Archive for April, 2020

How Inflation Touches Every Man’s Pocketbook

In 1920, inflation was rampant, with prices double what they’d been five years prior. That would quickly change: prices would peak that June, then decline, fluctuate, and not exceed their June 1920 levels again until November 1946.

What was the primary cause of huge inflation from 1915 to 1920? According to Johns Hopkins political economy professor Jacob Hollander in this article from the time, the primary cause was quantitative easing:

The amount of money which the Government and the banks have supplied the country for the purpose of carrying on its business is twice as great as it was five years ago. The business of the country consists in producing goods and services and in exchanging them.

The amount of things to be exchanged — goods and services — is practically no greater than it was before the war. But we have been supplied with twice as much money to do this exchanging. Consequently two dollars are worth no more than one was before; or, what amount to the same thing, prices have doubled. This condition of having twice as many money units with which to carry on the country’s business is what we mean by inflation.

In other words, it was largely the politicians’ fault:

Inflation is due to the financial mistakes of the Administration at Washington (1) while we were getting ready for war, (2) while we were at war, and (3) after war was over. During each of these periods the Treasury permitted and, indeed, encouraged an increase in the country’s money supply, with the certain prospect of rising prices.

What about in the modern era? As of March 2020, prices were about double what they’d been in April 1990. That means it took about three full decades for prices to double, far more than the five years it took from 1915 to 1920.

 

 

How Inflation Touches Every Man’s Pocketbook: Primer in H.C.L., Prepared by Expert, Shows Why Dollar Does Only Half as Much Work as Before War–Remedies Are Difficult (PDF)

Published: Sunday, May 2, 1920

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Written by Jesse

April 29th, 2020 at 3:01 pm

Chauncey M. Depew on the Middle Class Union

Advocacy organizations exist for various interests: AARP for the elderly, NRA for gun rights supporters, unions for teachers and transportation workers. In 1920, many proposed a “middle class union” to advocate for the middle class on all issues.

The transportation strike hit the doctor of philosophy who commuted to his classes at Columbia just as it hit the shoe salesman who commuted to Fifth Avenue. At one point their interests were identical, however widely they may have varied at other points.

Wait, but isn’t democratic government in general supposed to represent the middle class? Alas, that institution’s failures on that count were the main factor necessitating a middle class union in 1920, supporters claimed:

It is argued that our Government is designed to do exactly what it is proposed to do by means of a Middle Class Union. In a democracy the ballot is supposed to be the last resort. But when the fruit of the ballot is a legislator whose life is his re-election he often finds his life threatened by a minority organization, while there is no majority organization to reassure him or defend him or bring the majority influence to bear on him.

The final sentence of the article: “Perhaps it will be the next thing on the books — who knows?” We now know… and it wasn’t.

There are a few organizations which somewhat qualify for the title, such as Consumers Union which began in 1936, but they primarily advocate on behalf of the masses for issues like product safety specifically. A general “middle class union” to advocate against transportation strikes and the like? That never really took shape.

 

 

Chauncey M. Depew on the Middle Class Union: Need for Organization of Public to Protect Itself Against Strikers and Profiteers Set Forth by Former Senator–Objectors Answered, Advantages Outlined (PDF)

Published: Sunday, April 25, 1920

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Written by Jesse

April 25th, 2020 at 12:08 pm

Candidates and Issues Still in Doubt

Three months before 1920’s party conventions, General Leonard Wood and former Treasury Secretary William McAdoo were the Republican and Democratic frontrunners, respectively. Neither became the nominee.

For the Republicans, Wood actually earned the most votes on the convention’s first ballot, but at 29.2% didn’t claim a majority, so voting continued. He continued leading on the second through eighth ballots, but not enough to claim victory. As the other main contender Illinois Gov. Frank Lowden slowly lost much of his support, many gradually flocked to Ohio Sen. Warren Harding, who had only finished an astonishingly low sixth place initially. Harding finally took the lead on the ninth ballot, claiming an outright majority on the 10th and clinching the nomination.

For the Democrats, the process somehow took even longer… more than four times longer. McAdoo earned the most votes on the convention’s first ballot, but at 24.3% didn’t claim a majority, so voting continued. He continued leading on the second through 11th ballots, when the lead was taken by Ohio Gov. James M. Cox, who had finished third initially. McAdoo and Cox continued fighting back and forth, with McAdoo actually reclaiming the lead on the 30th through 38th ballots. But Cox finally clinched the nomination on the 44th ballot.

The two party’s conventions look to be much less down-to-the-wire in 2020. Actually, if social distancing guidelines still remain in effect by August, there might be no in-person conventions at all.

 

Candidates and Issues Still in Doubt: Open Question for Conventions — But Wood for Republicans and McAdoo for Democrats Now Seem to Have Best Chances (PDF)

Published: Sunday, April 18, 1920

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Written by Jesse

April 19th, 2020 at 1:01 pm

Posted in Politics

The Anti-Wilson ‘Mania’

Woodrow Wilson was unpopular near his presidency’s end, but how would he be remembered by history? This 1920 article predicted he’d be remembered well. By 2017, a C-SPAN survey of historians ranked him the 11th-best president.

The 1920 article noted that Wilson was hated by many during his own lifetime, just like Washington and Lincoln… who would ultimately rank #2 and #1 in that same C-SPAN survey.

Indeed, so far as the printed page is concerned, it is hard to match even in the unrestrained public press of today in its treatment of Wilson the brutality, insult and viciousness of the newspaper attacks upon Washington, who, it might be supposed, had so far won the gratitude and admiration of his countrymen as to enshrine him forever in their affection and veneration. As for Lincoln, who preserved the nation which Washington had created, can we match in Washington’s day or in Roosevelt’s day or in Wilson’s day the sneers and contempt which dogged his footsteps until the day of his assassination?

So how would Wilson be remembered by history? The 1920 article predicted his ultimately strong historical reputation fairly accurately:

But if Washington’s one track led to the creation of the nation, and Lincoln’s one track led to its preservation from disunion, and Roosevelt’s one track led to its second preservation by stopping the corruption of its governmental sources — to what terminal point will history say that Wilson’s one track has led? Is it not reasonably probably that when history is written it will concern itself little with but one conclusion, namely, that Wilson was chosen — by God, or, if you please, by fate, or by national evolution — to see to it that the war did not end without the creation of some form of international legal organization around which should revolve, under the leadership of the United States, a bona fide effort to make wars of aggression difficult and unpopular; to combat the fool notion that war is a legitimate, if not a desirable, “out-of-door” sport for civilization, and to make it as unfashionable as public opinion has finally made the duel, the slave trade, the lottery and the drunkard — and that he “delivered the goods”!

That being said, Wilson’s reputation seems to be slipping. C-SPAN’s 2000 survey ranked Wilson #6, then in 2009 down three spots to #9, then in 2017 down another two spots to #11.

In other words, Wilson dropped five spots from 2000 to 2017. That ties Andrew Jackson for the second-largest drop of any president during that span. Rutherford B. Hayes and Grover Cleveland tied for the largest drop, falling six spots each. (Wondering which president improved the most? Ulysses S. Grant, jumping 11 spots.)

 

The Anti-Wilson ‘Mania’: Analyzed by One Who Finds the President as Lonely and Well-Hated as Lincoln in 1862 (PDF)

Published: Sunday, April 18, 1920

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Written by Jesse

April 19th, 2020 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Future,History,Politics

Nonagenarian Suffragist

Despite the stereotype that the elderly are the age group most opposed to societal progress, a 97-year-old male named Stephen Smith was a strong supporter of women’s voting rights in 1920.

He traced his evolution on the issue to his time at Geneva Medical College in 1847, when Elizabeth Blackwell enrolled as the first women in American history to receive a medical degree. As Smith told it:

Geneva Medical College was made up of the rowdiest lot of young ruffians it has ever been my good fortune to meet. I was one of them, so my saying this is all right… So greatly did they manage to disturb the community, that a petition was signed by the people and submitted to the authorities asking that the college be closed as a public nuisance.

There was a distinct change in the manners of the school from that day. Miss Blackwell, a little Quaker woman, with all the pluck in the world, changed that howling mob of boys into a lot of well-mannered, respectful young men. Not the least of her effect on the school was her influence on the instructors.

This, in turn, prompted Smith to reconsider women’s effects in other previously all-male institutions, such as voting.

My turning suffragist dates back to that period. If one woman without any conscious effort could accomplish that reform in that school of rascals, think what a country of enlightened women can accomplish once they set their minds to it!

The 19th Amendment guaranteed women’s right to vote in August 1920, four months later. Smith would live to see that momentous change, eventually dying in August 1922 at age 99.

 

Nonagenarian Suffragist: Dr. Steven Smith, at the Age of 97, Tells of His Conversion to Women’s Progress (PDF)

Published: Sunday, April 11, 1920

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Written by Jesse

April 8th, 2020 at 12:01 pm

Posted in History