Echoes Dispatches From Economic History

Boeing 314 Clipper 1939

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic space venture successfully conducted its first rocket-powered flight this week and may carry out a trial voyage into space by the end of the year. More than 500 “space tourists” have already signed up for the first commercial flight.

The idea recalls another wildly ambitious, even reckless, business venture: The Pan Am clippers, which had an immediate and powerful effect on both business and leisure travel that extended well beyond the few well-heeled passengers flown in just a few years of operation.

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Sinatra Fans

Back in 2006, a year still young in the Web 2.0 era, Laura and Jim set off cross-country in their new RV and chronicled the journey on a blog. They pitched camp in Wal-Mart lots across the heartland and posted photos and vignettes from the road, including chipper portraits of the employees they encountered along the way.

What went largely unsaid was that a public-relations firm representing Wal-Mart Stores Inc. had sponsored the entire trip. They were “Wal-Marting Across America,” as the blog was called, on the retailer’s dime.

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Philip Scranton

Roosevelt's Dinner Diplomacy

over 1 year ago
Economic Forum

"Nations of the World Turn to Roosevelt," said the New York Times headline from April 12, 1933. It summarized the expectations that President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s election had triggered in a world facing the economic strains of the Great Depression.

Credited with revitalizing a crippled banking sector and restoring public confidence, the new U.S. chief executive became pivotal to the upcoming League of Nations' Monetary and Economic Conference.

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Richard Greenwald

Will This Be Bangladesh’s Triangle Fire Moment?

over 1 year ago
Triangle Shirtwaist Company

This week, more than 300 people were killed in the collapse of a building that housed clothing manufacturers in the Dhaka region of Bangladesh. Many dozens more may be buried in the rubble.

Just five months earlier, 112 workers died in another factory fire, bringing the death toll there in recent years to at least 1,000. These buildings often lacked permits, weren’t built to code, had major structural issues and housed an industry that put profits before people.

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Kirsten Salyer

Economic History Roundup

over 1 year ago
Weekly Links

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(Kirsten Salyer is the social media editor of Bloomberg View. Follow her on Twitter.)

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David George Surdam

Why the NFL Draft Didn’t Make Your Team Better

over 1 year ago
Redskins

Starting today, the National Football League holds its annual draft of collegiate stars. ESPN and other sports news outlets have spent the past weeks breathlessly analyzing top prospects.

The NFL’s player draft wasn’t always so glamorous or so well-publicized. Many of today’s fans may spend more time and effort studying the draft than NFL owners did during its early years.

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Daniel Levinson Wilk

Carlyle Bust Joins Storied Line of Hotel Gambling Rings

over 1 year ago
Gambling

Last week, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents descended on the Helly Nahmad Gallery at the Carlyle Hotel on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

Hillel “Helly” Nahmad, the gallery’s owner, was charged with running a high-stakes gambling operation in New York and Los Angeles that attracted multimillionaires and billionaires. Though the gallery was only a tenant of the hotel, the allegations -- which include suggestions that Nahmad coordinated his efforts with powerful Russian mobsters -- evoke the long intertwined history of hospitality, gangsters and games of chance.

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Anarchrist Trial

On Independence Day 1914, New York experienced a powerful dynamite explosion that killed four people and injured dozens.

As police investigated the scene -- a tenement house on Lexington Avenue in East Harlem -- they discovered the bodies of three notorious anarchists. Further searches unearthed bomb fragments, radical literature and evidence of a plot to assassinate John D. Rockefeller. The device had detonated prematurely, instantly killing its creators.

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Philip Scranton

When Roosevelt Ditched the Gold Standard

over 1 year ago
Gold Standard

As the U.S. banking crisis ebbed in early 1933, central-bank gold reserves were rising, and gold-based currency notes were steadily flowing back into accounts. The country was experiencing a positive balance of trade.

"Not one of the conditions usually attendant to a suspension of gold payments was present at the time," the Economist magazine would write in May.

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Kirsten Salyer

Economic History Roundup 

over 1 year ago
Weekly Links

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Jason Scott Smith

Why Privatizing the TVA Would Be a Dam Shame

over 1 year ago
TVA

Imagine the uproar if the Washington Monument or the Jefferson Memorial were up for sale.

These national treasures are safe, of course, but another public monument -- the Tennessee Valley Authority -- is not. President Barack Obama’s 2014 budget plan proposes a strategic review of TVA, the biggest publicly owned U.S. power company, which could lead to its sale.

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Jane Gleeson-White

How a Potter Took Accounting Into the Industrial Age

over 1 year ago
Josiah Wedwood

This week, the International Integrated Reporting Council introduced a draft of a new framework for corporate accounting that would require companies to go beyond reporting just financial capital and also encompass environmental, social and governance risks.

The structure -- known as “integrated reporting” -- is a response to the realization brought on by the 2008 financial crisis and increasing environmental stresses that we need a new accounting paradigm for the 21st century. The limits of current national-accounting practices were acknowledged in 2012 when the United Nations adopted a new international standard to give “natural capital” equal status to gross domestic product as a gage of a nation’s economy.

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Ajay K. Mehrotra

The Bipartisan Origins of the Income Tax

over 1 year ago
Coolidge

When the modern U.S. income tax came into being a century ago, no one could have anticipated that it would become the labyrinth of rules and regulations that Americans wrestled with as they filed their returns this week.

The reformers and lawmakers who supported the income tax wanted it to be a visible and salient way to raise revenue. A tax that was seen and felt, they argued, could foster a sense of fiscal citizenship. By paying taxes directly to the federal government, citizens would be more attuned to the workings of the state, and would have a more tangible stake in how public funds were raised and used. A direct tax could help forge a renewed sense of national civic identity.

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Joe Furey

In the 1900s and 1910s, hundreds of swindling teams worked the Big Con in U.S. cities.

The time was right because, by the beginning of the century, the sensational exploits of robber barons and the vast fortunes to be had from railroad, mining and other industrial enterprises had created an appetite for financial speculation that most Americans couldn’t satisfy.

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Philip Scranton

When Roosevelt Sent the Jobless Into the Woods

over 1 year ago
ccc

During the Great Depression, one challenge for the government was how to create jobs without competing with private enterprise. In late March 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt recommended creating a "civilian conservation corps to be used in simple work, not interfering with normal employment."

The idea was to employ idle young men on a vast scale to improve the nation's public lands and natural resources. Work in national and state forests or on flood control and soil-conservation projects, "is of definite, practical value, not only through the prevention of great present financial loss but also as a means of creating future national wealth," Roosevelt explained. "More important, however, than the material gains will be the moral and spiritual value of such work."

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Thatcher

In September 1982, U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher traveled to Beijing to discuss the future of Hong Kong with Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping.

It wasn’t an easy encounter. Premier Zhao Ziyang had previously announced China’s determination to reclaim sovereignty over Hong Kong, which had been a British colony for 140 years. Thatcher later told the press that her talks with Deng were friendly. In reality, Deng hadn’t concealed his anger.

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Kirsten Salyer

Economic History Roundup

over 1 year ago
Weekly Links, April 12, 2013

Read more Echoes online.

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Michael Schiltz

BOJ Finds Inspiration in a 1930s Iconoclast

over 1 year ago
Takahashi

The Bank of Japan has decided to take bold action to reverse the nation’s economic decline.

The bank’s governor, Haruhiko Kuroda, announced a “new dimension in monetary easing,” vowing to double the purchases of government bonds and expand the monetary base. The BOJ also formally adopted a previously announced two-year target of 2 percent inflation. Quantitative easing will be the bank’s core business for the near future, a strategy that resembles the Federal Reserve’s response to the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.

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Women Welders

Most Americans know that for every dollar a man earns, a woman doing the same job still makes significantly less. As a reminder, Equal Pay Day is commemorated every year on a Tuesday in April. The date -- this year it was April 9 -- is selected to illustrate how long into the current year a woman must work to match what a man earned the previous year.

Few Americans are aware, however, that there is a Women’s Bureau in the U.S. Labor Department devoted to such issues. Nor do they realize that it played a crucial role in enacting the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which prohibited wage discrimination on the basis of sex. The law reflected years of work and commitment by one woman in particular: Esther Peterson.

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Appomattox

Today marks the 148th anniversary of a major turning point in U.S. history that is neither universally remembered nor uniformly celebrated.

On April 9, 1865, Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant in Appomattox Court House, Virginia. The bloodiest and most devastating war in U.S. history, one that cost about 620,000 lives, came to an end after four long years.

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About Echoes

Echoes is Bloomberg View's economic history blog. It is edited by Stephen Mihm, an associate professor of history at the University of Georgia and the author, with Nouriel Roubini, of "Crisis Economics: A Crash Course in the Future of Finance," and of "A Nation of Counterfeiters: Capitalists, Con Men and the Making of the United States."