The Herald Democrat
100 years ago
THE SPIRIT OF THE DAY
Sunday, January 1, 1922
What is the spirit of New Year day?
It is not difficult to discover thruout the length and breadth of the land what seems to be the spirit of Christmas. There certainly comes to the surface each year much generous and kindly sentiment and an apparent desire on the part of many people that material comforts shall have as wide a distribution as possible. If such a sentiment could be stretched over an entire year there might be much less unnecessary sorrow and suffering.
If New Year day typifies anything, it is in the Spirit of Hopefulness. Being a trading nation and a commercial nation in which Business looms large on the printed page and Forecasts of the Future occupy the attention of numerous bureaus, statistical departments, banks, brokers and commercial agencies, it is to be expected that the reading public will be deluged with prophetic visions of world trade, the “rehabilitation of the mark” and the movement of foreign exchange. It will be carefully and elaborately proved that we have “turned the corner” and that “business is on the upturn” and that the “outlook is favorable for improved trade.” That is what statistical experts are for. They demonstrate to the satisfaction of those who employ them that crops grow and mature; that seed time is followed by harvest, and that the populace must be clothed, fed, housed and supplied with such necessities and luxuries as their means will afford. That, as we understand, is filling our sails with the “Spirit of Hope.”
When all is said and done, there is never a dead level of material prosperity any more than there is a dead level of material depression. When people spend money there is prosperity, and when they economize there is adversity — and this is true in spite of all the copybook maxims to the contrary. It is good for the individual to be thrifty and frugal; it is bad for the highly specialized and complicated mechanism called business. When business drifted into the doldrums beginning in the summer of 1920, one of the stock reasons given for the general stagnation was a “buyers’ strike.” That did not mean the failure of the people to buy bread and cheese and beans and sugar and coffee. It meant, if it meant anything at all, that they were dispensing with many of the articles that are classed as luxuries. Some people may have dispensed with them voluntarily; others because the booming, bounding prosperity of war times, the fancy wages and the still fancier war profits were vanishing; and so buying began to slacken.
There is, in connection with this vast structure of business that shrinks or expands with the shrinkage or expansion of the payroll, a great and growing army dealing with salesmanship, brokerage, commissions, insurance and soliciting in all their ramifications, and whole businesses erected on business itself — banking, bonding, stock dealing, the handling of securities and all the multifarious dealings in money. When the New Year comes around there is always a tremendous effort made to infuse thru this vast and complicated mechanism of business the Spirit of Hope — that buying and selling will be more active, that orders will move more briskly from retailer to traveling man, from traveling man to wholesaler to jobber to commission man, which will eventually be translated into the spinning wheels of the factory. We are not sure that anybody can quite discover the particular little button to be touched to set in motion all this machinery so that at every revolution of the wheel some share of the ultimate selling price will fall into many waiting hands. But the New Year Spirit of Hope is fanned into life by the belief, fostered by all the countless agencies of publicity and professional prophecy, that the wheels will keep spinning faster and faster.
The “American standard of living” has been created. A nation that consumes one hundred million dollars’ worth of toys in a year, spends a billion a year to see the movies, and other odd billions and hundreds of millions on autos, chewing gum and open-work stockings has no intention of returning to the so-called “simple life.” It would spell disaster if such a calamity were to take place. It is preached as a gospel, but like other gospels, it is not workable in a business world which depends on speed of production and rapidity of consumption to maintain itself.
We do not pretend to know what mysterious agencies are now at work to regulate this accelerating and slowing-up process. In 1920, the slowing-down process began. It was called deflation. Business, both small and great, ran to cover. The first symptom was the laying off of the “hands.” When the payrolls shrink, the business man promptly curtails his orders, and the mills and factories drop more “hands” from the payroll. This represents the period of stagnation, and it is in these particular periods that the professional optimists begin to use the bellows vigorously in order to start a glow in the commercial embers.
At the dawn of 1922, we find the belief prevalent that “times are picking up.” Stocks are running down, and since there are a hundred million people, more or less, who must buy, factory wheels begin turning, very timidly at first, but the “hands” are coming back to work and the resumption process is under way.
A year ago the organs of professional optimism were sure that the recovery would be very rapid, while the profounder students of economics could see no early return to prosperity. Business, unfortunately, is always in a position of being in a hurry. Idle capital wastes and plants deteriorate while the working forces are scattered. Here we are, however, watching the dawn of 1922 faintly glowing in the east, and there is nothing to do but to summon the Spirit of Hope and believe “this year will be better than last.”
Each one applies that to his own individual financial condition. The capitalist wants to see returns on his investments, the merchant desires to keep his stocks turning, and the wage-earner desires a reasonable assurance that the job will hold out.
There are some countries where hope must be dead. The New Year in Russia and China will have no other significance than the number of days soul and body can hold together without food. We wonder how the starvation of millions of human beings affects the conclusion of the prophets of the American business world. How does all this weigh in the balance of good and bad times?
The world has been scourged with fire, sword, pestilence and famine.
America is the cheerful optimist. Nothing can extinguish the bright flame of the Spirit of Hope which fills the breast this New Year morning.