Family Farms, Big City Factories, Fertility Rates and Federal Debt

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 9th, 2013

History 101

The Mechanization of the Farm began a Migration from the Country to the Cities

Before the Industrial Revolution (1760-1830ish) if you worked you most probably farmed.  For most everyone from the dawn of civilization on the Nile, the Euphrates & Tigris, the Indus and the Yangtze farmed.  To produce food for the civilization for the good times.  And food surpluses for the bad times.  For having enough to eat was never a sure thing.  And surviving the winter was a challenge.

What early civilizations needed were a lot of people to work the land.  For large-scale farming could produce large harvests.  Enough to feed everyone during the good times.  During the winters.  And even the occasional drought.  But it could be a risky game to play.  Because a lot of people to work the land also meant a lot of mouths to feed.  Which meant everyone worked the fields.  Men.  Women.  And children.  Anyone who ate worked.  As they did on the family farm.  Which is why they had large families.  For the more children they had the more land they could work.  Allowing them to eat during the good times.  During the winters.  The occasional drought.  While having large food surpluses to sell.  Allowing them to build wealth.  Just like the landowners in the Old World.  The aristocracy.  Only instead of peasants working the land it was family.

But with the Industrial Revolution came change.  The steam engine mechanized farming.  Allowing fewer people to produce more.  Also, steam power allowed factories away from rivers.  As they no longer needed moving water to turn a waterwheel.  So factories filled our cities.  Creating a lot of jobs.  This and the mechanization of the farm requiring fewer hands to work the land began a migration.  Of people from the country.  To the cities.

The Migration from the Family Farm to the Big City got People used to Bigger Government and Taxes

The world modernized in the 1800s.  Food was never more plentiful.  Allowing more people to leave the farm.  And think about other things.  Like electrical engineering.  Nikola Tesla gave us AC electric power.  And the AC electric motor.  Changing manufacturing forever.  Those little spinning machines filled our factories.  And operated the machines in those factories.  Everything we ever made we made better and more efficiently thanks to the electric motor.  Allowing us to manufacture more than ever.  And manufacture more complex things.  Factories grew.  With many levels of manufacturing contained within.  Packing more people than ever in these factories.

The common perception of this industrial world is of sweatshops.  Child labor.  Soot and smoke casting a pall over overcrowded cities.  Where people packed into overcrowded housing.  Thanks to that migration from the family farm to the big city factories.  Which changed things.  Instead of people raising a large family on a large farm where there was plenty of room and plenty of food to eat these families were living in cramped apartments in the crowded city.  And they had to pay for the food they ate.  And the more mouths they had to feed the more money it took.  This was a big change.  Whereas on the farm a large family meant more food.  And more wealth.  In the city, though, more children meant less food for everyone else to eat.  And more poverty.

The growth of cities also caused another change.  When people lived on scattered farms they didn’t need any government services.  But in the crowded cities they did.  Homes had utilities.  And sanitation.  Cities also had streets.  Which the city needed to maintain.  Eventually there was street lighting.  And traffic signals.  Police departments.  Fire departments.  Schools.  And teachers.  All of these things cost money.  And we paid for them with taxes.  Getting people used to bigger government.  And bigger taxes.  Then the progressives entered government at the federal level.  Who wanted government to do at the federal level what it did at the local level.  Be mother to the people.  Instead of just doing those things the Constitution said it should do.

A Falling Fertility Rate forced the Government to go into ‘World War’ Debt just to pay for Social Security and Medicare

The fertility rate (the number of children a woman has during her child-bearing days) fell all during the 1800s.  As large families went from being wealth producers on the farm to poverty inducers in the cities.  While federal debt from the American Revolutionary War fell during the early 1800s.  The debt fell because there wasn’t a lot of federal spending.  So it wasn’t hard to retire that debt.  But that federal restraint didn’t last.  There was a spike in federal debt (as a percent of GDP) following American Civil War (1861-1865) as they had to borrow heavily to pay for that war.  But after the war the debt level did not fall back to pre-war levels.  A trend that would continue.  As we can see here.

Fertilty Rate versus Debt as Percent of GDP

There was another spike in federal debt following World War I (1917-1918).  But the debt level never fell back to pre-war levels.  Then the Great Depression and the New Deal (1930s) began another spike in Federal debt.  That World War II took to record highs.  And once again after the war the federal debt did not fall back to pre-war levels.  Then came President Reagan.  Who had the guts to call communism what it was.  A failed economic system that oppressed its people and was the greatest killer of the 20th century.  To push the Soviet Union into the ‘ash heap of history’ Reagan forced them to spend more than they could afford.  By ramping up defense spending to a level the Soviets couldn’t match.  Which ultimately won the Cold War (1947-1991, with Reagan delivering the knockout blow during his presidency (1981-1989) ).  But federal debt levels, once again, did not fall back to pre-war levels.  In fact, despite the peace dividend President Clinton inherited he still raised federal spending.  Just at a reduced rate than it was during the Cold War.  President Bush gave us Medicare Part D (drugs for seniors).  Then came 9/11.  And the War on Terror.  Then President Obama.  Who despite ending the Iraq War had the greatest budget deficits of any president.  As he spent more than any other president.  As he tried to transform the country into a European social democracy.  Sending out debt soaring to new heights.

FDR gave us Social Security in 1935.  At the tail-end of a long decline in the fertility rate.  Promising great benefits to future retirees.  Which LBJ added to during the Sixties with his Great Society.  During the post-war baby boom.  Perhaps assuming that increasing fertility rate would provide a lot of new taxpayers in the future when the weight of all these new government programs (FDR’s and LBJ’s) would be felt.  But then two things happened that they didn’t quite plan on.  The birth control pill and abortion created a baby bust following the baby boom.  Worse, thanks to modern medicine people were living longer into retirement.  Consuming more Social Security and Medicare benefits than anyone had ever imagined.  And just when the full force of those baby boomers was going to hit there were going to be fewer taxpayers around to pay for it.  Thanks to that baby bust.  More retirees paid for by fewer taxpayers.  A recipe for disaster.  Which is why debt soared towards World War II highs following the Cold War.  Even though there was no world war.  Because the cost of all those government benefits far exceeded the tax revenue.  Forcing the government to go into ‘world war’ debt just to pay for Social Security.  Medicare.  And everything else the federal government was providing so they could play mother to the American people.

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The Rise and Fall of the American Textile Industry

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 2nd, 2013

History 101

Inventions and Innovation gave the United States a Burgeoning Textile Industry

The American textile industry was founded by businessmen.  And inventors and their inventions.  Not by any labor movement.  For before there could be a labor movement there first had to be industry to employ laborers.  And laborers weren’t creating these industries.  They were just selfishly waiting for others to do this so they could get a job in them one day.

We may never know which came first.  The chicken or the egg.  But we do know which came first when it comes to industries and laborers.  The mind came first then the muscle.  Rich people with a keen eye to judge a good investment.  Businessmen and entrepreneurs unafraid to take a risk.  And who will throw their body and soul into their business.  Then the non-risk taking people come along.  The laborers.  Who have no skin in the game.  Who wait until the minds come together to create something in which they can apply their labor.  And get a paycheck.

Samuel Slater built cotton mills in New England (1800ish).  Slatersville Rhode Island, the town he established, bears his name.  Francis Cabot Lowell and Paul Moody created a more efficient power loom and a spinning apparatus (early 1800s).  Elias Howe invented the sewing machine (mid 1800s).  And the lock-stitch.  Throw in a few more inventions, some improvements on past inventions and some innovation and you have a burgeoning U.S. textile industry.

The Luddites went about England smashing the Machines of the Mechanized Textile Industry

Cloth-making used to be a labor-intensive activity of highly skilled artisans.  For those who had the money to afford the costly clothing they made.  Many could not.  And made their own clothing in the home.  Women would spin fiber into yarn.  And weave the yarn into cloth.  Which was very labor intensive.  Allowing only a meager production of clothing for the family to wear.  Which meant a lot of darning for worn out clothing.  Hand-sewing patches to cover holes.  Sewing ripped seams back together.  And sewing together rips and tears.  Until the clothing was so worn that it couldn’t be darned anymore.

It is hard to fathom how important this was during early America.  A time of a mini ice age.  In the north the winters were long and they were cold.  This homemade clothing may not have been pretty.  But it could keep you from dying of exposure in those brutally cold winters.  The mechanization of the textile industry changed all of that.  Smart inventors and business owners used machines to automate the cloth-making process.  Allowing less skilled people to operate smart machines.  Producing more clothes for less.  Bringing the cost of clothing down.  So anyone could afford to buy clothing.

Of course, this did not make everyone happy.  As those machines replaced the need for highly skilled artisans.  Who demanded high prices for their craft.  Allowing only the rich to afford their wares.  They didn’t like these machines cutting into their high wages.  And did something about it.  A group of people called ‘Luddites’ went about England smashing the machines of the mechanized textile industry (1811-1817).  Hoping to force a return to the old ways of making clothing.  By skilled artisan.  Where only the rich could afford to buy clothing.

Unions have Exported Entire Industries to Emerging Economies to Escape Soaring Labor and Regulatory Costs

Just as the textile industry was modernizing and mechanizing two seamstresses formed the first all-women’s labor union in 1825.  The United Tailoresses of New York.  Protesting 16-hour workdays.  And the lack of a living wage.  Strikes followed.  The Lowell, Massachusetts, mill women’s strike in 1834.  The Manayunk, Pennsylvania, textile strike in 1834.  The Paterson, New Jersey, textile strike in 1835.  And the Llowell, Massachusetts, mill women’s strike in 1836.  In 1844 women formed and ran the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association.  Then more strikes.  The Cohoes, New York, cotton mill strike in 1882.  The Fall River, Massachusetts, textile strike in 1884.  The Augusta, Georgia, textile strike in 1886.  The Fall River, Massachusetts, textile strike in 1889.  In 1890 New York garment workers won the right to unionize.  Close their shops to nonunion workers.  And fire any nonunion workers on the payroll.  In 1900 the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union was founded.  In 1901 the United Textile Workers was founded.  Then came the New York shirtwaist strike in 1909.  Massachusetts passed the first minimum wage law for women and minors in 1912.  Then came the Lawrence, Massachusetts, textile strike in 1912.  Giving us the walking picket line.  Then the Paterson, New Jersey, textile strike in 1913.  The Amalgamated Clothing Workers union was founded in 1914.  Then the Fulton bag and cotton mill strike in 1914.  The Passaic, New Jersey, Textile Strike in 1926.  And so on.

The Luddites hated the machinery of the modern textile industry.  As they didn’t like the idea of replacing many highly skilled and well-paid artisans with automated machinery operated by fewer low-skilled laborers.  So they tried to smash the automated machinery.  To try and save their jobs.  Which the labor movement was happy to see go away.  For they would rather pack as many low-skilled laborers into those Dickensian factories as possible.  For the more members they had in their unions the more powerful they were.  And the more they could demand from the business owners.  They demanded a lot, too.  Higher wages, shorter hours and better working conditions.  So much so that the cost of labor rose while productivity fell.  Throwing the door open to foreign competition.

The big labor movements used their friends in government to protect their generous union contracts.  By passing pro-union legislation.  And placing tariffs on imported textile goods.  Keeping clothing prices high.  So business could earn enough to pay those generous union pay and benefits.  But this left these businesses uncompetitive in the world’s markets.  Which they wanted to sell in.  For it wasn’t only Americans that wore clothes.  Those union contracts increased labor costs so much that businesses found it hard to remain in business let alone remain profitable.  So they started leaving the United States during the 20th century.  Which is why today there is no U.S. textile industry.  Because of the high cost of labor.  And costly regulatory policies.  Where is the textile industry today?  In the emerging economies.  Where labor and regulatory costs are lower than in America.  While the standard of living for those employed in these factories are often higher than their fellow countrymen.  Which is what unions have often done in the United States.  Create good jobs in emerging economies.  By exporting entire industries from the United States to these emerging economies.  Where they can escape soaring labor and regulatory costs.

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Slavery, the Cotton Gin, the Jacquard Loom, Punch Cards and Computers

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 12th, 2013

Technology 101

(Originally published December 7th, 2011)

African Slaves came to the New World because the Colonists needed Laborers

The Europeans didn’t invent slavery when they introduced it to the New World.  It’d been around since the dawn of civilization.  And it’s been a way of life in many civilizations for thousands of years.  Where no one was safe from the slave traders.  Some were born into slavery.  Some were simply soldiers captured in battle.  Even children were bought and sold.  Perhaps the saddest story is the Children’s Crusade of 1212.  When about 50,000 poor Christian kids walked from Central Europe to free Palestine from Muslim control and return it to the Christians.  They got as far as boarding ships in Italian ports.  But those ships did not deliver them to Palestine.  They delivered them instead into the Muslim slave markets of Northern Africa and the Middle East.  Where they were never heard from again.

African slaves came to the New World because the colonists needed laborers.  They tried enslaving the Native Americans.  But it was too easy for them to escape back into friendly territory.  And blend in with the indigenous population.  Not the case with black Africans.  Who didn’t know the surrounding country.  Or the languages.  What they knew was an ocean away.  Also, the locals had a tendency of dying from European diseases.  Especially smallpox.  Whereas the Africans were long exposed to smallpox.  And built up some resistance to this scourge of European colonialism.

So the New World colonies began with slaves harvesting their crops.  Slaves that the Europeans bought from African slave traders.  Who had long been selling captured Africans to the Arabs.  And had no problem selling them to the Europeans.  And so began the problem of slavery in America.

With the Cotton Gin Separating the Seed from the Cotton Fiber became not so Labor Intensive

When the British American colonists started talking about liberty the slavery problem was the elephant in the room that they were reluctant to talk about.  When Jefferson wrote that all men were created equal they knew that meant those enslaved against their will, too.  Yet here they were.  These liberty-seeking people were enslaving people themselves.  But there was a problem.  To form a united country the Founding Fathers needed the southern states.  Who used slaves as the basis for their economy.  And they weren’t going to join a union without their slaves.  So they wouldn’t talk about the elephant.  Instead they tabled that discussion for 20 years.  With the population growing they didn’t need slaves anymore.  There were few in the North.  And the South should follow suit.  It was inevitable.  Leaving just one problem to solve.  What to do with their slaves as they transitioned to paid laborers.  Which the Founding Fathers were sure the southern slave owners could solve within those 20 years.

Slave-labor was not efficient.  George Washington wanted to sell his slaves and replace them with paid laborers.  Because paid laborers cost less.  You only paid them for their labors.  And then they went away.  And if you changed your crops you could easily hire new laborers skilled in the new crop.  Not quite so easy with a large slave labor force.  So those in the North had good reason to believe that slavery would slowly give way to paid laborers.  Even in the South.  Or so they thought.  But one of the staple crops of the South started to shape events.  Cotton.

Cotton was a labor-intensive crop to harvest.  And separating the seed from the cotton was even more labor-intensive.  Until someone mechanized this process.  With a cotton engine.  The cotton gin.  Patented in America by Eli Whitney.  A hand-cranked device that used hooks to pull the cotton fiber through a screen.  The holes in the screen were small enough to let the cotton fiber through.  But not large enough for the seeds to pass.  With the cotton gin separating the seed from the cotton fiber became not so labor intensive.   In fact, these little machines could clean cotton faster than the slaves could harvest it.  Which meant, of course, there was a lot more cotton that could be grown and harvested.  Which created a new slavery boom.  And dashed all the hopes of the Founding Fathers.

Cheap Cloth Unleashed a lot of Economic Activity which Improved the Quality of Life

Many blame the cotton gin for extending the institution of slavery in America.  And the bloody American Civil War that ended it.  But apart from this the cotton gin was a fundamental step in modernizing economies everywhere.  And helped to spur the textile industry forward.   By creating an abundant source of material for weaving looms everywhere.

The textile industry was important because everyone wore clothes.  And we made clothes from cloth.  Once upon a time people made their own clothes.  Or spent a lot of money for store-bought clothes.  Leaving them with little time or money for other things.  So cheap cloth unleashed a lot of economic activity.  Which improved the quality of life.  The Chinese started this process.  By giving us an advanced loom that used foot-power to lift thread.  And the spinning wheel to make yarn.  All the weavers needed were abundant sources of fiber to feed these machines.  Such as American cotton.

The Chinese also made some beautiful silk tapestries with complex patterns.  Which were very difficult to reproduce by hand in the West.  Until the French automated this process.  When Joseph Marie Jacquard improved on the works of Basile Bouchon, Jean Baptiste Falcon and Jacques Vaucanson.  And created the Jacquard loom.  This automated the pattern process coming from those Chinese looms.  By using punch cards to automatically lift the proper threads to reproduce that complex pattern.  An impressive advance.  But one that did not impress the French.  Who were busier with revolution than fancy weaved patterns.  But the British were interested.  And they used the Jacquard loom in their booming textile industry.  Fed largely by that abundant American cotton.  Until the American Civil War, at least.

An Advanced Automated and Mechanized Economy has no Room for Slavery

The British also used this punch card idea to automate their shipbuilding industry.  To speed up the riveting process.  By automating riveting machines.  To make ships that carried immigrants to the new world.  Who swelled the American population.  Making the census taking more and more complex.  And another punch card system made counting these people simpler.  The tabulator.  Where an operator punched holes in a card to represent information for each person.  Age.  Marital status.  Country of origin.  Etc.  IBM would use this idea of punching information into a card later.  To program some of the first computers.  Machines that increased efficiencies further.  By replacing ever more people with machines.

So it is an interesting turn of events.  Eli Whitney created the cotton gin in America.  A machine that was part of a series of technological developments that increased efficiencies and reduced the number of workers needed to perform once labor intensive tasks.  All during this process fewer people were able to do more things.  Except one thing.  Planting and harvesting cotton.  That would take first a civil war.  And then steam-powered farming equipment.  To automate farming.  Which came later to the South than it did in the slavery-free North.  And other parts of the world.

Life got better for everyone the more advanced the economy became.  Sure, a lot of people lost jobs.  But that’s progress.  A few lost jobs is a small price to pay when the masses can enjoy a better life.  Thanks to automation and mechanization.  And that includes slaves.  Or, rather, former slaves.  For an advanced automated and mechanized economy has no room for slavery.

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The Roaring Twenties and the Stock Market Crash of 1929

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 23rd, 2013

History 101

The Roaring Twenties gave us the Modern World and one of the Greatest Economic Booms in History

When the steam engine hit the American farm it increased farm production.  By mechanizing the farm fewer farmers could farm more land.  Allowing American farmers to produce bumper crops.  Creating a boom in farm exports.  Especially during World War I.  As Europeans farmers exchanged their plows for rifles Europe had no one to grow their food.  So even though the mechanization of the American farm caused crop prices to fall the increase in sales volume brought in more farm revenue.  Life was good for the American farmer.  For businesses manufacturing all of that mechanized farm equipment.  And the banks making loans to farmers so they could mechanize their farms.

The1920 presidential election pitted a progressive Democrat against a conservative Republican.  The progressive promised to raise tax rates to pay down the war debt.  Andrew Mellon, Warren Harding’s treasury secretary, found that high tax rates were counterproductive.  They actually reduced tax revenue.  As wealthy people invested their money out of the country to avoid high tax rates.  So when Harding won the election they cut tax rates.  With no need to shelter their income the wealthy invested their money in the United States.  Pouring their money into the domestic economy caused great economic activity.  Great returns on investment.  And great income tax revenue.  The wealthy paid almost three times as much in tax revenue.  While the tax burden on the poor fell.  And the national debt fell by one third.

Harding died in office but Calvin Coolidge continued his policies.  He slashed government spending along with those tax cuts.  Pulling the government out of the private sector economy.  And the private sector economy responded.  Creating a lot of jobs.  Unemployment fell to as low as 2%.  And living standards soared.  For everyone.  Not just those in the unions.  In fact, this general rise in living standards weakened the unions.  For you didn’t need to belong to a union to live well.  It was the beginning of the modern world.  Brought about by a burst of innovation and manufacturing that lasted 8 years.  One of the greatest economic booms in history.  Henry Ford’s moving assembly line made the car affordable for the working man.  Auto registrations rose from 9 million in 1921 to 23 million by 1929.  An increase of 156%.  And keeping pace with the auto manufacturers were their suppliers.  Metal, steel, paint, lumber, leather, cotton, glass, rubber, etc.  And especially the oil industry.  That made lubricating oils and greases.  And the gasoline that powered all of these cars.  With so many jobs per capita income increased from $522 in 1921 to $716 in 1929.  An increase of 37%.  With people earning more home ownership soared.  And this boom in economic activity didn’t end there.

Herbert Hoover thought Government could better Manage the Economy than Messy Laissez-Faire Free Market Forces

Electric utilities were bringing the new electric power to industrial users and private homes during the Twenties.  Industry was using 300% more electric power than they were in 1899.  And it changed home life.  As electric clothes irons, vacuum cleaners, clothes washers, toasters and refrigerators became common household items by the end of the Twenties.  Households that had a telephone increased by 51% during the Twenties.  People were watching movies.  And saw the first talkies in the Twenties.  The radio also became a household fixture with some 7.5 million radio sets sold by 1928.   The economy was booming.  The middle class was expanding.  Consumer prices fell due to increases in productivity giving people more disposable income than they ever had before.  Causing an increase in consumer spending.  Allowing 1 in 5 Americans to own a car.  And increasing the number of people who could afford to fly from 40,000 in 1920 to 417,000 in 1930.  An increase of 943%.  So Americans were buying a lot.  But they were also saving a lot.  And investing.  Some 28% of American families owned stock.  Something once the exclusive privilege of the rich.  Wage earners were even buying life insurance policies to provide for their families in the event of their death.  Things were happening in the United States during the Twenties.  And the innovation and economic tsunami coming out of America had those in Europe worried.  So worried that they were discussing forming a United States of Europe to compete with the American system.

But all was not good.  During the Twenties those Europeans traded their rifles back for plows.  Reducing the export market for American farmers.  And when European governments threw up tariffs on America farm goods that export market disappeared.  Putting great surpluses into the American market.  Causing crop prices to fall further.  Crashing farm incomes.  Making some farmers unable to service their debt for all of that mechanized equipment they financed.  And when they defaulted on their loans en masse banks in the farming regions failed.  And when they did the money supply contracted.  The Federal Reserve made no effort to stop this contraction.  Which had a cooling effect.  Tapping the breaks on an expanding economy.

Coolidge chose not to run for a second term.  His successor, Herbert Hoover, was a progressive Republican.  And was everything Coolidge was not.  Hoover favored a big government perfecting the country.  He was a professional bureaucrat.  He loved bureaucracies.  And he loved paperwork and forms.  Which he wanted to bury private business in.  He thought the government could manage the economy better than messy laissez-faire free market forces.  Those very forces that created the Roaring Twenties.  He wanted to partner government with business.  With the emphasis on government.  (As president he increased the size of the Commerce Department and deepened its reach into the private sector economy.)

The Smoot-Hawley Tariff caused Investors to Dump their Stocks causing the Stock Market Crash of 1929

The Federal Reserve misjudged the stock market.  They thought it was nothing but speculation.  Citing radio maker RCA’s stock price’s meteoric rise.  So the Fed tapped the breaks further to cool this ‘speculative’ fervor.  Further contracting the money supply.  But this wasn’t speculation.  The rate of growth in radio sales actually was greater than the rate of growth in the stock price.  Making it more likely that the stock was undervalued.  Not overvalued.  But the Fed went ahead and contracted the money supply anyway.  Making it difficult for business to get funding for continued growth.  Despite there still being people out there who hadn’t bought a car, a house, electric appliances or a radio yet.  And wanted to.

In 1929 a new tariff bill was moving through Congressional committees.  The Smoot-Hawley Tariff.  Which would raise taxes on imports by up to 30%.  Which would greatly increase the cost of business.  Because most if not all of American manufacturing used some imported raw materials.  Which would increase their selling prices.  Making them less competitive.  Worse, if the U.S. slapped tariffs on imports it was certain their trading partners would respond with some retaliatory tariffs.  Which would just shut down their export markets.  Much like those tariffs shut down the export markets for American farmers.  Then in the autumn of 1929 the Smoot-Hawley Tariff passed critical votes in committee.  Sending the tariff bill on its way to becoming law.  This was not good news for investors.

It was all too much.  The coming expansion of government regulation over the private sector economy.  Higher taxes to pay for this bigger government.  The contraction of the money supply.  And then the Smoot-Hawley Tariff.  Investors could read the writing on the wall.  None of this would be good for business.  It would just smother the economic growth of the Twenties.  For if you increase businesses’ costs and decrease their markets you will slash their profits.  Which will reduce the value of these companies.  And reduce the value of their stock prices.  As investors live by the adage of “buy low, sell high” they’d want to sell those stocks fast before the Smoot-Hawley Tariff sent their prices into a tailspin.  Which they did.  Causing a great selloff starting in October.  That led to the Stock Market Crash of 1929.

Now contrast that with a true speculative bubble.  The dot-com bubble.  Where investors poured money into these dot-com companies eager to find the next Microsoft.  Aided and abetted by the Federal Reserve that was keeping interest rates artificially low.  To encourage all sorts of investment.  Including ones driven by irrational exuberance.  So investors were bidding those stock prices into the stratosphere.  For companies that had no profits.  For companies that didn’t have a product or service to sell.  But these investors were looking with great anticipation at their future profits.  Even though they really didn’t understand the Internet.  They just knew that computers were involved.  Which is what made Microsoft rich.  Producing software to run on computers.  And every investor was sure their dot-com was going to produce something to run on computers.  Making that company rich.  And their investors.  But when the start-up capital ran out there were no earnings to replace it.  And the speculative bubble burst beginning on March 11, 2000.  And those highly overvalued stock prices began to fall back to earth.  With the tech-laden NASDAQ losing 78% of its value before it was all over.  Now THAT is a speculative bubble that the Federal Reserve should have tried to prevent.  Not the economic boom of the Twenties where companies were building real things that real people were buying.

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The Federal Reserve, Roaring Twenties, Stock Market Crash, Banking Crises, Great Depression and John Maynard Keynes

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 25th, 2012

History 101

The Federal Reserve increased the Money Supply to Lower Interest Rates during the Roaring Twenties

Benjamin Franklin said, “Industry, perseverance, & frugality, make fortune yield.”  He said that because he believed that.  And he proved the validity of his maxim with a personal example.  His life.  He worked hard.  He never gave up.  And he was what some would say cheap.  He saved his money and spent it sparingly.  Because of these personally held beliefs Franklin was a successful businessman.  So successful that he became wealthy enough to retire and start a second life.  Renowned scientist.  Who gave us things like the Franklin stove and the lightning rod.  Then he entered his third life.  Statesman.  And America’s greatest diplomat.  He was the only Founder who signed the Declaration of Independence, Treaty of Amity and Commerce with France (bringing the French in on the American side during the Revolutionary War), Treaty of Paris (ending the Revolutionary War very favorably to the U.S.) and the U.S. Constitution.  Making the United States not only a possibility but a reality.  Three extraordinary lives lived by one extraordinary man.

Franklin was such a great success because of industry, perseverance and frugality.  A philosophy the Founding Fathers all shared.  A philosophy that had guided the United States for about 150 years until the Great Depression.  When FDR changed America.  By building on the work of Woodrow Wilson.  Men who expanded the role of the federal government.  Prior to this change America was well on its way to becoming the world’s number one economy.   By following Franklin-like policies.  Such as the virtue of thrift.  Favoring long-term savings over short-term consumption.  Free trade.  Balanced budgets.  Laissez-faire capitalism.  And the gold standard.  Which provided sound money.  And an international system of trade.  Until the Federal Reserve came along.

The Federal Reserve (the Fed) is America’s central bank.  In response to some financial crises Congress passed the Federal Reserve Act (1913) to make financial crises a thing of the past.  The Fed would end bank panics, bank runs and bank failures.  By being the lender of last resort.  While also tweaking monetary policy to maintain full employment and stable prices.  By increasing and decreasing the money supply.  Which, in turn, lowers and raises interest rates.  But most of the time the Fed increased the money supply to lower interest rates to encourage people and businesses to borrow money.  To buy things.  And to expand businesses and hire people.  Maintaining that full employment.  Which they did during the Roaring Twenties.  For awhile.

The Roaring Twenties would have gone on if Herbert Hoover had continued the Harding/Mellon/Coolidge Policies

The Great Depression started with the Stock Market Crash of 1929.  And to this date people still argue over the causes of the Great Depression.  Some blame capitalism.  These people are, of course, wrong.  Others blamed the expansionary policies of the Fed.  They are partially correct.  For artificially low interest rates during the Twenties would eventually have to be corrected with a recession.  But the recession did not have to turn into a depression.  The Great Depression and the banking crises are all the fault of the government.  Bad monetary and fiscal policies followed by bad governmental actions threw an economy in recession into depression.

A lot of people talk about stock market speculation in the Twenties running up stock prices.  Normally something that happens with cheap credit as people borrow and invest in speculative ventures.  Like the dot-com companies in the Nineties.  Where people poured money into these companies that never produced a product or a dime of revenue.  And when that investment capital ran out these companies went belly up causing the severe recession in the early 2000s.  That’s speculation on a grand scale.  This is not what happened during the Twenties.  When the world was changing.  And electrifying.  The United States was modernizing.  Electric utilities, electric motors, electric appliances, telephones, airplanes, radio, movies, etc.  So, yes, there were inflationary monetary policies in place.  But their effects were mitigated by this real economic activity.  And something else.

President Warren Harding nominated Andrew Mellon to be his treasury secretary.  Probably the second smartest person to ever hold that post.  The first being our first.  Alexander Hamilton.  Harding and Mellon were laissez-faire capitalists.  They cut tax rates and regulations.  Their administration was a government-hands-off administration.  And the economy responded with some of the greatest economic growth ever.  This is why they called the 1920s the Roaring Twenties.  Yes, there were inflationary monetary policies.  But the economic growth was so great that when you subtracted the inflationary damage from it there was still great economic growth.  The Roaring Twenties could have gone on indefinitely if Herbert Hoover had continued the Harding and Mellon policies (continued by Calvin Coolidge after Harding’s death).  There was even a rural electrification program under FDR’s New Deal.  But Herbert Hoover was a progressive.  Having far more in common with the Democrat Woodrow Wilson than Harding or Coolidge.  Even though Harding, Coolidge and Hoover were all Republicans.

Activist Intervention into Market Forces turned a Recession into the Great Depression

One of the things that happened in the Twenties was a huge jump in farming mechanization.  The tractor allowed fewer people to farm more land.  Producing a boom in agriculture.  Good for the people.  Because it brought the price of food down.  But bad for the farmers.  Especially those heavily in debt from mechanizing their farms.  And it was the farmers that Hoover wanted to help.  With an especially bad policy of introducing parity between farm goods and industrial goods.  And introduced policies to raise the cost of farm goods.  Which didn’t help.  Many farmers were unable to service their loans with the fall in prices.  When farmers began to default en masse banks in farming communities failed.  And the contagion spread to the city banks.  Setting the stage for a nation-wide banking crisis.  And the Great Depression.

One of the leading economists of the time was John Maynard Keynes.  He even came to the White House during the Great Depression to advise FDR.  Keynes rejected the Franklin/Harding/Mellon/Coolidge policies.  And the policies favored by the Austrian school of economics (the only people, by the way, who actually predicted the Great Depression).  Which were similar to the Franklin/Harding/Mellon/Coolidge policies.  The Austrians also said to let prices and wages fall.  To undo all of that inflationary damage.  Which would help cause a return to full employment.  Keynes disagreed.  For he didn’t believe in the virtue of thrift.  He wanted to abandon the gold standard completely and replace it with fiat money.  That they could expand more freely.  And he believed in demand-side solutions.  Meaning to end the Great Depression you needed higher wages not lower wages so workers had more money to spend.  And to have higher wages you needed higher prices.  So the employers could pay their workers these higher wages.  And he also encouraged continued deficit spending.  No matter the long-term costs.

Well, the Keynesians got their way.  And it was they who gave us the Great Depression.  For they influenced government policy.  The stock market crashed in part due to the Smoot Hawley Tariff then in committee.  But investors saw the tariffs coming and knew what that would mean.  An end to the economic boom.  So they sold their stocks before it became law.  Causing the Stock Market Crash of 1929.  Then those tariffs hit (an increase of some 50%).  Then they doubled income tax rates.  And Hoover even demanded that business leaders NOT cut wages.  All of this activist intervention into market forces just sucked the wind out of the economy.  Turning a recession into the Great Depression.

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Roaring Twenties, Farmers, Mechanization, Smoot-Hawley Tariff, Stock Market Crash, Great Depression and Taxi Medallions

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 12th, 2012

History 101

The New Economic Reality of Farming was that we needed Fewer Farmers in the Age of Mechanization

The Roaring Twenties was a decade of solid, real economic growth.  The world modernized during the Twenties.  Electric power, telephone, radio, motion pictures, air travel, etc.  So much of what we take for granted today became a reality during the Roaring Twenties.  But there was a downside.  Farmers borrowed money to mechanize their farms.  As farms mechanized they produced great crop yields.  Bringing bumper crops to market.  There was so much food brought to market that prices plummeted.  Reducing farm incomes so much that they couldn’t service the debt they incurred to mechanize their farms.  They defaulted.  Causing banks to fail.

By the late Twenties all the European farmers who fought in World War I were back on the farm.  And were feeding Europe again.  So not only were the Americans producing bumper crops they were losing a large export market.  Forcing farm prices down further.  There were simply more farmers than the economy was demanding thanks to the new efficiencies in farming.  But because there were so many farmers they were an important political constituency.  They were still casting a lot of votes.  So the politicians stepped in.  With a complete disregard to economic principles.  And tried to help the farmers.  With rent-seeking policies.

The farmers were hurting.  So they wanted to transfer some wealth from the masses to the farmers.  As in rent-seeking.  As opposed to profit-seeking.  Instead of creating wealth (profit-seeking) they were transferring wealth (rent-seeking).  And they did this with price supports.  They raised the price of their crops above market value.  Forcing Americans to make sacrifices in their lives so they could afford to pay higher food prices to help the farmers.  So the farmers wouldn’t have to adjust to the new economic reality of farming.  We need fewer farmers in the age of mechanization.  But it just didn’t end with higher prices.  The government would buy excess food grown by these ‘too many farmers’ and destroy it.  Or pay farmers NOT to grow food.  Then they took it up a notch.  And slapped tariffs on imported food.  Further raising the price of food.

In an Effort to raise Farming Prices the Rent-Seekers caused the Great Deflation of the Great Depression

Food tariffs were just one part of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act.  This act pretty much raised the tariff on everything the U.S. imported.  Greatly increasing the cost of all imports.  To protect the domestic producers from cheap foreign competition.  But there was a problem with increasing the cost of all imports.  It increased the price of whatever we built with those imports.  So much so that when they were discussing this act in Congress businesses across America knew the boom of the Twenties would end.  As did investors investing in these companies.  So even before the bill became law it caused a huge stock selloff.  Which led to the stock market crash of 1929. 

At first the higher prices helped American businesses.  Their revenue increased.  Everyone thought the tariff act was a success.  But as prices went up costs went up throughout the manufacturing pipeline.  Prices grew so high that people stopped buying.  Inventories accumulated so they cut production.  And then laid people off en masse.  Causing a great recession.  Then further rent-seeking solutions (more governmental intervention into the free market) turned that recession into the Great Depression.  What started out as a problem for overly efficient farmers turned into a national crisis.  In an effort to raise farming prices they caused the great deflation of the Great Depression.  As prices fell so did revenues.  Making it very difficult to service debt.  More people defaulted on their debt.  And more banks failed.

When the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act became law our trading partners answered in kind.  Leading to a great trade war.  So on top of everything else what limited export markets we had shut down as well.  As the trade barriers went up economic activity decreased.  David Ricardo’s Comparative Advantage worked in reverse.  Increasing opportunity costs.  When international markets closed less efficient domestic industries took their place.  Pulling resources from more efficient uses.  Raising the cost of those resources.  Adding these cost increases on top of the tariffs.  Which further increased prices.  And further lowered economic activity.  Adding further woe onto the Great Depression.

The Medallion System dates back to the Medieval Guilds and Restricts Entry into the Cabbie Market

As the Great Depression languished on few people filled the streets of New York City (NYC).  At least few people with money who had to go places.  There were more cabs than people needed.  Supply exceeded demand.  Putting a downward pressure on taxi fares.  And increasing the time a cabbie had to work to earn some decent money.  Usually the market steps in and corrects such a situation.  Forcing some cabbies out of the cabbie business.  But not in NYC.  There they used the power of government to address this surplus of supply.  And introduced the medallion system.

This was the kind of rent seeking that dated back to those medieval guilds.  The medallion restricted entry into the cabbie market.  By limiting the number of cabs in NYC.  Every cab (at least those who can pick up passengers who hail a cab at the curb) must have a medallion permanently affixed to their cab.  Which they must purchase from the city.  Or transfer from another cab.  Currently, if you want to drive a taxi cab in NYC you better have some deep pockets.  Or have the kind of credit that lets you get a very large mortgage.  For the medallion system exists to this day.  And that medallion may cost you close to a half million dollars.

If you ever wondered why it sometimes takes so long to hail a cab in NYC this is the reason.  Rent-seeking.  As in the medallion system.  Which works just like tariffs.  Reducing supply.  And increasing prices for consumers.  So the rent-seekers can use the power of government to transfer wealth.  Instead of using innovation to create wealth.  And bringing that wealth to the market place to trade.  Instead they choose to take more wealth from the market place than they bring to it.  With the help of government.  And their rent-seeking policies.  Thus reducing overall wealth in the economy.  Which reduces economic activity.  And does nothing to help lift an economy out of recession.  Or out of a Great Depression. 

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FT120: “Give a man a fish and he can eat for a day; give him a job and he can have an obesity problem.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 1st, 2012

Fundamental Truth

In Warfare Starvation and Famine are the most Potent of Weapons

Starvation and famine has plagued mankind since the dawn of time.  It was the driving force in evolution.  Those who took control of their food supply lived.  Those who didn’t disappeared from the evolutionary path.  Like Neanderthal.  And those who came before him.  Our earliest civilizations massed their populations to farm.  And the masses lived in cities.  Setting down roots and saying goodbye to their hunting and gathering ways.  In the Wei River valley.  In the Indus River valley.  The valleys of the Euphrates and Tigris.  In the Nile River valley.  Where modern life took root.  Produced our first food surpluses.  And gave birth to urban life.  And the middle class.

The rise of the middle class allowed civilization to flourish.  For every person that didn’t have to produce food could do something else.  Build better tools.  Create a better government.  Create art.  In general, think about other things.  Those other things that made humans different.  By giving us a more interesting life.  And more sophisticated ways to express ourselves.

But this growth was a double-edged sword.  For large urban populations that made life more enjoyable was also a great threat to the food supply.  A cool and wet summer could destroy crops.  Poor food storage could spoil the food surplus.  A war could see an enemy purposely destroy your crops and your food surplus.  Causing famine.  Where half or your city population could easily die before the next harvest.  Or more.  Especially if the famine resulted from an act of war.   As an act of genocide.  To clear people off land that others want to use for their own food needs.  Which was Hitler’s plan in Russia.  To take the food from the Ukraine.  Kill the indigenous population.  And replace them with Nazis.  Thus creating more living space for the Third Reich.  Or Lebensraum.    Because in warfare starvation and famine are the most potent of weapons.

History has shown that the most Food-Abundant Countries are the most Capitalistic

England led the way in agricultural advances.  Increasing crop yields such that small tracts of land could support greater populations.  As well as produce such huge food surpluses that they had food to export.  As the British Empire spread across the globe so did their advanced agricultural ways.  During the 19th century starvation and famine were becoming rarer in the technologically advanced West.  The 19th century Irish Potato Famine reduced Ireland’s population by up to 25%.  A tragedy of epic proportions.  But it was an exception to the rule.  For food was growing so abundant in the advanced Western World that rarely did people go hungry.  Or feared famine.  And when mechanization and chemistry hit the farm our crop yields exploded.

During the Twentieth Century the Western World produced so much food that food prices plummeted.  Causing the Great Depression.  There was so much food available that farmers couldn’t sell their food at a high enough price to service the debt that they incurred mechanizing their farms.  But not everyone was producing bumper crops in the Twentieth Century.  Both the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China set records for death by famine.  As they shunned the ways of the West.  And the state took over their agricultural sectors.  States that were so inept at good farming practices and things economic that crop yields plummeted.  North Korea to this day can’t even grow enough food for her own people.  And has recurring famines.  Because they hold on to the communist ways of Stalin and Mao.  While the Russians and the Chinese have long abandoned them. 

History has shown that the most food-abundant countries are the most capitalistic.  Countries whose agricultural sectors use the latest in technology.  And/or have a rich and vibrant economy that can buy all the food they need if they can’t produce their own.  Like Hong Kong.  Basically a rock off the Chinese mainland.  It has little arable land.  Few natural resources.  But what it does have is low taxation and free trade.  And laissez-faire capitalism.  The Chinese lost Hong Kong to the British Empire (who have since given it back).  And the British used laissez-faire capitalism to make Hong Kong the gem it is today.  Where people are free and in want of little.  And in this island nation that can’t grow enough food to feed their population famine is unheard of.  Why?  Because they have the wealth to trade for all the food they desire.  In fact, while Mao gave the people in the People’s Republic of China famine Hong Kong were doing just fine.  Because they were wealthy and could trade for what they needed.  And they had the Royal Navy protecting her.

In America our Food Supplies are so Abundant and so Cheap that Poor People are becoming Obese

Poverty is the biggest killer.  Famine is prevalent in poor countries.  Like Haiti.  North Korea.  And sub-Saharan Africa.  People suffer in these countries unlike they do in the West.  Despite the amount of aid the West pours into them.  And it’s not because Western nations were blessed with natural resources.  Hong Kong doesn’t have anything other than laissez-faire capitalism.  Protected by the Rule of Law and minimal government interference into the private sector economy.  The very things that are missing from Haiti, North Korea and sub-Saharan Africa.  Where corruption rules supreme.  There is little regard for human rights.  Or property rights.  And no one can protect their people from the abuses of government.  Or from warring neighbors.  Like the Royal Navy protected Hong Kong.  And pretty much the rest of the world during the 19th century.  Just like America’s military might made the world safe for capitalism in the Twentieth Century.

Third world nations are not a victim of first world nations.  They are a victim of themselves.  Where corrupt rulers collect Western aid and live well while their people suffer.  Especially the nations that eschew capitalism.  And embrace socialism.  Like the Soviet Union did.  Like the People’s Republic of China did (the current Chinese regime is enjoying economic growth by allowing some capitalism into their still communist country).  And like North Korea still does.  These socialist utopias were a living hell for their people.  Where they live in fear of their government.  And of famine.

Meanwhile in the Western capitalist nations what do they suffer from?  Especially the poor people in America?  Obesity.  In New York they’re passing laws restricting the size of sugary beverages because they are dangerous to your health.  While they pass out free condoms and birth control as sex is far less risky behavior than a delicious carbonated beverage.  Apparently.  Yes, in America our food supplies are so abundant and so cheap that poor people are becoming obese.  Because capitalism has made those food supplies abundant and cheap.  And capitalism gave people jobs where they could afford to buy so much food that they can give themselves an obesity problem.  A problem they just don’t have in Haiti, North Korea or sub-Saharan Africa.  Because they can’t grow enough food.  Or earn enough money to buy enough food.  For they don’t have an environment conducive to creating jobs.  Which is why these nations are still impoverished and/or suffering famine despite all the aid the West gives them.  Food aid will run out.  And then they’ll just be starving once again.  If they have jobs, though, they’ll be able to buy food whenever they’re hungry.  Because it’s like that old saying.  Give a man a fish and he can eat for a day; give him a job and he can have an obesity problem.

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The Great Depression

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 20th, 2011

History 101

The  Roaring Twenties were a Time of Unprecedented Innovation and Manufacturing

The Roaring Twenties were good times.  Kicked off by the Warren Harding administration.  Thanks to one of the few honest guys in his administration besides Harding.  Andrew Mellon.  Secretary of the treasury extraordinaire.  Some say the best secretary of the treasury since our first.  Alexander Hamilton.  High praise indeed.

So what did Mellon do?  He did some research that showed rich people paid less in taxes the higher the tax rates were.  The higher the rate the less they invested in plant and equipment in America.  Instead they invested their money out of the country.  In other countries’ plant and equipment.  So Mellon was a tax-cutter.  And that was his advice to Harding.  And that’s what Harding did.  And Calvin Coolidge continued.  Kept taxes low.  And kept government out of the business of business.

And how business responded.  The 1920s were a time of unprecedented innovation and manufacturing.  Low taxes, little government spending and limited government produced record employment.  Record upward mobility.  And record per capita income.  Gains in the decade touched 37%.  How?  I’ll tell you how.

The auto industry was booming thanks to Henry Ford’s moving assembly line.  Everyone was driving who wanted to drive.  The car companies sold one car for every 5 people.  This production created a boom in other industries to feed this industry.  And cars did something else.  They gave people mobility.  And opportunity.  People left the farms in droves and drove to better jobs.  Which didn’t hurt the farmers in the least as mechanization on the farm put more land under cultivation with fewer people.  Housing and cities grew.  Radio debuted.  And radio advertising.  Motion pictures went from silent to talkies.  Telephones became more common.  New electric utilities brought electricity to homes.  And new electric appliances filled those homes.  Including radios.  New electric motors filled our factories, increasing productivity and slashing consumer prices.  More people than ever before flew.  An increase of nearly 1000%.  It’s nowhere near today’s number of flyers but it was a reflection of the new industrial dominance of the United States.  There was nothing we couldn’t do.  And Europe was taking notice.  And not liking what they saw.  And talked about a European union to compete against the Americans.

Businesses scaled back Production in Anticipation of the Smoot Hawley Tariff Act

So the spectacular economic growth of the Roaring Twenties was solid growth.  It wasn’t a bubble.  It was the real deal.  Thanks to capitalism.  And a government willing to leave the free market alone.  It was so dominating that the Europeans wanted to stop it anyway they could.  One way was protective tariffs on farm imports.

American farm exports boomed during World War I.  Because most of Europe’s farmers were busy fighting.  With the end of the war the Europeans went back to their farms.  Which reduced the need for American farm imports.  And the tariffs compounded that problem.  To make things worse, prices were already falling thanks to the mechanization of the American farm.  Producing bumper crops.  Which, of course, dropped farm prices.  Good for consumers.  But bad for farmers.  Especially with the Europeans shutting off their markets to the Americans.  Because they paid for a lot of that land and mechanization with borrowed money.  And this debt was getting harder and harder to service.  Throw in some weather and insect problems in some regions and it was just too much.   Some farms failed.  Then a lot.  And then the banks that loaned money to these farms began to fail.

We created the Federal Reserve to increase the money supply to keep pace with the growing economy.  By making money cheap to borrow for those businesses trying to expand to meet demand.  They weren’t exactly doing a stellar job, though, in keeping pace with this economic expansion.  And when the bank failures hit the money supply contracted.  Thanks to fractional reserve banking.  All that money the banks created simply disappeared as the banks failed.  Starving manufactures of money to maintain growth to meet demand.  Things were getting bad around 1928.  The Fed did not intervene to save these banks.  Worried that investors were the only ones borrowing money for speculation in the stock market, they shrunk the money supply further.  About a third by 1932.  Manufacturers had no choice but to cut production.

While businesses were dealing with a shrinking money supply they had something else to worry about.  Congress was moving the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act through congressional committees in 1929 on its way to becoming law in 1930.  This act would add a 30% tax on most imports.  Meaning that the cost factories paid for raw materials would increase by up to 30%.  Of course, sales prices have to include all costs of production.  So sales prices would have to increase.  Higher prices mean fewer sales.  Because people just can’t afford to buy as much at higher prices.  Businesses knew that once the tariff was passed into law it would reduce sales.  So they took preemptive steps.  And scaled back production for the expected fall in sales.

It was Government Meddling that Turned a Recession in the Great Depression

This brings us to the stock market crash.  The Roaring Twenties produced huge stock market gains as industry exploded in America.  Things grew at an aggressive pace.  Stock prices soared.  Because the value of these manufacturers soared.  And investors saw nothing to indicate this growth was going to stop.  Until the contraction of the money supply.  And then the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act.  Not only would these slow the growth, they would reverse it.  Leading to the great selloff.  The Great Crash.  And the Great Depression.

As feared the Europeans responded to the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act.  They imposed tariffs on American imports.  Making things worse for American exports.  Then President Hoover increased farm prices by law to help farmers.  Which only reduced farm sales further.  Then the banking crisis followed.  And the Fed did nothing to help the banks.  Again.  When they did start helping banks in trouble they made public which banks were receiving this help.  Which, of course, caused further bank runs as people hurried to get their money out of these troubled banks.  Tax revenue plummeted.  So Hoover passed a new sales tax to raise more revenue.  Which only made things worse.

Hoover was a Republican.  But he was a Big Government progressive.  Just like his successor.  FDR.  And all of their Big Government Keynesian solutions only prolonged the Great Depression.  It was government meddling that turned a recession into the Great Depression.  And further government meddling that prolonged the Great Depression.  Much of FDR’s New Deal programs were just extensions of the Hoover programs.  And they failed just as much as they did under Hoover.  The Great Depression only ended thanks to Adolf Hitler who plunged Europe back into war.  Providing an urgency to stop their government meddling.  And to let business do what they do best.  Business.  And they did.  Building the arsenal that defeated Hitler.

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Slavery, the Cotton Gin, the Jacquard Loom, Punch Cards and Computers

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 7th, 2011

Technology 101

African Slaves came to the New World because the Colonists needed Laborers

The Europeans didn’t invent slavery when they introduced it to the New World.  It’d been around since the dawn of civilization.  And it’s been a way of life in many civilizations for thousands of years.  Where no one was safe from the slave traders.  Some were born into slavery.  Some were simply soldiers captured in battle.  Even children were bought and sold.  Perhaps the saddest story is the Children’s Crusade of 1212.  When about 50,000 poor Christian kids walked from Central Europe to free Palestine from Muslim control and return it to the Christians.  They got as far as boarding ships in Italian ports.  But those ships did not deliver them to Palestine.  They delivered them instead into the Muslim slave markets of Northern Africa and the Middle East.  Where they were never heard from again.

African slaves came to the New World because the colonists needed laborers.  They tried enslaving the Native Americans.  But it was too easy for them to escape back into friendly territory.  And blend in with the indigenous population.  Not the case with black Africans.  Who didn’t know the surrounding country.  Or the languages.  What they knew was an ocean away.  Also, the locals had a tendency of dying from European diseases.  Especially smallpox.  Whereas the Africans were long exposed to smallpox.  And built up some resistance to this scourge of European colonialism.

So the New World colonies began with slaves harvesting their crops.  Slaves that the Europeans bought from African slave traders.  Who had long been selling captured Africans to the Arabs.  And had no problem selling them to the Europeans.  And so began the problem of slavery in America.

With the Cotton Gin Separating the Seed from the Cotton Fiber became not so Labor Intensive

When the British American colonists started talking about liberty the slavery problem was the elephant in the room that they were reluctant to talk about.  When Jefferson wrote that all men were created equal they knew that meant those enslaved against their will, too.  Yet here they were.  These liberty-seeking people were enslaving people themselves.  But there was a problem.  To form a united country the Founding Fathers needed the southern states.  Who used slaves as the basis for their economy.  And they weren’t going to join a union without their slaves.  So they wouldn’t talk about the elephant.  Instead they tabled that discussion for 20 years.  With the population growing they didn’t need slaves anymore.  There were few in the North.  And the South should follow suit.  It was inevitable.  Leaving just one problem to solve.  What to do with their slaves as they transitioned to paid laborers.  Which the Founding Fathers were sure the southern slave owners could solve within those 20 years.

Slave-labor was not efficient.  George Washington wanted to sell his slaves and replace them with paid laborers.  Because paid laborers cost less.  You only paid them for their labors.  And then they went away.  And if you changed your crops you could easily hire new laborers skilled in the new crop.  Not quite so easy with a large slave labor force.  So those in the North had good reason to believe that slavery would slowly give way to paid laborers.  Even in the South.  Or so they thought.  But one of the staple crops of the South started to shape events.  Cotton.

Cotton was a labor-intensive crop to harvest.  And separating the seed from the cotton was even more labor-intensive.  Until someone mechanized this process.  With a cotton engine.  The cotton gin.  Patented in America by Eli Whitney.  A hand-cranked device that used hooks to pull the cotton fiber through a screen.  The holes in the screen were small enough to let the cotton fiber through.  But not large enough for the seeds to pass.  With the cotton gin separating the seed from the cotton fiber became not so labor intensive.   In fact, these little machines could clean cotton faster than the slaves could harvest it.  Which meant, of course, there was a lot more cotton that could be grown and harvested.  Which created a new slavery boom.  And dashed all the hopes of the Founding Fathers.

Cheap Cloth Unleashed a lot of Economic Activity which Improved the Quality of Life

Many blame the cotton gin for extending the institution of slavery in America.  And the bloody American Civil War that ended it.  But apart from this the cotton gin was a fundamental step in modernizing economies everywhere.  And helped to spur the textile industry forward.   By creating an abundant source of material for weaving looms everywhere.

The textile industry was important because everyone wore clothes.  And we made clothes from cloth.  Once upon a time people made their own clothes.  Or spent a lot of money for store-bought clothes.  Leaving them with little time or money for other things.  So cheap cloth unleashed a lot of economic activity.  Which improved the quality of life.  The Chinese started this process.  By giving us an advanced loom that used foot-power to lift thread.  And the spinning wheel to make yarn.  All the weavers needed were abundant sources of fiber to feed these machines.  Such as American cotton.

The Chinese also made some beautiful silk tapestries with complex patterns.  Which were very difficult to reproduce by hand in the West.  Until the French automated this process.  When Joseph Marie Jacquard improved on the works of Basile Bouchon, Jean Baptiste Falcon and Jacques Vaucanson.  And created the Jacquard loom.  This automated the pattern process coming from those Chinese looms.  By using punch cards to automatically lift the proper threads to reproduce that complex pattern.  An impressive advance.  But one that did not impress the French.  Who were busier with revolution than fancy weaved patterns.  But the British were interested.  And they used the Jacquard loom in their booming textile industry.  Fed largely by that abundant American cotton.  Until the American Civil War, at least.

An Advanced Automated and Mechanized Economy has no Room for Slavery

The British also used this punch card idea to automate their shipbuilding industry.  To speed up the riveting process.  By automating riveting machines.  To make ships that carried immigrants to the new world.  Who swelled the American population.  Making the census taking more and more complex.  And another punch card system made counting these people simpler.  The tabulator.  Where an operator punched holes in a card to represent information for each person.  Age.  Marital status.  Country of origin.  Etc.  IBM would use this idea of punching information into a card later.  To program some of the first computers.  Machines that increased efficiencies further.  By replacing ever more people with machines.

So it is an interesting turn of events.  Eli Whitney created the cotton gin in America.  A machine that was part of a series of technological developments that increased efficiencies and reduced the number of workers needed to perform once labor intensive tasks.  All during this process fewer people were able to do more things.  Except one thing.  Planting and harvesting cotton.  That would take first a civil war.  And then steam-powered farming equipment.  To automate farming.  Which came later to the South than it did in the slavery-free North.  And other parts of the world.

Life got better for everyone the more advanced the economy became.  Sure, a lot of people lost jobs.  But that’s progress.  A few lost jobs is a small price to pay when the masses can enjoy a better life.  Thanks to automation and mechanization.  And that includes slaves.  Or, rather, former slaves.  For an advanced automated and mechanized economy has no room for slavery.

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