Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Driver - part IV - bankruptcy, railroads and Ayn Rand relics

Click here for part III of my review of The Driver. [Click here for parts I and II.]

Chapter II is significant for some quotations that remind us of the current economic situation and possibly foreshadow the result of current policies. [Remember that this 1922 novel was a fictionalized account of the aftermath of the Panic of 1893.][Remember also that I will not reveal the plot, but will try only to pick out items of interest to the modern reader.]

On page 34(original edition), as the main character walks through Wall Street, he hears two men arguing. "One seemed to be denouncing the government for letting the country go bankrupt. 'It is busted,' he shrieked. 'The United States Treasury is busted.'"

Another notable passage begins on page 40:

In the Middle Ages Europe might have advanced, with consequences in this day not easily to be imagined, but for the time and the energy of mind and body which were utterly wasted in quest of holy grails and dialectical forms of truth. So now in this magnificent New World, the resources of which were unlimited, human progress had been arrested by silly Utopians who distracted the mind with thoughts of unattainable things.

Take the railroads. With already the cheapest railroad transportation in the world, people were clamoring for it to be made cheaper. Crazy Populists were telling the farmers it ought to be free, like the air. Prejudice against railroads was amazing, irrational and suicidal. All profit in railroading had been taxed and regulated away. Incentive to build new roads had been destroyed. If by a special design of the Lord a railroad did seem to prosper the politicians pounced upon it and either mulcted it secretly or held it forth to the public as a monster that must be chained up with restrictive laws. Sometimes they practised both these arts at once. Result: the nation's transportation arteries were strangling.

In the above quote, substitute the health care industry in place of railroads and you will have a close approximation of the campaign of demonization that has served as a prelude to socialized medicine over the past several decades - and which may see its climax very soon. Most Americans do not remember similar campaigns of demonization against all of the major industries that now seek bailouts and without which we are told the economy cannot survive (and whose decades-long demise is now blamed on George W. Bush). If you cannot remember the official attacks on American industry, read any high school history book's discussion of "robber barons" or any "official" history of the American "labor" movement.

CCL&K Railroad track - 1890's - photo (c) William Duvall

The first of the major Ayn Rand relics appear in the latter half of Chapter 2. Follow the advice from the introductory comments to my review:
I will not reveal plot spoilers from the The Driver or what I call the various Rand relics that appear from time to time in the novel. Instead of trying to prove a point one way or another, simply enjoy each Rand relic as it appears. Consider yourself to be conducting an archeological dig, in which you unearth relics in the form of characters or events that presage some element of a Randian novel.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Garet Garrett on the first 100 days

The left has attempted to compare Obama's upcoming time in office with Roosevelt's New Deal. In particular, it seems that the new administration is poised to take measures that will impose sweeping changes on the U.S., far beyond those changes that would address the economic situation or any other current issue. In order to understand what the next 100 days might do to this country and how irrevocable such changes might be, we must examine the effects of Roosevelt's first 100 days and how they affect us today.

Here is Garrett's summary of the first 100 days of the New Deal, written only a few weeks after those 100 days had passed (as it appeared in the Saturday Evening Post on August 12, 1933). I have excerpted a few passages:

By this definition, the country is in a state of revolution. It was unpredictable. When Congress assembled on March ninth, under an emergency call, no one knew what it was going to do, nor did it know itself what it was going to do, either at the beginning or day by day thereafter. It went from one step to another, with that kind of uncertain uncertainty peculiar to sleepwalking. It received the demands of the revolution serially in the form of pre-prepared laws, and enacted them with practically no debate and no drama. In the early morning of June sixteenth it adjourned. The entire life on the session had been one hundred days. That was all the time it took to erect a complete temporary dictatorship in the person of the President, standing for the popular will.

. . . . .

The powers transferred to the President were such, among others, as these:

1. To control and administer all business and industry in the public interest;
2. To govern production, prices, profits, competition, wages and the hours of labor;
3. To determine the economic policy of the country; that is to say, whether it shall be national or international;
4. To debase money in behalf of the debtor class;
5. To produce inflation in the interest of certain classes;
6. To reapportion private wealth and income throughout the nation, in his own judgement;
7. The power specifically to reduce the gold value of the dollar one-half - or, that is to say, the power, simply by proclamation, to double the price of everything that is priced in dollars, and to halve the value of every obligation payable in dollars, such as debts, bonds and mortgages, insurance policies, bank deposits.

Read it all.

These powers were never repealed, yet 76 years later we find ourselves in what the MSM/DNC calls a similar crisis. The difference now is that our manufacturing base is largely gone - having disappeared over the past four + decades. The track record of the New Deal (and all that followed) can be found in the headlines of the past four months. But the track record of the next 100 days will be worse.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Driver - part III; Garrett describes Wall Street in the mid-1890's; Trinity Church; Rector Street;

Click here for part II of my review of The Driver.

Chapter II of The Driver ("The Funk Idol") contains a few notable passages as the plot gets seriously underway. On pages 32 and 33 (original edition) Garrett's main character arrives on Wall Street and describes his new surroundings as of the mid-1890's:

Wall street proper, - street with a small s, - is a thoroughfare. Wall Street in another way of speaking, - street with a big S, is a district, the money district, eight blocks deep by three blocks wide by anything from five to thirty stories high. It is bounded on the north by jewelry, on the northeast by leather, on the east by sugar and coffee, on the south by cotton, on the southwest by shipping and on the west by Greek lace, ship chandlery and Trinity churchyard. It grew that way. The Wall Street station of the elevated railroad is at Rector Street, and Rector Street is a hand-wide thoroughfare running uphill to Broadway under the south wall of Trinity graveyard. When you are half way up you begin to see over the top of the wall, rising to it gradually, and the first two things uou see are the tombstones of Robert Fulton and Alexander Hamilton. A few steps more and you are in Broadway. Rector street ends there.
Trinity church is on the west side of Broadway, thirty paces to your left. Standing with your back to Trinity church door you look straight down Wall street, with a little s. All of this is Wall Street with a big S. You are in the midst of it.

I won't try to recount the changes since the events described in The Driver (or any changes that might have taken place between the 1890's and 1922). I will leave that task to those who inhabit Wall Street today.

Trinity Church (near Equitable building under construction) @ 1914 - Library of Congress photo

Much of the plot takes place on Wall Street in the wake of the Panic of 1893. The main characters of The Driver found their own solutions, which solutions formed the basis of the plot. Many readers might enjoy the contrast between the "solutions" to which we are about to be subjected in 2009 and the actions of the characters of The Driver. As I mentioned previously, I won't reveal the plot.

recent photo of Hamilton grave [photo by Malcom Rutherford]

For those who might be tempted to wonder whether Garrett mistakenly incorporated any of 1922 Wall Street into his description of Wall Street of the mid 1890's, note that he omitted such landmarks as the Empire Building (not to be confused with the Empire State Building), which did not appear at the corner of Rector and Broadway until 1897.

Click here for part IV.

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