended the payments in 1931 during the global Great Depression, although they’d only paid about one-eighth of what they owed at the time. Then, Hitler refused to continue the payments once in power. Germany split into East and West in 1949, and West Germany specifically agreed to resume World War I debt payments in 1953, paying off the principle during the 1980s. After Germany’s reunification in 1990, the country continued paying off the interest — not finishing until 2010.

Slow and steady wins the race.

 

How Germany Will Pay (PDF)

Published: Sunday, February 20, 1921

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Written by Jesse

February 21st, 2021 at 9:59 am

Americanization by Addition

When immigrants from certain more “expressive” European countries would move to America circa 1921, the prevailing culture of the U.S. forced them to bottle up their emotions.

In the old countries art was the outlet for emotions — not, as with us, a thing that you put in a frame or on a talking machine. When the peasant feels emotion he sings. He sings when he is glad and he sings when he suffers. He sings when he worships.

Who has ever heard the Italian or Hungarian or Pollack peasant sing at the top of his lungs as he walks past Macdougal Street? Probably, if he did, he would be arrested for “disorderly conduct.” In America we don’t do street singing unless we happen to be drunk.

But in Europe the history of the emotions and experiences of its peoples are written in its folk songs — a history that now is locked behind the lips of the newcomers.

Then again, other European nations can make the U.S. seem incredibly expressive by comparison.

 

Americanization by Addition (PDF)

Published: Sunday, February 13, 1921

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Written by Jesse

February 14th, 2021 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Life

Pocket Flask and Younger Set

By the second year of Prohibition, a generational divide had emerged: young people used hip flasks to consume alcohol, while older people mostly did not.

Something has really happened to cleave the Young Generation of today from the generations that have gone before it. Something specific has happened in the history of sociology to mark the two sides of 1920-21 as the Before and After Taking.

Once in a half century something does really happen that cleanly cleaves the past from the present — something that ushers in a new social era… It is so today, when the hip-pocket flask has got into mixed society.

New Jersey Gov. Edward I. Edwards, a teetotaler himself, noted that the rise of young people using hip flasks should have been an expected consequence of removing drinking out of the public eye.

“Those of us who opposed prohibition through no self-interested motives foresaw just this wild abandon that comes of bottling up the human inclinations. The openness of drinking was what protected it. With their elders and contemporaries sure to be looking on at any results of drinking, moderation was the natural, self-interested thing for the young.”

“They’ve merely succeeded in making a crime and a mystery of drinking. Instead of a responsible hostess serving young girls a glass of wine at her table, young girls are getting off to secret places to be served a surreptitious drink from some young man’s pocket.”

While the heyday of hip flasks is probably considered to have occurred decades ago in the U.S., market research company Transparency Market Research forecasts the product’s sales to increase internationally between now and 2027.

 

Pocket Flask and Younger Set (PDF)

Published: Sunday, February 6, 1921

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Written by Jesse

February 3rd, 2021 at 4:11 pm

Posted in Development,Life

Woman at the Ring Side

Boxing was illegalized in New York state in 1896, then legalized in 1911, then re-illegalized in 1917, then re-legalized for the final time in 1920. And this time, something was new: women were attending the matches.

Spurred on partly by the previous year’s ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women voting rights previously reserved for men, women also sought admission to a group previously nearly all-male: boxing spectators. As this 1921 article described:

Scattered through the audience are all grades of femininity — from the stout blond sportswoman who sits on the bleachers at the races and gets her “tips” from a friend that’s married to a jockey, to a box full of the best New York society… Boxing bouts have been taken up by all sorts of women — from Anne Morgan, who would turn their proceeds into the useful channels of war relief, to the two little shopgirls, powdering their noses at the Garden, who have been brought by their men friends to see the show.

Why were women taking to this sport above many other sports? The article suggests, with a more-than-patronizing subtext, that it was essentially because women would have a harder time understanding any of the other sports.

Women are at the fights to stay… because at a boxing bout no special education is required to understand what is going on, because what the contestants are trying to do to each other is so direct and simple. The uninitiatied lady asks no questions of her escort. That alone should be enough to give permanency to the new custom of taking her. The contestants so conveniently carry their goals with them that she can’t get mixed up about which side is winning. And, even if she does lose count, there are the simple remarks of her neighbors to save the day.

Imagine telling somebody in 1921 to forget about women merely watching boxing, but that women’s boxing itself would one day become an Olympic sport. While men’s boxing had been an event in the Games since 1904, women’s boxing was added in 2012.

 

Woman at the Ring Side (PDF)

Published: Sunday, January 30, 2021

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Written by Jesse

January 29th, 2021 at 4:38 pm

Posted in Sports

False Splendor of Past Inaugurals

Ah, the days before microphones. This 1921 article described how “not a dozen men have ever heard a Presidential inaugural address.” That same year, Warren Harding became the first president with loudspeakers at his inauguration.

The people around him do not hear him. The newspaper men have seats nearer than the other invited guests on the platform, but they catch only a detatched word or sentence here or there. Down at their feet, below the platform, they see men with their hands at their ears, straining to catch a word and then giving it up. Perhaps the Vice President and some of the foreign Ambassadors hear the speech, but nobody else does. Having attended every inauguration since and including that of McKinley, I feel sure of my ground in saying that not a dozen men have ever heard a Presidential inaugural address.

As opposed to today, when we can hear presidential inaugurations but often wish we hadn’t.

The 1921 article also noted that the vice president was inaugurated in the Senate chamber, not on the Capitol steps as occurs today. That changed in 1937, during the second inaugural of Franklin D. Roosevelt with Vice President John Nance Garner.

 

False Splendor of Past Inaugurals (PDF)

Published: Sunday, January 23, 1921

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Written by Jesse

January 24th, 2021 at 8:01 am

Posted in History,Politics

Our Japanese Question

In 1921, a Harvard government professor warned that “There has never been a time of such uneasy and hostile feeling between the two nations” of the U.S. and Japan. 20 years later came Pearl Harbor.

Albert Bushnell Hart noted that the animosity was a relatively recent development:

Can two countries be found with a longer record of international friendship? For half a century Japan has welcomed Americans, while the United States has been a land of pilgrimage for Japanese. The two countries have also been bound together by eight successive commercial treaties, and the United States in 1804 was the first nation to accept Japan as a full member of the family of nations.

The tension in 1921 primarily related to certain U.S. states’ restrictions on Japanese immigrants’ rights:

California by statute, and also by a recent referendum, has prohibited aliens who are not capable of becoming citizens (that is, in effect, Chinese and Japanese) from holding land directly or through forms of trust. Whether a State may legally thus discriminate between aliens is not yet settled by the courts, though there are precedents.

Here then is the case in a nutshell. The National Government prohibits Chinese immigration but not Japanese. It restricts Japanese immigration by a roundabout and makeshift method which allows thousands to sift through. The Pacific States are powerless to shut these people out, but are alarmed at their acquirement of lands, as an evidence of intention to form a permanent settlement. The Japanese Government dislikes any restriction, and formally protests against treatment of Japanese which is not precisely the same as that of other immigrants.

The issue wouldn’t be resolved legally for 27 years, until 1948’s case Oyama v. California — and even then, it would only be partially resolved.

Kajiro Oyama, a Japanese citizen living in the U.S., became de facto owner of California land which had technically been purchased in the name of his six-year-old son Fred, a U.S. citizen through birthright citizenship. The California Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the state’s law, declaring Oyama’s purchase an illegal evasive maneuver intended to circumvent the state’s ban on Japanese immigrants owning land. The Harry Truman administration disagreed and appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled 6-3 in Oyama’s favor, finding that California’s law indeed violated the 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause rights of six-year-old Fred, an American citizen.

However, there was a catch. The Court’s stances on issues related to the Japanese back then was firmly rooted in an antagonist World War II-era sentiment. Four years earlier, in 1944, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Japanese internment in Korematsu v. U.S., which the Court didn’t formally overrule until 2018. So in a sly bit of legal maneuvering, while the Court ruled in Oyama’s favor for this specific case, they declined to actually invalidate or overturn California’s law outright. That wouldn’t occur until the California Supreme Court — which, keep in mind, had found against Oyama back in 1946 — reversed itself and declared the state law unconstitutional in a subsequent unrelated 1952 case. The California government itself formally repealed the law in 1956.

On a federal level, it wasn’t until Congress enacted 1952’s McCarran-Walter Act that Japanese immigrants were allowed to become U.S. citizens. The law also simultaneously upheld America’s quotas for immigration based on nation of origin, which weren’t discontinued until the Immigration Act of 1965.

To be fair, while all this did contribute to escalating tensions between the U.S. and Japan, none of this directly caused the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbor. Instead, the preemptive assault on a major U.S. naval base intended to hobble America’s potential deterrance capabilities in the Pacific, paving the way for Japan to carry out its planned aggressions against Pacific territories of the United Kingdom and Netherlands.

Still, these other tensions probably didn’t help matters. You don’t go to war against your friends.

 

Our Japanese Question (PDF)

Published: Sunday, January 16, 1921

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Written by Jesse

January 17th, 2021 at 11:06 am

The Gentle Art of Newspaper Humor

A 1920 book by humor columnist C.L. Edson provided advice for the aspiring humor columnist. His biggest advice dealt with when — and when not — to make puns.

Mr. Edson has here laid down a code for the columnist, the first law in which reads: “Do not write Paragraphs with Puns on Names.” He gives as Horrible Examples: “The Russians are rushin’ the Finnish, who can see their finish” and “Austria is Hungary for a piece of Turkey.” Then he tells us that “this is the lowest depth to which humor could descend.” And certainly these Examples are truly Horrible.

Yet there are always exceptions to the rule.

A little later, Mr. Edson admits an exception to his rule — punning is permissible when it is not on a proper name and when at the same time it has what Mr. Edson terms a “news-slant,” that is when it possesses what Augustine Daly used to call “contemporaneous human interest,” when it is absolutely timely, not only up to date, but up to the very last minute. He cites as an instance of this legitimate use of what has been contemptuously called the “lowest form of wit,” this paragraph by Mr. Franklin P. Adams: “Homer Aids Boston to Conquer Giants. – TIMES headline. Yet the universities are abolishing Greek.”

Hopefully Edson would have approved of my timely pun routine in early 2019, punning on the then-current flood of Democratic presidential candidates entering the race.

 

The Gentle Art of Newspaper Humor (PDF)

Published: Sunday, January 9, 1921

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Written by Jesse

January 7th, 2021 at 5:13 pm

Posted in Humor

New Forest Chief on Saving Our Forests

In 1921, the U.S. Forest Service director said he wanted to protect America’s forests. He succeeded.

The 1920s were the first decade in American history where total forest acres increased (slightly). The number has remained roughly steady ever since.

This graph from ThoughtCo., using data from the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) Program, tells the tale.

In this 1921 interview, William B. Greeley warned that forests shouldn’t be depleted, because demand for wood and lumber would still remain. If anything, given population growth, it would likely increase.

“This use cannot be appreciably reduced without serious injury to our agriculture, home building and manufacturing. We cannot cut per capita consumption — amounting to about 300 board feet yearly — to the level of European countries, where lumber is a luxury, if our resources are to be developed and our industrial supremacy maintained.”

The current chief of the U.S. Forest Service is Vicki Christiansen. Today the service is best known for their mascot Smokey Bear and the iconic slogan “Only you can prevent wildfires!” (Before 2001, “Only you can prevent forest fires.”)

 

New Forest Chief on Saving Our Forests (PDF)

Published: Sunday, January 2, 1921

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Written by Jesse

January 2nd, 2021 at 12:23 pm

Posted in Nature,Politics

The Low Cost of Living

American cost of living peaked in June 1920, then declined for 12 consecutive months. It wouldn’t surpass its June 1920 peak for more than a quarter century, until November 1946 in the wake of the post-WWII economic boom.

In December 1920, this deflation was leading to such anecdotes as this one, relayed in the New York Times:

There is her mink coat, for which she paid $4,000 only a year ago. The furrier was haughty then when she had mildly asked whether that price wasn’t a bit elevated and had almost refused to wait on her. He had practically accused her of ingratitude in not realizing that he was doing her a favor to let her buy the garment at all, and she had really feared he was going to take her name off his books. Now she had seen the absolute duplicate at $2,400 and the salesman had showed a willingness to bargain at that! Could any woman be expected to keep her disposition after such experience?

In theory, the more money that circulates in an economic system, the less each individual dollar would be worth — leading to inflation. So when tons of money is pumped into the economy, inflation should skyrocket. Yet despite the $2.2 trillion CARES Act enacted in March and last Sunday’s $900 billion stimulus package pumping absurd amounts of money into the economy, the inflation rate throughout 2020 has actually remained stunningly low. In November, the year-over-year inflation rate was only 1.17%, which is actually lower than at almost any other point during the past three years.

Current Inflation Chart

Copyright: Tim McMahon, InflationData.com

 

The Low Cost of Living (PDF)

Published: Sunday, December 26, 2020

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Written by Jesse

December 22nd, 2020 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Economy / Finance

The Rising Tide of Immigration

World War I had significantly reduced U.S. immigration. But by 1920, “they are pouring in as they have not done since 1914,” an article that year wrote. “For America is not merely the land of freedom now. It is the land of peace.”

“As it is, nearly thirty thousand immigrants are being handled at Ellis Island every week. More are coming through the gates in one month now than during the entire war period… And it is only the beginning. Were it not for the lack of shipping accommodations, ten million foreigners would be battering at our doors.”

As it always does, price correlated with demand, as U.S. Commissioner of Immigration Frederick A. Wallis was quoted explaining.

“Before the war a steerage passage could be had for $25. During the war it was possible to cross for $10. Now the rate from Hamburg to New York ranges from $120 to $160, and, in addition, there is a head tax of $18. This is a considerable sum for the European peasant.”

Immigration numbers might have been up for the year 1920 specifically. But over the course of the entire 1920s decade, immigration actually declined relative to the 1910s, though the numbers were still the highest they would be until the 1980s.

 

The Rising Tide of Immigration (PDF)

Published: Sunday, December 19, 1920

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Written by Jesse

December 15th, 2020 at 1:28 pm

Posted in Development

The Downtrodden Sex

In 1920, the year women were given the right to vote, this column argued it was unfair that women now had equal voting rights as men without the same potential military draft obligations.

In this the newly enfranchised female citizen enjoyed a distinct advantage over the male. The latter must with his citizenship assume military and other burdens, while his sister is called upon to assume no unpleasant and dangerous duties as compensation to the State for the advantages that citizenship undoubtedly confers. To that extent citizenship to women is all gain and no loss.

Whether men were then — or are now — “the downtrodden sex” (to use the 1920 column’s title) can be debated. But those aforementioned facts remain the same. All U.S. men, but not women, are required to register for the Selective Service upon turning 18. I remember doing so myself, my senior year of high school. The stated rationale was always that men could serve in combat roles while women were legally barred, but in 2015 the Defense Department opened all combat roles to women. Yet the military draft rules remained unchanged.

A federal district court struck down the male-only draft as unconstitutional in February 2019, but the policy hasn’t actually ceased because the Selective Service says it can’t change absent congressional legislation. In March 2020, the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service — a bipartisan advisory group created by Congress in 2016 to advise the legislative branch on military matters — officially recommended that Congress add women to the draft. The commission’s recommendation was put on the backburner, though, as the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown occurred the very next week.

The real news this month about a national military draft law comes not from the U.S., but South Korea. The country requires 20 months of military conscription for all men between ages 18 and 28, but 28-year-old Jin from the boy band BTS was granted a two-year extension until age 30. Nice work if you can get it.

Other laws cited by the 1920 article as more burdensome to men have since ended. For example, the column mentioned that many states only allowed men to be called for jury duty. By 1968, all states allowed women to be called for jury duty as well, when Mississippi became the last state to do so.

 

The Downtrodden Sex (PDF)

Published: Sunday, December 12, 1920

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Written by Jesse

December 9th, 2020 at 10:01 am

Posted in Life

Turning Tide in the Domestic Servant Market

In 1920, New York City “domestic servants” like cooks and houseworkers cost $65 or $75 a month, down from $80 or $90 a year prior. Why? Workforce supply was catching up with customer demand, due to immigration and women losing factory jobs they’d temporarily held during World War I.

For the New York housekeepers, it would seem, are on strike. They have not exactly got together in a closed shop or yet engaged walking delegates, as is the way with our best unions, but somehow a great many of them have decided that the “flood of immigration” is bringing them over Olgas and Gretchens at the dear old $35-a-month-figure, if not $25 — and that, therefore, Delia and Agnes can go hang or come down.

Interesting that Gretchen was used as shorthand for an immigrant’s name in 1920; I know a Gretchen now, and she’s American-born.

The article also featured this antiquated minstrel-style quote from a housekeeper responding to an employment request from a woman with two children.

“Oh, thank de Lord!” breathed the respectable-looking negro woman who had stopped me on the street just outside the door of another agency. “Honey,” she said, “I jes’ naterly can’t stand no house without its got chillen runnin’ ’round ‘yellin.’ ‘Aunty, ain’t them cookies done?’ Sure, I been cookin’ cookies ‘fore you born. Yes’m, I’ll work for $12 a week. It ain’t what I been gittin,’ but I wants a good home for Winter.”

Different times.

 

Turning Tide in the Domestic Servant Market (PDF)

Published: Sunday, December 5, 1920

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Written by Jesse

December 2nd, 2020 at 11:58 am

Posted in Life

Hagenbeck’s Closes Its Doors

During WWI, so many animals starved to death at Germany’s famous zoo Hagenbeck’s that the park was forced to close in 1920. Fortunately, it reopened two years later and remains an attraction to this day.

In 1907, Hagenbeck’s originated and pioneered the concept of the open-air zoo, with animals separated from human visitors by moats, rather than trapped in cages, so as to more realistically mimic their natural environment. By 1920, the spectre of potentially permanent closure was all too real:

After seeing scores of its most valuable animals perish of hunger because Germany’s drastic wartime food regulations precluded their getting enough to eat, after losing scores of others because lack of coal caused them to freeze to death, the Hagenbeck firm has given up, for the time being at least, the struggle to keep in business. And, in view of the fact that Germany’s loss of colonies and merchant marine makes it difficult for the firm to meet competition from other countries, there is a possibility that Stellingen may remain closed permanently and the name of Hagenbeck, for years renowned throughout the universe, become only a memory.

As Mark Twain once said, “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” Tierpark Hagenbeck closed for only two years, then reopened in 1922. While the original site was bombed in 1943 during World War II, it was rebuilt and operates to this day, still run by the Hagenbeck family. (Although, in a 1956 incident, 45 monkeys escaped.)

 

Hagenbeck’s Closes Its Doors (PDF)

Published: Sunday, November 28, 1920

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Written by Jesse

November 24th, 2020 at 3:20 pm

Posted in Animals,Business

The Pent-Up German Flood

Not long after Germany lost World War I, a 1920 article predicted a coming surge of German immigrants to the U.S. While German immigration did increase that decade, it still fell well short of the numbers from a few decades prior.

German immigration peaked at more than 1.4 million during the 1880s, plummeting to less than 200 thousand during the 1910s as the U.S. fought Germany during World War I. It increased again during the 1920s, approximately doubling to just under 400 thousand, though that was still a fraction of its prior peak.

Source: Immigration to United States, based on statistics from the Department of Homeland Security.

As the 1920 New York Times Sunday Magazine article predicted:

In all classes there is evident a mighty urge to flee from the burdens pressing upon the losers in the World War. Emigration is today the one beacon of hope for thousands of Germans, who are convinced that they can no longer find in Germany the possibility of a satisfactory livelihood.

All hindrances and hardships are disregarded. Anything to get away, to put the Fatherland behind them. The value of the mark, making what once would have been regarded as a fortune a beggarly sum in most of the markets of the world, does not hold them back. Neither do difficulties of travel, the multiplication of frontiers — with endless harassments at each — the lack of facilities, due to restricted means of transportation, the perils of ventures into the unknown — not even the uncertainties of their reception into the known state of hostility to Germans existing in a large part of the world.

German immigration to the U.S. has actually been at its lowest recorded numbers in the past few decades, likely owing to most Germans not wanting to escape, as their country has been at peace with the largest economy among European Union members.

 

The Pent-Up German Flood (PDF)

Published: Sunday, November 21, 1920

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Written by Jesse

November 18th, 2020 at 3:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized