Valuable Lessons From the 1920s

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Photo Courtesy of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum

(UnitedVoice.com) – COVID-19 has created a unique time in American history. But, it’s not unprecedented. Much like the last 10 years, the 1920s was a time of dramatic social, economic, and political change.

Wealth doubled between 1920 and 1929 as America transitioned from an agricultural economy to a consumer society. The 1920s was an era of more conflict than celebration as a cultural civil war developed between city-dwellers and the rural countryside. Restrictive immigration laws passed that were popular with some and not popular with others.

Ultimately, the roaring economy of the 1920s led to the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Under President Herbert Hoover (R), big decisions loomed large that would determine the direction and fate of an entire nation. To make matters worse, Hoover would have to lead America during a time of anger, distrust, and partisan politics. Sound familiar?

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Chronic Joblessness, Homelessness, and New Government Powers

In the 1928 presidential election, Hoover said the problem of poverty was almost solved. Then, in 1929, the stock market crashed, which began the Great Depression. Overnight, everything changed. The depression sank the country to the lowest economic levels seen prior to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Hoover was a world-renowned humanitarian who believed the federal government could be a solution to the massive pains felt by everyday Americans.

Hoover spent considerable time with business leaders at the White House to influence them not to lay off workers or cut wages. He pressured Congress to fund public work projects and hire as many Americans as possible. In 1932, he was influential in creating the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC). The RFC was the first government entity that existed for the sole purpose of providing the government the ability to bail out banks and businesses to help put the country onto a quick road to recovery.

Initially, the RFC failed miserably. The Great Depression worsened as banks and other businesses collapsed. Poverty was widespread, and people blamed Hoover. The homeless called their areas “Hooverville.” People demanded direct payment assistance from the government, but Hoover opposed that idea fervently. He believed work and charity was the best way to help people.

Ultimately, the RFC pumped massive amounts of money into banks, manufacturing firms, utilities, exporters, cities, and schools. At one point, it was the largest investor in the US economy albeit a highly controversial one. In 1957, it was abolished entirely.

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What Would Hoover Say to Trump

America still struggles with many of the same issues of the 1920s. City and rural divides, racial issues, immigration, and an economy dependent on consumer spending. Democrats at the time loathed Hoover almost as much as their modern-day counterparts hate Trump.

Like Hoover, Trump was leading one of the best economies in American history before their respective economies crashed. Hoover would likely tell Trump that he must balance lives and livelihoods. Don’t sacrifice one for the other. Minimize all of the human sufferings as much as possible. Work with Democrats as much as you can to help Americans, but don’t violate your principles. Finally, don’t worry about re-election today. There will be time to make your case and share how you’ll move America forward.

By Don Purdum, Freelance Contributor

Copyright 2020, UnitedVoice.com

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