Until next Wednesday: A Secret Gift!

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 22, 2011

A whole lot of things Ted Gup said: Last weekend, in the middle of the night, we caught a pretty good chunk of a book event on C-Span 3. It struck us as right for the season.

We won’t do much posting until December 28. Here’s the C-Span synopsis of the year-old event, which featured author Ted Gup and his book, "A Secret Gift:"
A Secret Gift
December 5, 2010

Ted Gup talked about his grandfather, Sam Stone, and the anonymous $5 checks he gave to 150 residents of Canton, Ohio, just before Christmas 1933, during the height of the Great Depression. Mr. Stone, writing under the pseudonym B. Virdot, placed an ad in a Canton newspaper on December 18, 1933, asking people affected by the Depression to write to him and describe the difficulties they were experiencing.

Soon after, he sent out 150 checks with the promise that the recipients would not be identified. After coming into possession of the letters decades later, Mr. Gup went back to Canton to find out who these unknown recipients were and what ended up happening to them. He responded to questions from members of the audience at the Henry A. Wallace Visitor and Education Center of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York.
Even in the early hours, Tep Gup kept us watching as he discussed the people who received those $5 gifts.

Here’s part of Robert McElvaine’s review of “A Secret Gift.” The review appeared last Christmas Eve in the Washington Post:
MCELVAINE (12/24/10): While there are significant parallels between the 1930s and today, the differences are striking. The Great Depression tended to unite the United States; the so-called Great Recession has tended to divide us. Americans during the Depression were much more familiar with hardship, more reticent about their personal problems, less greedy and more compassionate than we are today. And, terrible as conditions are now for many of our citizens, they were far worse in 1933. This book reminds us that the main reason people are not as bad off in the wake of the 2008 collapse as they were after that of 1929 is precisely because of government intervention in the economy that Republicans have just won an election by deriding.

...Sam Stone had a checkered past, which he frequently altered to suit his current needs. In 1933, he owned a chain of clothing stores and thought he was in a position to assist others who had fallen on hard times, as he had in the past.

"Enough," Gup rightly notes, "was a byword of the Depression." It is a word that nearly vanished from the American lexicon in recent decades, as the national anthem could appropriately have been changed to "I Can't Get No Satisfaction." "A Secret Gift" speaks to us eloquently of how similar are the consequences of economic folly in both times and how sobering are the differences between us as people today from what we were eight decades ago.
Or not! We were struck by Gup’s calm, knowing tone—by his recollections of the struggling people who received those $5 gifts, recollections he sometimes assembled by speaking to the recipients' children. If you’re looking for something to watch this season, you could do much worse than this.

Coming next week: Highlights! The year in review!

9 comments:

  1. A happy Christmas, Bob. And merry, too, if that happens to feel right and work out.

    ReplyDelete
  2. TheOnePercentFlyswatterDecember 22, 2011 at 10:45 AM

    "This book reminds us that the main reason people are not as bad off in the wake of the 2008 collapse as they were after that of 1929 is precisely because of government intervention in the economy that Republicans have just won an election by deriding."

    Oh come on, Mr. Somerby.

    That sentence fairly screams "troll-bait!"

    Is it really right to leave us for the holidays with the libertarian nonsense this is sure to inspire from certain commenters?

    ReplyDelete
  3. "The Great Depression tended to unite the United States;"

    What nonsense. Just a few examples of what that decade was really like:

    The 1931 Harlan County Coal Miners Strike - at least 11 dead and dozens wounded in virtually open warfare between miners and police and National Guard.

    March 7, 1932: The Ford Hunger March - 5 unemployed auto workers shot dead by police in Dearborn, Michigan.

    The Toledo Auto-Lite Strike, April-June 1934: Running battles between strikers and police leave 2 dead and 200 wounded.

    The 1934 Textile Workers' Strike - 400,000 workers strike for three weeks. Three striking workers are shot dead in Rhode Island. The strike fails.

    The 1936-37 Flint Sit-Down Strike - Auto workers occupy GM's Flint complex, shutting down production for 6 weeks, beating off police attacks with fire hoses and defying court injunctions, until they win a contract and establish the UAW as a legitimate force in the auto industry.

    The Memorial Day Massacre of 1937 - Chicago police shoot and kill ten demonstrators during the "Little Steel Strike" against steel producers other than US Steel (which had already signed a union contract).

    ReplyDelete
  4. I agree with Bob that some government programs have greatly softened the impact of the current recession. However, I would add that the wealth created by private enterprise is what has made these helpful government programs affordable.

    Bob's snark apparently used the following syllogism:

    1. Republicans oppose some government programs.
    2. Some government programs support people during an economic downturn.
    Therefore:
    3. Republicans oppose the programs that support people during an economic downturn.

    ReplyDelete
  5. TheOnePercentFlyswatter:
    You are attributing to Somersby the remarks of Robert McElvaine of the Washington Post. In any case, I read it as a defense of government intervention (i.e.: rescuing banks and the auto industry), and let the trolls try and deny it.

    ReplyDelete
  6. TheOnePercentFlyswatter:
    You are attributing to Somersby the remarks of Robert McElvaine of the Washington Post. In any case, I read it as a defense of government intervention (i.e.: rescuing banks and the auto industry), and let the trolls try and deny it.

    ReplyDelete
  7. TheOnePercentFlyswatterDecember 28, 2011 at 11:59 AM

    Roy, No.

    If it matters, I don't actually attribute the words to Somerby. That's your irrelevant inference. I also don't express disagreement with them. They are quite clearly quoted with approval by Somerby. Approval you seem to share.

    But let's leave that bedside-the-point stuff behind.

    The predicted trolling indeed arrived, expressed as a fantasy about the existence of something called "private" enterprise, which magically creates the wealth government appropriates, somehow without itself relying upon that same government.

    ReplyDelete
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