August 3, 1923: Calvin Coolidge sworn in as president

August 2, 2014

Calvin Coolidge taking the oath of office August 3, 1923, upon learning of the death of President Warren G. Harding. Curtis Publishing Company image (artist?), 1924; from the American Memory Collection at the Library of Congress

Calvin Coolidge taking the oath of office August 3, 1923, upon learning of the death of President Warren G. Harding. Curtis Publishing Company image (artist?), 1924; from the American Memory Collection at the Library of Congress

Vice President Calvin Coolidge took the oath of office for the presidency first from his father, a notary public, in New Hampshire, after having been officially informed of the death of President Warren G. Harding while on a tour, in San Francisco.

Coolidge is the only president to have been sworn in by a member of his immediate family.

More on Calvin Coolidge from the Library of Congress “Today in History” feature:

Calvin Coolidge

After all, the chief business of the American people is business.

President Calvin Coolidge,
address before the American Society of Newspaper Editors,
Washington, D.C., January 17, 1925.
Foundations of the Republic (1926), 187.

Calvin Coolidge
Calvin Coolidge, full-length portrait, seated at desk, facing front, holding pen and paper, wearing black armband in mourning for President Harding,
Washington, D.C.,
August 4, 1923.
Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929

Calvin Coolidge took the presidential oath of office on August 3, 1923, after the unexpected death in office of President Warren Harding. The new president inherited an administration plagued and discredited by corruption scandals. In the two remaining years of this term, Coolidge, long recognized for his own frugality and moderation, worked to restore the administration’s image and regain the public’s trust.  He went on to win the presidential election of 1924 in his own right.

Coolidge believed that government should interfere as little as possible with business and industry. His administration supported tax reductions for U.S. businesses as well as high protective tariffs in support of U.S. goods—which were being produced in greater quantities than ever before. Technological and managerial innovations, improvements in the methods of production, and growing distribution networks made consumer items more generally available.  Many Americans purchased cars and radios, vacuum cleaners, and washing machines—taking advantage of increasingly obtainable consumer credit.

Vacuum Cleaners on Display at the J.C. Harding & Co. Store
Vacuum cleaners on display at the J. C. Harding & Co. Store, probably in Washington, D.C.,
[1909-32].
Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929

Raleigh Haberdasher Show Window
Raleigh Haberdasher show window
Washington, D.C., circa 1925.
Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929

Automobiles in Window of the Washington-Cadillac Co.
Automobiles in window of the Washington-Cadillac Co.,
Washington, D.C., 1927.
Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929

Some groups did not participate fully in the emergent consumer economy, notably both African-American and white farmers as well as immigrants. While one-fifth of the American population made their living on the land, rural poverty was widespread. Despite agricultural overproduction and successive attempts in Congress to provide relief, the agricultural economy of the 1920s experienced an ongoing depression. Large surpluses were accompanied by falling prices at a time when American farmers were burdened by heavy debt. Between 1920 and 1932, one in four farms was sold to meet financial obligations and many farmers migrated to urban areas.

Restrictive immigration laws, aided by a resurgence of nativism in America in the 1920s, contributed to an atmosphere hostile to immigrants. The Emergency Quota Act of 1921 discriminated against immigrants from southern and eastern Europe. The National Origins Act of 1924 completely excluded Japanese and other Asian immigrants and further reduced those admitted from southern and eastern Europe.

Visitin' 'Round at Coolidge Corners
Visitin’ ‘Round at Coolidge Corners,
1924.
Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929

The economic growth of the 1920s spurred the rise of consumer organizations and campaigns. Some, such as the Truth-in-Advertising Movement, which pursued ethics and self-regulation in advertising, were industry-based. Other campaigns and organizations sought to educate consumers. The Better Homes Movement celebrated home ownership, home maintenance and improvement, and home decoration in towns and cities across the country. The Thrift Movement sought to teach children and citizens how to save and spend wisely. Stuart Chase worked to educate consumers about unfair advertising and pricing practices used by manufacturers of consumer products. Lastly, there were campaigns such as the Playground Movement which began in response to popular anxieties about material excess, misuse of leisure time, and the loss of traditional values.

Learn more about Calvin Coolidge and his era:

More:

From the Library of Congress collections: Calvin Coolidge, full-length portrait, seated at desk, facing front, holding pen and paper, wearing black armband in mourning for President Harding. Coolidge took the oath of office in Plymouth Notch, VT early in the morning of Friday, August 3rd, and arrived in Washington late that night, the day after the death of President Warren Gamaliel Harding (1865-1923). Coolidge was the nation’s thirtieth president.


80/20 Day: July 15, 1848, Vilfredo Pareto joined the human race

July 15, 2014

Happy 80/20 Day!

Italian economist, engineer and political activist Vilfredo Pareto was born on July 15, 1848, in Paris, where his father had fled due to political difficulties.

Pareto should be more famous, for his explanation of the 80/20 rule, and for his contribution to making better things, the Pareto chart.  Many economic texts ignore his work almost completely.  Quality management texts ignore his life, too — generally mentioning the principles they borrow, but offering no explanation.

Vilifred Pareto, Wikipedia image

Vilfredo Pareto, Wikipedia image

His contributions, as accounted at Wikipedia:

A few economic rules are based on his work:

And now you, dear reader, having just skimmed the surface of the pool of information on Vilfredo Pareto, know more about the man than 99.99% of the rest of the people on the planet.  Welcome to the tip-top 0.01%.

Resources:


What happens when “austerity” budget cutting blows up on the GOP? See Kansas

July 8, 2014

Kansas finds itself in a big, big pickle.

Republican Governor Sam Brownback managed to get the legislature to make massive tax cuts, claiming it would boost jobs in Kansas and stimulate the Kansas economy, thereby  paying for themselves.

Instead the Kansas economy is failing. Massive cuts have gutted Kansas’s once-revered public education system, and deeper cuts will be necessary to keep the state government afloat, unless there is some change in tax policy, or a massive, miraculous influx of business beyond what even the Koch Bros. could arrange.

Gov. Brownback is running for re-election, and finds himself behind in popularity in Kansas — behind even President Barack Obama.

Wow.

Full story at Vox, “Kansas was supposed to be the GOP’s tax-cut paradise, but now can barely pay its bills.”

And of course, there is comedy of the kind that you couldn’t make up:  Brownback blames Obama.

Oy.

Chart from Vox, showing what happened to Kansas's surplus revenues, promised to balloon with the tax cuts Gov. Brownback asked for, and got.

Chart from Vox, showing what happened to Kansas’s surplus revenues, promised to balloon with the tax cuts Gov. Brownback asked for, and got.

Turns out Americans, and especially the citizens of Kansas, want government that works.  They’d like taxes to be low, but low taxes won’t make voters happy when the roads are bad and the kids’ schools are crappy.

Wonkblog's chart showing job creation in Kansas is terrible, also.

Wonkblog’s chart showing job creation in Kansas is lagging, also, contrary to the GOP promises when tax cuts were instituted.

Government’s first job is to govern; just governments are established among men to secure human rights, old Tom Jefferson wrote.  Life, liberty and pursuit of happiness make a snappy line in a patriotic reading on July 4, but when the crowd drives home, they don’t want to be dodging potholes, and they don’t want their kids to complain from the back seat of the car that they don’t know what the Declaration of Independence is or what it says, “and who is Jefferson — I thought it was just a street in Dallas?”  When government fails to do basic jobs, voters may not be happy.

Will false advertising be able to bail Sam Brownback out?  Watch Kansas.

More:


U.S. spends $38 billion on foreign aid? (Not nearly enough)

May 22, 2014

Glenn Beck got all worked up over this chart, as if it revealed some great, cardinal sin:

Chart on foreign aid as a part of the U.S. budget, from http://www.financedegreecenter.com/foreign-aid/

Chart on foreign aid as a part of the U.S. budget, from http://www.financedegreecenter.com/foreign-aid/

FinanceDegreeCenter.com is a mysterious organization that does no-one-really-will-say what on the internet.  A few months ago I got a series of e-mails from the group, telling that they were changing their name from an earlier iteration and claiming my links to one of their charts jeopardized all the good work they did for people seeking higher education, merely by accurately citing where I got the chart.  That sounded fishy, so I asked them what they did, really, and I got a barrage of e-mails . . .

I think they get paid to steer people to for-profit, on-line schools.  That doesn’t mean their charts are inaccurate, though it does mean I don’t post them without a lot of checking first (this is the first one I’ve posted since then).

Which is a long way of saying, Beck sure has crumby sources.

Bad as the source may be, the information isn’t far off.  But there’s the problem.

Beck’s audience probably believes, as Beck has told them, that the U.S. pays way too much in foreign aid.  Polls repeatedly show most people think we spend anywhere from ten times to a hundred times what we do.  A great little article with charts at the Washington Post explained:

The poll result that seems to most frustrate budget analysts is the apparent belief among Americans that foreign aid is a huge cost to the federal government. The latest poll that my colleague Ezra Klein cites finds that the average American thinks the United States spends 28 percent of the federal budget on aid to foreign governments — more than the country spends on Social Security or Medicare or defense.

In reality, we spend only 1 percent on foreign aid.

This gap between perception and reality is ridiculously large. That’s depressing, but it also presents an opportunity. The case that 28 percent of the budget should go to foreign aid is very strong. And if Americans already think we give that much — well, the least we could do is accommodate them!

We don’t spend enough.  Yes, we spend $38 billion.  That’s less than 1% of total U.S. outlays, and it’s been declining as a share of our Gross National Income and Gross Domestic Product since 1960.

Glenn Beck gets outraged, and shouts away, “$38 billion,” hoping that his shouting will make the number appear larger than it is.  He thinks, and says, it’s too much.

$38 billion?  Less than 1% of the budget.  Less than one penny of every dollar.

As a nation, the U.S. does not spend enough on foreign aid.  We should spend more.

Think of the good that could be done, if our nation actually did increase foreign aid to equal 25% of the federal budget (without taking it out of the hides of poverty-struck, homeless newborn babies and baby ducks as GOP legislators would insist).  How would the world be different?

More, and resources: 


Insta-Millard: In the new Gilded Age, the rich do not share the wealth

May 6, 2014

Have the GOP and the Über-wealthy set up the whole world for another Great Depression?  Should we expect a World War to follow?

Or, do we have time to make our societies more egalitarian, and more anti-poverty, and more stable?  Graphic from BusinessWeek:

Super wealthy have concentrated the wealth of the world in their personal control.  Capitalism run riot? Graphic from BusinessWeek

Super wealthy have concentrated the wealth of the world in their personal control. Capitalism run riot? Graphic from BusinessWeek

Opportunity to move up, economically, is stifled when so much wealth blocks access to the top economic rungs.

These figures come out of a clever analysis by economists Emmanuel Saez of the University of California at Berkeley and Gabriel Zucman of the London School of Economics, who is a visiting professor at Berkeley. The Internal Revenue Service asks about income, not wealth, which is the market value of real estate, stocks, bonds, and other assets. Saez and Zucman were able to deduce wealth by exploiting IRS data going back to when the federal income tax was instituted in 1913. They figured out how much property different strata of society owned by looking at the income that was generated by that property, such as dividends and capital gains. To simplify, if a family reported $1 million in rental income one year and the market rate of return on rental properties was 10 percent, then Saez and Zucman concluded that the family must have owned property worth $10 million.

The message for strivers is that if you want to be very, very rich, start out very rich. The threshold for being in the top 0.1 percent of tax filers in 2012 was wealth of about $20 million. To be in the top 0.01 percent—that’s the 1 Percent club’s 1 Percent club—required net worth of $100 million. Of course, even $100 million is a pittance to Bill Gates, whose net worth, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, is nearly 800 times that.

It will require great creativity to work our way out of this maldistribution without some sort of catastrophe.

More: 

Read the rest of this entry »


May 6, 1882: Race and immigration policy collide

May 6, 2014

Today is the anniversary* of our nation’s first** law generally governing immigration.

It’s a history we should work to change, to put behind us, to move away from.

Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred Chinese immigrants from the United States for 10 years.

1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, page 1 - National Archives

1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, page 1 – National Archives

1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, page 2 - National Archives

1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, page 2 – National Archives

We cannot paint over this part of history.  The Chinese Exclusion Act was racist in intent, and racist in content.

What should we learn from it?  Among justifications for the law were claims that immigrants from China were taking jobs from citizens, especially in California.  Chinese workers imported to build the Transcontinental Railroads sought new employment once the routes were built.

Reality probably differed a lot.  Chinese entrepreneurs, with money they had earned working on the railroads, established news businesses.  Yes, a lot of Chinese were getting jobs.  They were mostly new jobs, in new businesses, boosting the economy and creating more jobs.  That came to an almost-screeching halt.

Did America learn?  This law was renewed, then made permanent — not really fixed until World War II, when China was an ally in the War in the Pacific, against Japan.  Even then, it wasn’t a good fix.

The law was repealed by the Magnuson Act in 1943 during World War II, when China was an ally in the war against imperial Japan. Nevertheless, the 1943 act still allowed only 105 Chinese immigrants per year, reflecting persisting prejudice against the Chinese in American immigration policy. It was not until the Immigration Act of 1965, which eliminated previous national-origins policy, that large-scale Chinese immigration to the United States was allowed to begin again after a hiatus of over 80 years.

Can we learn from this history, for immigration reform now? Santayana’s Ghost wonders.

How much is resistance to immigration reform based on racism, the sort of racism that kills the U.S. economy?

The Chinese Exclusion Act proved to be an embarrassment for Uncle Sam:  “A Skeleton in His Closet,” by L.M. Glackens, published in Puck magazine on Jan. 3, 1912. Uncle Sam holding paper “Protest against Russian exclusion of Jewish Americans” and looking in shock at Chinese skeleton labeled “American exclusion of Chinese” in closet. Image from NorthwestAsianWeekly.com

The Chinese Exclusion Act proved to be an embarrassment for Uncle Sam: “A Skeleton in His Closet,” by L.M. Glackens, published in Puck magazine on Jan. 3, 1912. Uncle Sam holding paper “Protest against Russian exclusion of Jewish Americans” and looking in shock at Chinese skeleton labeled “American exclusion of Chinese” in closet. Image from NorthwestAsianWeekly.com

____________

*    I note the image says it was approved by President Chester Alan Arthur (who had succeeded to office after President James Garfield was assassinated a year earlier).  The New York Times calls May 6 the anniversary of Congress’s passing the law; if Arthur signed in on May 6, it was probably passed a few days earlier.  May 6 would be the anniversary of its signing into law.

**  The Chinese Exclusion Act was preceded by the Page Act of 1875, which prohibited immigration of “undesirable” people.  Who was undesirable?  “The law classified as undesirable any individual from China who was coming to America to be a contract laborer, any Asian woman who would engage in prostitution, and all people considered to be convicts in their own country.”  It was not applicable to many immigrants.  The Page Act was named after its sponsor, Rep. Horace F. Page of California.

This is based on, and borrows from, an earlier post at MFB.

More:


Can America afford to be great anymore? Many say, “no”

May 1, 2014

A friend posted this on Facebook:

“As of today our total national debt is roughly $17 1/2 trillion. Of that number nearly $12 1/2 trillion is publicly owed. Can you even get your mind around it?”

To which I responded:

As a portion of GDP, our national debt was much greater in 1946.

So, the Congress did what it had to do.

Congress borrowed money to educate millions of returning veterans, and to subsidize their homes. The greatest education aid and housing aid programs in history, both in the GI Bill.

Poster honoring the Marshall Plan, to rebuild Europe after World War II -- on borrowed money.

Poster honoring the Marshall Plan, to rebuild Europe after World War II — on borrowed money.

Congress borrowed money to give it away to our allies in World War II, to rebuild their industrial capabilities, on the assumption that an ally with a strong industrial base and good economy is stronger, and can come to our aid if and when we need it.

Congress borrowed money to give it away to our enemies in World War II, to rebuild their industrial capabilities, because a nation with a good economy and health trade tends to stay out of war. Those nations became our allies.

Congress borrowed to build the greatest road system in history, connecting nearly every corner of America — under the pretense that such a road system would allow us to move troops and armaments quickly from coast to coast in event of a defense emergency.

Congress borrowed to finance space exploration, to go to the Moonbecause, you know, it’s hard.

Congress borrowed to build a library in every county in America, and fill it with books — so that if there were ever nuclear war, everybody who survived would be close to the information necessary to rebuild civilization.

Congress borrowed to build the world’s greatest air transportation system, with airports for sport, business and commercial aviation all over the place.

Congress borrowed to build sewer systems and water systems, doubling down on public health service spending, to prevent disease and make health people.

Funny things happened. Our economy boomed. The world economy boomed. Millions of new jobs were created, filled by people who paid whopping taxes. And the debt sorta melted away.
___________

When I hear people complain about our national debt, and how we as Americans must stop spending money, I hear them saying, “We cannot afford to be great anymore. Our time as the world’s leading economy and leading democracy has passed. It will be a lot cheaper for the nation to curl into a national fetal position, and then taxes won’t be so high.”

That’s what I hear the GOP saying, when they urge tax cuts for the rich, while taking away food stamps from the families of our military deployed overseas.  (Can you imagine anything like that happening during World War II? Not even “interned” families of soldiers went hungry.)

In 1946 — and in 1948, 1950, 1952, 1956, 1960, 1962, 1964, 1968, and other election years — there were plenty of Americans who said “we can’t afford the Marshall Plan; we can’t afford foreign aid; we can’t afford to build all these roads; we can’t afford to go to the Moon; we can’t afford to pay for college (or other schooling) for all these veterans/students.”

What would America look like, had leaders listened to those people, and then NOT borrowed the money to build America?  What would the world look like?

I don’t think George Washington spent 8 years at war to curl into the fetal position and give up.

Am I wrong?

The future of an America that is afraid to be great, even if we need to borrow money to do it? (Image from Brogan Knight)

The future of an America that is afraid to be great, even if we need to borrow money to do it? (Image from Brogan Knight)


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