Archive for March, 2020

Priming the Feminine Voter for the Primaries

1920’s primaries were the first where women could vote in New York state. Henrietta Wells Livermore, Chair of New York’s Republican Women’s State Executive Committee in 1920, insisted it was vital that women vote, or else men may regret allowing suffrage at all:

According to the opinion of old-time politicians, it is only about 15 per cent of the men who turn out at the primaries. The women do not dare duplicate this figure. They will be accused of lack of interest, of playing with the vote as with a toy, of having the time but not the inclination to use that power over which they have fought for so long.

That number has about doubled a century later, with 28.5% of eligible voters voting in either a Republican or Democratic presidential primary in 2016. That represented the second-highest percentage since 1980, though a bit short of the modern record 30.4% in 2008.

 

The change was likely caused because primaries in 1920 generally didn’t “count” like they do now. Most states didn’t even have primaries — Oregon became the first in 1910 — and candidates were still ultimately decided at national conventions anyway.

Take four years later, in 1924. The Democratic primaries were won strongly by William McAdoo, while party leader wanted Al Smith. As a result, the convention took 99 ballots to nominate the compromise candidate John W. Davis, who few truly wanted as their first choice. Davis only won 25.6% of the Electoral College and 28.8% of the popular vote, losing decisively to Calvin Coolidge.

 

Priming the Feminine Voter for the Primaries: Political and Non-Partisan Organizations Establish Correspondence Kindergartens to Teach the A B C of the Ballot — Magistrate Norris Sees Opportunity Which the Male Contingent Has Neglected (PDF)

Published: Sunday, April 4, 1920

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Written by Jesse

March 30th, 2020 at 3:01 pm

Posted in Politics

Project to Make Great Lakes Another Mediterranean

Should the five Great Lakes be connected for transportation and navigation, like the Panama Canal? In 1920, it was being seriously debated.

Pro: the economics.

New exports would be developed. Our export of coal is in its infancy. The United States is said to have half of the world’s coal. It will be called for by the world more and more. But there is no way to get to the seaboard economically from the great producing centres. More than any other product it clogs up the railroads. With a water route open from the lakes to the ocean, our export of coal would grow by leaps and bounds.

Con: also the economics.

According to them, the… project would waste money and help cripple United States commerce. In support of the first objection they assert that the New York Barge Canal, which already exists, is the only economic and feasible method of transporting cargoes from the lake ports to the Atlantic seaboard. No matter how deep or how wide the new waterway is made, they insist that no ship will find it a sound business venture to potter through the innumerable locks and narrow waterways. The greatest speed a lake or ocean steam could make through this waterway would be four miles an hour. The expense entailed, it is asserted, would be too stupendous to make the trip pay.

Although the Great Lakes were connected naturally, it was often too shallow or difficult for ships to actually navigate in practice. Today, the Great Lakes Waterway (GLW) has now accomplished that goal. The Welland Canal, connecting Lakes Erie and Ontario, was completed in 1932. The Soo Locks, connecting Lakes Superior and Huron, was fully completed in 1943.

 

Project to Make Great Lakes Another Mediterranean: Western States Favor Plan, but Many in New York Fear Effect on Barge Canal — Improvement of St. Lawrence Would Yield 2,000,000 Horse Power — Outlet for Wheat Fields (PDF)

Published: Sunday, March 28, 1920

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Written by Jesse

March 24th, 2020 at 12:01 pm

Motor Owners Paying High Gasoline Prices

In March 1920, gas prices hovered at 31 to 35 cents a gallon. Adjusted for inflation, that’s $4.07 to $4.59 — or double the current national average of $2.21.

Two main factors caused the high 1920 gas prices: demand outstripping supply, and the end of World War I.

Gasoline consumption has increased in much greater proportion than its production in recent years. The number of motor cars in the United States was estimated at the close of 1919 at slightly more than 7,500,000, an increase of 23 percent during the year. For the same period the gasoline production only showed an increase of 9 percent.

While conservation in gasoline was strongly urged during the war and was sufficiently adhered to to show appreciable results, it is said that less care has been shown in gasoline economy since the signing of the armistice.

Today, there are also two main factors for the low gas prices: the broader economic crash in the past week due to COVID-19 (coronavirus), and this month’s oil conflict between Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Source: GasBuddy.com/Charts

 

Motor Owners Paying High Gasoline Prices: No Stability in Retail Rates, Which Range from 31 to 35 Cents a Gallon Since Recent Increase (PDF)

Published: Sunday, March 21, 1920

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Written by Jesse

March 20th, 2020 at 12:01 pm

China Chief Problem in Maintaining World Peace

This 1920 article named China as the country most threatening world peace. As the Chinese-originated COVID-19 disease shuts down life and economies across the globe, that prophecy appears prescient.

Indeed, President Trump has increasingly and controversially taken to calling it “the Chinese virus.” However, many medical experts including the World Health Organization have called on him to stop:

But aside from the coronavirus, is China otherwise the country most threatening world peace today? That’s hard to say — depending on who you ask, that ignominious title probably goes to North Korea, Russia, or Iran. China is likely up there, but probably not #1 in most experts’ minds.

Or maybe the country most threatening world peace is actually America? A 2017 Pew research poll found that globally, 35% of respondents thought America’s power and influence was a major threat, compared to 31% who said the same of Russia and China.

This 1920 article about China was written by Theodore E. Burton, a Republican former U.S. senator from Ohio. (He would later return to the position again for less than a year in 1928-29.) Burton suggested that China had massive potential, but that its poor economy and lack of national unity at the time would hamper it.

The result of all these conditions is that the Chinese are a people, not a nation, an aggregation of families and clans, so distinct in their aspirations and interests as to create almost insuperable obstacles to unity and political organization. With most of them life is a constant struggle for daily bread, and in that struggle the obligations of each day are primarily to relatives and neighbors. Thus loyalty is not to any Government, but to family and friends.

Since then, China’s economy has skyrocketed thanks to its partial embrace of free-market principles, and its national unity has also soared ever since the Chinese Communist Party’s takeover in 1949.

Burton quoted former Secretary of State John Hay about China: “Whoever understands this mighty empire, socially, politically, economically, and religiously, has the key to the world’s politics for the next three centuries.”

Yes and no. China has absolutely surged as a global power, now claiming the world’s largest population and second-largest economy. But the country that truly became the “key to the world’s politics” between 1920 and 2020 was less China and more the U.S., which a century ago was certainly a major player but arguably not yet the global superpower, as it would become in earnest post-WWII and especially post-Cold War.

 

China Chief Problem in Maintaining World Peace: Country Is Backward Politically Because Its Gaze Is Backward, and Its Enormous Natural Riches Are a Temptation to Stronger Powers (PDF)

Published: Sunday, March 21, 1920

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Written by Jesse

March 19th, 2020 at 12:01 pm

Will Congress Stop Federal Wastefulness?

There had always been some level of U.S. government waste, but for more than a century, those revenues were almost entirely collected through tariffs. That changed in the early 20th century, with the federal corporate tax created in 1909, income tax in 1913, and estate tax in 1916. People increasingly felt it was their own hard-earned dollars being wasted.

So a proposed 1920 committee to reorganize the government was suggested, hopefully to be headed by former Secretary of the Interior Franklin Knight Lane, who had resigned mere weeks prior “because his salary was insufficient to provide for his family.”

(The salary was $12,000 at the time, or about $178,939 adjusted for inflation. That’s about -16% lower than the current Secretary of the Interior’s pay: $213,600.)

The question is, How far will the reforms go? Will they be fundamental, reaching down to the first causes, or will the defenders of the old methods — bureaucracy, apprehensive of wide changes, and Congressmen true to the traditions of the pork barrel — succeed in forcing compromises that offer the appearance and not the reality of true reform?

Spoiler alert: it was the latter.

Last month I wrote an article for GovTrack Insider about the Billion Dollar Boondoggle Act, a bill from Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) which would require an annual report about government projects running $1 billion overbudget or five years behind schedule.

 

Will Congress Stop Federal Wastefulness?: Only a Thorough Reorganization of Government Departments, Each of Which Wears a Coat of Many Colors, Can End Bureaucracy and the Pork Barrel — Lane Is Suggested for Work (PDF)

Published: Sunday, March 14, 1920

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Written by Jesse

March 10th, 2020 at 1:45 pm

Posted in Politics

Shall Women Practice Party Regularity?

As women gained the right to vote in 1920, should they be partisan or independent? Two women debated the issue in the New York Times: Republican Henrietta Wells Livermore for women’s partisanship vs. Democrat Katrina Ely Tiffany for women’s independence.

Livermore:

Women are not primarily office seekers. Therein lies their value in a political organization. They can sit on political committees and lend their efforts toward shaping the principles which will be followed by the members of the party. Without affiliation, the way is long and roundabout. With affiliation, they can strike their blows where they will do the most good.

Tiffany:

Women are a new force in the political life of the nation. Some men recognize that fact; others do not. Until all of them, or at least a majority of them, do, it is foolish for them to insist upon women’s loyalty to a program with which they have had nothing to do. No political party should depend on the entire loyalty of its women members if they have not had a voice in shaping the platform of the party and helping to select the candidates.

In recent years, women seem to be acting more according to Livermore’s position.

In 1994, female voters leaned more Democratic than Republican by 6 points; by 2017, that was up to 19 points. And female voters voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by 15 points.

 

Shall Women Practice Party Regularity?: Opinion Among Suffragists Is Divided, Some Maintaining That Independence Would Be More Effective as a Political Factor — Four Types Among the New Acquisitions as Voters (PDF)

Published: Sunday, March 7, 1920

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Written by Jesse

March 5th, 2020 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Debate,Politics

Simplify the Income Tax? — Perhaps, But Not Soon

Federal corporate tax was created in 1909, income tax in 1913, and estate tax in 1916. By 1920, there were already calls for the tax code’s simplification.

How quaint. Back then, federal tax law ran less than 500 pages. Now it’s more than 70,000.

Source: Tax Foundation

So why is the tax code so complex? One of the biggest reasons given by this 1920 article was limiting follow-ups on the part of tax collectors:

A chief decision, in the policy that was developed, was to reduce correspondence to as low a point as possible, both for the convenience of the taxpayer and the government, because even a small exchange of letters with 4,000,000 persons would mean an immense item. This is a reason given for putting the great number of questions on the income tax blanks. The aim was to bring out the material for a complete audit, without the necessity of follow the receipt of the return from the taxpayer with letters for more information. The friends of Daniel C. Roper, Collector of Internal Revenue, say that only his genius for organization enabled him to mold a machine that could take on and carry such a huge load.

So what to do? One of the most important writers of the 1913 tax law, Rep. Cordell Hull (D-TN4), suggested that objections about complexity would largely dissipate on their own, as people became more familiar with the process each year:

“I think also that the number of complaints will be reduced as the taxpayers become more accustomed to making out the blanks. If each one read the instructions first, carefully, there would not be much difficulty now. A man starts in without having posted himself in advance, makes mistakes, and has to go back. As to difficulties that can be removed, Congress will be enabled to legislate more accurately as soon as it gets the technical facts.”

That prediction was not to be.

 

Simplify the Income Tax? — Perhaps, But Not Soon: Washington Buzzes With Official Reasons for the Complicated Blanks, and One Congressional Reformer Actually Predicts a Method Which Taxpayers Can Understand (PDF)

Published: Sunday, March 7, 1920

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Written by Jesse

March 4th, 2020 at 12:01 pm