Can History Save Us From A Depression?

It depends on whose interpretation of both history and the current crisis you believe. For one of America’s most prominent supply-side economists, the answer is yes.

Jude Wanniski was among the early leaders in the revival of supply-side economic theory. A former associate editor of The Wall Street Journal, he founded and is president of the consulting firm Polyconomics, Inc., which is located in Morristown, New Jersey, and advises leading corporations and institutional investors on economics, politics, and communications. In 1978 Simon & Schuster published his pioneering book on economic theory and history, The Way the World Works.Read more »

101 More Things Every College Graduate Should Know About American History

You Asked for It

When American Heritage suggested last year that I put together the article that became “101 Things Every College Graduate Should Know about American History,” I accepted the assignment eagerly. None of the many articles I have published in this magazine over the years have attracted half so much attention, and I became so absorbed in thinking of items to include that I soon had far more than could fit into an article. I therefore decided to gather still more.Read more »

How Capitalism Survived The Twentieth Century

One hundred years ago many thoughtful people predicted the decline and disappearance of capitalism. What happened to make their prophecy wrong?

People nowadays interchange gifts and favors out of friendship,” says a character speaking from the vantage point of the year 2000 in Edward Bellamy’s 1888 novel, Looking Backward, “but buying and selling is considered absolutely inconsistent with the mutual benevolence and disinterestedness which should prevail between citizens and the sense of community interest which supports our social system.” Writing a century ago, Bellamy foresaw that by 2000 there would be no money and no wages.Read more »

The Forgotten Four Hundred: Chicago’s First Millionaires

While New York families were spending fortunes inherited from fathers and grandfathers, the Chicago rich had to start from scratch, both making and lavishly spending money within one generation

 

The very rich are different from you and me, F. Scott Fitzgerald noted. It is not merely, as Ernest Hemingway wisecracked in response, that they have more money; the possession of a fortune sets them apart in other ways too. They are free to indulge their dreams; free from anxiety about bills; free from the basic burdens of a struggle for subsistence.Read more »

How I Became A Royal White Elephant, Third Class

A distinguished American poet recalls one of his more unusual jobs

When I was twenty-five, I spent a year tutoring the son of the king of Siam and his friend, the son of the Siamese prime minister. Fifty-five years later I am still filled with wonder when I think about it. 1 had just finished two years at Cambridge University in England and was full of myself. I had returned home a month before the 1929 Crash, which changed the lives of everybody and changed mine right away. Here I was, filled with energy and enthusiasm for life and feeling good about my career at Cambridge.Read more »

The Big Picture Of The Great Depression

The crisis swept over France and Germany and Britain alike—and they all nearly foundered. Now more than ever, it is important to remember it didn’t just happen here.

Back in 1955 John Kenneth Galbraith called the Great Depression of the 1930s “the most momentous economic occurrence in the history of the United States,” and thirty-odd years later that judgment, recorded in Galbraith’s best seller, The Great Crash , still holds. Since then there have been more recessions, some quite severe, but nothing like what happened in the thirties. As dozens of economists and historians have shown, we now know, in theory, how to deal with violent cyclical downturns.Read more »

The Wealth Of The Nation

The most influential economist in the United States talks about prudence, productivity, and the pursuit of liquidity in the light of the past

TWENTY YEARS AGO , the American economy hummed like a well-oiled machine. We actually exported automobiles and oil. Economists worried about the “dollar gap”—whether the rest of the world would have enough dollars to buy from us—and the inflation rate was one percent. The economists of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson spoke of “fine-tuning” the economy. Today the economy moves only by sputters and spurts. We have idle capacity; interest rates have been in double digits, and recently so has inflation.Read more »

The Cost Of Living In America, 1800—1980

A Graphic Treatment

The Department of Labor first began publishing a Cost of Living Index in 1919. Since then this measurement of the prices of the goods and services used by ordinary people in their day-to-day lives has been many times modified and refined. During World War II its title was changed to Consumer Price Index. Attempts also have been made to project the index back through the nineteenth century by collecting data from newspapers, business records, and other sources.Read more »

How To Raise A Family On $500 A Year

A REMARKABLE SOCIOLOGICAL EXPERIMENT SHOWED YOU COULD DO IT—IF YOU COULD STAND IT

In 1893 Chicago played host to a World’s Fair that rivaled the Paris Exposition of 1889 for splendor and exceeded all previous fairs in magnitude. The great Columbian Exposition not only demonstrated what had been accomplished in the four hundred years since Columbus’ first voyage to the New World but also offered a vision of what might be. Daniel Burnham and Frederick Law Olmsted laid out an orderly arrangement of buildings, promenades, and lagoons as a vision of proper city planning.Read more »

America’s Cities Are (mostly) Better Than Ever

Today’s city, for all its ills, is “cleaner, less crowded, safer, and more livable than its turn-of-the-century counterpart,” argues this eminent urban historian. Yet two new problems are potentially fatal.

More than a decade ago the phrase “urban crisis” crept into our public conversation. Since then it has become a cliché, connoting a wide range of persistent and dangerous problems confronting our cities. Moreover, the phrase, like “missile crisis” or “energy crisis,” suggests both newness and immediate danger. The rioting, arson, and looting that erupted in the 1960’s fortified this general impression. Presumably something unprecedented had happened.Read more »