Bust Times, The 1930’s

In early and mid 1929 the stock market soared from high to high. Herbert Hoover, the 31st president of the USA, entered the White House in March of 1929 and he foresaw the final triumph over poverty in the states. But the winds of downturn were gathering. Auto sales were down and also housing starts plus manufacturing output was falling.

***

“Dave, why did the 1929 stock market crash happen?” said Tom, soberly.

“Well, millions of Americans were in debt, buying on installment plans and “Buying on Margin” in speculative purchasing of stocks. The economy wasn’t on a sound footing.”

“What’s “buying on margin”?”

“I remember my Dad explaining it to me this way: A speculator would put down 10% of the stock price in cash and borrow the rest. They would pay back the borrowed money with the profits when the paper was sold. This concept worked as long as the stock prices kept growing. This became so popular that 90% of the stock was being bought with borrowed money!”

“But Dave, not everyone played the stock market,” said Tom, quizzically.

“That’s right Tom, my Dad never owned stock. In fact, less than 20% of Americans invested in the stock market leading up to the crash.

But it was the psychological effects that pushed the downward economic slide. Business couldn’t get capital for new projects and expansions. The consumer stopped buying. Companies got rid of workers so consequently it led to mass unemployment. And then, the banks failed!”

***

“So Dave, the booming, roaring twenties was a time of wealth and excess that led to the crash and depression.”

“That’s right Tom, nothing was the same again after the Crash, billions of dollars of wealth were wiped out in one day and that depressed consumer buying.”

“The depression was like the apocalypse of the economy.”

“Right Tom, in fact you could liken the times to the biblical four horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The first horseman was the dodgy distribution of income. The farmers never had prosperity in the 20’s. The urban masses faired better, but the rich got the gravy, dividends, interest and profits. Industrial profits rose 40% and corporate profits rose 80%! But wages rose only 8%. When the rich started to slow their investments, consumer spending could NOT plug the gap.

The second horseman was the bank failures, the banks had no deposit insurance so there was a run of people trying to withdraw their money. The banking system collapsed.

The third horseman was that America had become a creditor nation.

The fourth horseman was poor economic intelligence. The thinking was that there was an automatic functioning of the markets, that left alone the markets would restore normal business.

And the fifth horseman, one more added, was the Crash itself.”

***

“Lots of people were on the breadline, going to the soup kitchens, because they couldn’t find a job.”

“That’s right Tom, my Dad told me he jumped on a boxcar on a long freight train going from Chicago to New York, to find a job. He got a part time job in N.Y. and he existed on sinkers(stale doughnuts) and coffee. But eventually he came back to Chicago because the job situation was no better in New York.”

“What else happened in the 30’s?”

“Well, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president in 1933. Also, Prohibition was repealed on Dec. 5th, 1933. This noble experiment spawned modern organized crime. Now, bootlegging was over but the criminals had grown rich and bold. Everyone could drink freely again so they could enjoy their pickled relatives!”

“Didn’t Roosevelt state in his inaugural address: “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself” and everyone sang, “Happy Days Are Here Again.”

“Right you are, Tom. Roosevelt got to work on his “New Deal” program. He started deposit insurance in the banks, regulated the stock exchanges and got people back to work on infrastructure projects.”

“Boy, he was busy!”

“I almost forgot, Al Capone went to Alcatraz prison for tax evasion in 1931, he was released in 1939 with a brain disease brought on by syphilis. He died in 1947 at the age of 48.”

***

“You and I, Tom, were Depression Babies”, but by 1938 the USA was climbing out of the Depression.”

Happy Days Are Here Again

The Skies Above Are Clear Again

So Let’s Sing A Song Of Cheer Again

Happy Days Are Here Again!

 

Boom Times, The 1920’s

In a fit of nostalgia, I remembered how my Dad talked about his youth in 1920’s. So I decided to review some American history from 1920 up to 1986, which includes my youth, and also it was the year I emigrated to England. I will do this in a series of blogs.

I mentioned this to my boyhood friend and adult buddy, Tom, and he decided to take the journey with me.

***

The 1920’s were known as The Roaring Twenties or The Jazz Age.

I will start the 20’s journey with a few things that happened in Chicago, since Tom and I were born and bred there.

In 1921 the magnificent, 4300 seat, palace called The Chicago Theatre opened on State Street.

Al Capone rose to power in 1924 (more later).

US Route 66 opened in 1926 linking Chicago to Los Angeles.

In 1927, the Harlem Globetrotters were founded by Abe Saperstein. They were a comic basketball team staring Wilt “the stilt” Chamberlain.

Also in 1927 Maxwell Street and Halsted was the home to thousands of Jewish immigrants. The Maxwell Street Market was a place where “most everything” was on sale, the motto was, “We Cheat You Fair”.

In 1929, the gangland St. Valentine’s Day Massacre happened at a garage on Clark Street by Capone’s hit team. They killed some of Bugs Moran’s men, who were Capone’s enemies.

***

My Dad told me how many people were caught up in the art of Autosuggestion in the 20’s. This was due to a Frenchman named Emile Coue who advocated self-improvement based on optimistic autosuggestion. People used to recite a mantra daily to themselves. It went something like this: Everyday in every way, I am getting better and better.

“Sounds good to me,” said Tom, “I can just see a 1920’s flag-pole sitter mumbling that to himself as the pole sways in the breeze.”

“How about this, Tom, imagine a flapper repeating the mantra over and over while sitting in a bathtub filled with gin!”

We both laughed.

***

“The economy was booming those days, wasn’t it?”

“That’s right Tom, my Dad told me the US economy was growing over 6% per year and 50% of the world’s goods were made in America!”

“Hey Dave, wasn’t there a phrase going around: A Chicken In Every Pot.”

“Yes Tom, my Dad did mention that. He also said, by the mid-20’s almost every home had a radio. But there were some down sides. The American factory worker was slaving away 10-12 hours a day, without any job or health security.”

***

“Didn’t women get the vote in 1920, Dave?”

“Yes, but the liquor companies were in opposition because they feared that women would vote for prohibition, which they did. It was called the noble experiment.”

“Women started smoking in public in the 20’s, didn’t they, Dave?”

“Yes, the flappers did. Cigarette production doubled during the 20’s.”

***

My Dad also told me about the “Scopes Monkey Trial” of 1925.”

“Was that about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution?”

“That’s right Tom. Scopes, a teacher, was accused of violating the Butler Act in Tennessee, which prohibited the teaching of evolution in schools. Most people in Tennessee didn’t like the notion that everyone’s ancestors were monkeys!”

Tom laughed and said:

“People didn’t like the findings of science to conflict with the teachings of the Church.”

“Does it bother you, Tom, that you came from a chimp?”

“No,” said Tom, swinging his arms wildly.

***

Now, we come to the gangster era in Chicago. Al Capone came to Chicago in 1924, when he was 25 years old. He was a henchman for John Torrio, the father of gangsterism. When a rival gang shot Torrio, he went back to Italy and handed over his empire of breweries, speakeasies and brothels to Capone. He just about owned the mayor, Big Bill Thompson, by payoffs and helping him get rid of his political opponents.”

“Whenever people speak about Chicago, right away they think of Capone,” said Tom.

“That’s right Tom.”

***

“Dave, what exactly was a flapper?”

“Well, according to my Dad, they were young women who wore short dresses and cut their hair short to conflict with the way people thought women should behave. They were the fun loving women of the times.”

“I would of liked to have met one,” said Tom, smiling.

“Me too, Tom!”

***

“Talking about gangsters in the 20’s, Prohibition let them make lots of money by bootlegging alcohol and they became rich.”

“That’s right. The temperance women wanted their husbands to stay out of the taverns and the companies wanted their workers sober. So the people thought prohibition would be a good idea. But with the chaos created by the gangsters it meant that the amendment had to be repealed, and it was in 1933.”

***

“Dave, you mentioned the 20’s were called “The Jazz Age”, what was that all about?”

“My Dad told me the national culture was changing in the 20’s. Music was one thing that changed. Jazz was a type of music that combined African American music with European harmonies. It inspired Americans to dance fast with crazy actions, such as the Charleston. Talking movies came in and everyone listened to the radio. Change was all around and the Americans loved it!”

“I remember once I tried to dance the Charleston and fell over,” said Tom, laughing.

***

“Well, that’s it for the 20’s. Next blog will be about the 30’s and the Great Depression.”

“That should be interesting,” said Tom, jitter bugging down the street, or was it the Charleston?

Past, Present, Future and Hope

I was in my favorite watering hole, sipping my pint of beer, sitting on my green padded stool and thinking of how many good discussions I’ve had with people on these stools.

There’s something about these stools that brings out the best reflective thinking in people. I was wondering who I would talk to today and about what topic, when a chap jumped up on the stool next to me.

He was a tall, broad shouldered fellow with sharp facial features and a dark pencil line moustache. He was about mid 50 ish in age. He ordered a G and T.

“Nice day today,” I said, in my best congenial voice.

He squinted at me and said in a gruff voice:

“I hadn’t noticed.”

“You sound like you have a problem.”

“Hey mister, what are you, the local psychiatrist?”

“No, just trying to pass the time of day,” I whispered. I was hoping he would simmer down.

“If you must know, one of my friends told me I’m so immersed in the past and future that I can’t be content and live in the present where I should be. He said the present was the most important place to live and I should forget about the past and future. What do you think about that?”

I sipped my beer and thought for a minute.

“Nothing to say, mister psychiatrist?”

“I’ve got plenty to say, but will you listen?”

He looked at me long and hard, then he made a gesture like he was zipping up his mouth.

“We all spend time in all three of those time zones. Granted, our consciousness and Now reality are in the present. By the way, how is your present?”

“Not good! I’m in a dead end job, my partner is threatening to leave me, and my health is starting to fail.”

“What is your name , my friend, mine is Dave.”

“I’m Tom.”

“Okay Tom, lets lay down some facts to disperse the illusion that only the present is important.”

“Do you really think you can help me?”

“Well, I can give you some info to mull over that might help.”

“Okay Dave, lets get started. I’m all ears.”

I took a deep breath and began:

“It’s an illusion that you must be in the present constantly. The past has a great influence on your present behavior. Having a future is a need that is essential for your morale in the present. If you have no hopes for the future your present collapses.”

“So, when I was told to stop thinking about the past and future, that was wrong?” Tom looked confused.

“That’s right, Tom, you must NOT suppress those two times, if you do, you will get depressed.”

“Oh boy, carry on, Dave.”

“The current thinking is that action and accomplishment make the present enjoyable as possible. And the future will become the present, so you have to make the present good to enjoy the future. So, with this thinking the present is the most important time because it is your reality and a time to prepare for a future reality. As far as thinking about the past, it is useless.”

“But Dave, I’ve always enjoyed thinking about the good times in the past,” said Tom, quizzically.

“Nothing wrong with that, Tom, if your past was good it provides an enjoyable experience to reminisce about.”

“But now, Dave, my present and future is bleak so I live in the past. I don’t have much hope that will change.”

“That’s too bad, hope is a NEED in itself. You need to have some hope in order to have some present morale. Cut away the future and the present collapses.”

“I wish I could regain some hope,” said Tom, sadly.

“I wish you could, too. Let me tell you what hope does for you. Hope motivates you to carry on with life. Hope maintains morale, that’s the level of a person’s confidence and enthusiasm at a particular time. A person without hope is a person without a future. Hope is an energizer. It maintains your immune system.

But hope is also a mixed blessing, it can be a big letdown especially if it is false hope. You look forward to something and it nevercopes.”

“But Dave, I’m depressed, I don’t see any improvement in my present. I feel time is running out for any dreams that I had. I walk around in an aura of hopelessness! My health is fading, my legs are weak.”

“Wow Tom, that’s quite a list of dejection.”

“You’re not telling me anything I don’t know. You say hopelessness leads into depression, what next?’

“Your saviour might be resignation, it’s less toxic.”

“You mean shut down and accept my predicament?’

“It’s better than wasting away pining over lost hope.”

Tom was staring into space with a grim look on his face.

“What you’re suffering from is Need Frustration due to life losses.”

“Come again,” said Tom, dejectedly.

“Need Frustration is losing health, being in a job you don’t like, being lonely, aging, etc.

You’re depressed because you are on the cusp of aging, diminished attractiveness, diminished mobility, diminished abilities, all these are close to arriving and this brings on frustration.”

“What can I do, Dave?”

“Appreciate what life you have left. Be glad you’re alive. Accept that time moves on and live as enjoyably as you can knowing that life is short. I’ll leave you with something I read on a tombstone:

Remember me as you pass by,

As you are NOW, so once was I,

As I am NOW, so you must be,

But first,enjoy what life you have left!

***

Tom left the building with a glint in his eye!