FWIW: My late mother-in-law was the youngest daughter of a corner grocery store owner. In the New York of the 1930’s and 40’s, there was not an outright ban on margarine (dairy is important in New York, but not dominant). So the rule was that you could sell margarine wholesale, but it couldn’t be colored. Uncolored margarine looks like … Crisco … bright white. So margarine was purchased wholesale in barrels. At the retail level you could either buy it uncolored, or colored with dye packets sent along with the barrel. As a kid, one of my mother-in-laws jobs around the store was to hand mix the dye into the margarine. Not surprisingly, it stained her arms yellow.
So I was amused last month when I saw in “Today In Sports” – that filler column in local newspaper sports pages — that the PCC had hosted the PGA Tournament in 1934.
I’m sure my grandparents were there, and a big part of the organization. Eighty years later, I can do an advanced search in Google and pull up quite a lot of hits showing their involvement with the club during the 1930’s and 1940’s.
My advanced macroeconomics class has been covering this winter’s Greek crisis.
We’ve talked a little bit in class about 1) how contemporary Greek society has been … hmmm … not so good for the 180 or so years that Greece has been an independent country, and 2) how we seem to be a little too forgiving towards Greece because … you know … the Greeks get a pass because guys like Plato and Socrates lived there once upon a time.
So I watched a movie called Zorba the Greek this past weekend. This is a movie that people of my parents’ generation used to talk about when I was a kid. My wife thought the same thing, and she hit record on our DVR. I had dim memories of having seen it, but I now think I was wrong. Anyway, I watched it in full. I don’t especially recommend it, but if you’re a movie buff, it did win 3 Oscars, and I can see why … in a sort of generation after World War II, continental European, existentialist, magical realism sort of way.
One scene in the movie though, has relevance to our discussions of Greece’s ongoing problems: wanting to join the big kids club of the EU, lying to get in, finding out the hard way that they may not meet the required standard, and then acting petulant and uncooperative when attempts to rectify their advantage-taking is made by others.
The movie is set in a remote village on the Grecian isle of Crete. The movie was made in 1964, from a novel written in 1946, broadly about a real guy who died of old age in 1941, that the author met between the world wars. It’s not clear what the era portrayed in the movie (or book) is supposed to be, but since there are cars and record players, but no mention of the Nazi’s invading and occupying … I’m thinking it’s supposed to be the 1930’s.
So this one scene involves the death of an old French woman, who had been some sort of performer and/or courtesan around the eastern Mediterranean*, and who had retired to rural Crete with some evident material wealth.
And the villagers know that she’s 1) rich, and 2) has no family locally. So they start stealing her stuff before she actually dies, and the thievery gets positively orgiastic when she does die. Within the afternoon her house is stripped of everything but her body laying where she died in her bed.
The movie makes very clear that the villagers do this because, without heirs, “the state” will come and take all her possessions for itself.
Thus, the Greece of 4 generations ago was one in which the unethical rapaciousness of the government was a fixture of reality featured in popular movies.
Flash forward to the last decade, and we have the Greek government unable to pay its own bills, and with a citizenry unwilling to loan it much money, that when given entre into mainstream Europe goes borrowing, and within several years can’t pay the money back, can’t establish where it all went, and then somewhat successfully portrays itself as the victim … because … you know … Aristotle used to live there.
How does this compare to the culture and government that is Cedar City, Utah? This is a true story that happened about 10 years ago in the town I live in. There was a lot that was an eyesore in the 600 block of North Main. The building on it was full, but locked up, and abandoned. The city wanted to do something about it, and researched the case. It turned out the guy who’d owned it free and clear, and run a repair shop out of it, had died without heirs. And everyone had left it alone in case someone showed up to claim it. The thing is, he’d died in 1964, and everyone who remembered why the city had left the property alone was long gone.
So in Cedar City, the government is so unrapacious that they’ll let a property sit idle for 4 decades in the hopes that it can stay in private hands, and in Greece the government was so rapacious that the locals would strip a property to keep its chattel in private hands within about 4 hours. It may not be fair, but I’ll point out that taking those cardinal numbers seriously suggests that the Greek government is 85,000 times worse than the one in Cedar City.
The reason mid-20th-century Americans were optimistic about the future wasn’t that science-fiction writers told cool stories about space travel. Science-fiction glamour in fact worked on only a small slice of the public. (Nobody else in my kindergarten was grabbing for "You Will Go to the Moon.") People believed the future would be better than the present because they believed the present was better than the past. They constantly heard stories -- not speculative, futuristic stories but news stories, fashion stories, real-estate stories, medical stories -- that reinforced this belief. They remembered epidemics and rejoiced in vaccines and wonder drugs. They looked back on crowded urban walk-ups and appreciated neat suburban homes. They recalled ironing on sweaty summer days and celebrated air conditioning and wash-and-wear fabrics. They marveled at tiny transistor radios and dreamed of going on airplane trips. [emphasis added]
From my perspective then, macro is hard because people don’t recognize the wonder of it all.
Let me give you some personal experience about what it was like when I took my first and second macro courses in 1981-2.
This was 6 years before I first used a personal computer. I wrote papers on a typewriter.
Remember White Out?
At that time the university library did not have copy machines. I was able to get things copied by taking them to my dad’s office.
My gosh, I’d received mimeographed handouts within 5 years previous to that time.
I was the first person in my circle of friends to have portable, personally curated, music. Here’s a picture of it that I found on The Google:
This was the size of a brick, and weighed as much as a large hardcover book. It did not have Dolby. I got it through mail order, literally from an ad in the back of a magazine. It cost around $150 (about $390 in today’s dollars) in the summer of 1981.
Any sort of soft tip pen was new within the previous 6-8 years. Rich kids always had felt tip pens. I underlined my texts with pen, and sometimes a ruler. I didn’t get my first highlighter until 1983.
Textbook resale or buy-back was unheard of back then.
Our TV had 8 channels. I went to school with many people from the New York City area. This was an amazing thing to them. We were in Buffalo, and we got 3 extra channels because we could bring in the Canadian stations: 2 in Toronto and 1 in Hamilton.
My father was the first person I knew who had a VCR (a betamax). We got this in early 1982.
We had many televisions in our house, but only one of them was color.
At that time, remotes like we’re used to today had to have a physical cable. Our new VCR had one, but our TV did not. You could get remotes for TVs, but they required an actual motor inside the TV to physically turn the knob, and the remote was very big and had large C or D cell batteries to send the signal to it.
The first front wheel drive cars had just become available. Again, we were the first people to have one. That car sucked.
Four wheel drive was not something that anyone had who didn’t have a farm, or do serious camping. AWD did not exist.
My cousin (a sales rep) had air conditioning in his company car. So did some richer people I knew (but not all of them).
My parents didn’t get a microwave until I bought them one as a gift in the late 1980’s.
The first thing I bought with my first full time summer job: a turntable. (I still have it. Apparently it’s one of the ones that audiophiles like to get their hands on. I got it out a few years ago to show my kids).
I had a reel-to-reel tape deck for better quality recording of my musical adventures.
If you’d like to live with any of those … keep telling yourself that the future is going to be worse than the past.
Cross-posted from SUU Macroblog, which is required reading for my students.
Cool research. A team of 7 researchers, using 3 databases of individuals who are culturally important through history, plotted the migration of those individuals to determine cultural centers.
They visualize this for America:
That really gives meaning to the idea of flyover states. But, pause it and look around a bit. Check out the importance of:
Cincinnati and Louisville in the early to mid 19th century.
How about the Erie Canal being traced out.
The absence of much at all across the Black Belt of the deep South.
San Francisco popping out of nowhere in the 1850’s (before, and everyone forgets about this, not really thriving well after that).
The necklace of cities along the Union Pacific route, through Kansas City, Denver, and Salt Lake City.
The way Salt Lake City and the west coast attract people who bypassed the east coast completely.
The outsized attraction of New Orleans in the early 20th century (as its primacy as a port faded)
The development of the triangle in Texas as oil boomed.
The huge migration to Los Angeles starting in the 1920’s.
And towards the end, the influx of people into Florida.
And for Europe:
During its heydey, notice how the Roman Empire is actually fairly tenuous across the west: everyone’s in Rome in a way they’ve never been in New York.
But as the Empire fades, the centers of western European cultural start popping up before (and during) the barbarian invasions.
The Dark Ages are pretty dark, but there’s clustering across the region we still associate with medieval history: from the Ile de France, arcing northeast towards the low countries, and then back southeast across the central Rhine valley.
In the 12th century, look for Seville and Cordoba popping up under the Moors in Spain. Paris gets brighter at the same time.
Not much going on in northern Italy, until the bright lights come on in the 14th and 15th centuries.
Check out Amsterdam in the 17th century.
I found Vienna quieter than I expected in the 17th and 18th centuries. But look at the lights of Budapest, Prague, and Cracow.
St. Petersburg pops out of nowhere after its founding in the early 18th century.
By 1900, Germany has bright lights … everywhere.
And look at England … whole bunches of people leaving to go to America. Look closely, and you can see some of them coming from Germany in the 1930’s.
You can also see many eastern Europeans heading in the direction of Moscow in the mid 20th century.
World War I was won a hundred years ago this weekend.
Oh, the war continued on for over 4 more years. But Von Moltke, the commander of the German armies had a nervous breakdown because he knew it was a done deal.
The Germans were always most worried about the Russians. So their plan was to eliminate France first. Without France in the west, and with the UK unable to mount an amphibious large enough to reopen the western front (the technology used for D-Day was 30 years in the future), Germany could spend herself defeating Russia.
The Schlieffen Plan went like this: devote almost all Germany’s forces to knocking out France in a few months. This had been done in 1870, and would be done again in 1940. The specifics were that a very strong German right wing would circle through Belgium and northern France … so broadly that it would envelop Paris.
The plan went more or less perfectly until the canny French, under Joffre, retreated further to the southeast than the Germans expected. Instead of defending Paris, the French maintained a shortened line of defense that ended east of their capital. And they publicly announced that they would not defend the city. The government even fled to Bordeaux.
But the French fibbed. They kept some forces in Paris. And they kept open rail lines going east to west, and started transferring troops towards Paris.
As the French concentrated their armies along a front to the east of Paris, the Germans followed them, trying to maintain a continuous front of their own. And across the rear of that front, the French transferred several divisions to their far left.
But what I find most interesting about the whole thing is that the Germans lost track of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). It wasn’t large, but it was the only truly professional army at that time (the German and French armies were all reservists).
The strong German right had mauled the British at Mons, on the Belgian border in late August. The British were able to “steal a march” and retreat in orderly fashion, 10 miles in front of the Germans, for two weeks across 200 miles of French countryside.
And then the Germans lost track of them. Perhaps they thought they’d gotten on trains and gone east to where the final battle was shaping up? Maybe they thought they’d taken trains for the coast? Even now, no one really knows.
In fact, the whole BEF had marched into and camped in the Forest of Crecy, east-southeast of the Paris suburbs. A day later, Von Kluck*, the commander of the strong German right wing army split his forces: 1/3 to cover Paris to the west, and 2/3 to follow the retreating French to the southeast. And the British watched from the woods as the Germans marched right by. Only the tail end of that 2/3 of Von Kluck’s army remained within shooting distance of the BEF; the rest stretched to the east to maintain contact with the other German armies.
Then the French came out of Paris (remember the hidden troops? remember the stories of troops being delivered to the front in taxis?) and attacked the third of Von Kluck’s army facing them. With more troops transferring by train from the east, the French started winning.
When the French started beating the 1/3, Von Kluck started to withdraw the other 2/3 back towards them. He didn’t think this was a problem because he was withdrawing towards the northwest and the rest of the French were off towards the southeast. But his move opened up a gap between his army and the next one over.
And into that gap marched the missing BEF. Effectively they were splitting Von Kluck’s army off from the others (that’s bad) and turning the flank of the rest of the German armies (which is worse). The Germans recognized their difficulty, and ordered a full scale retreat back some 40 miles to get those armies connected again.
The battle was named after the River Marne. It wasn’t a perfect victory. And on the field, it was tactically even. But strategically, it was all it took. The war dragged on. The Germans got in their share of victories. But they never got so close to Paris again. And they never had the French and British on the run again.
The French and British followed after, and found the Germans had settled into defensive trenches. And that was the start of the trench warfare along the western front that would last for another 50 months: 100 years ago this past weekend.
And how did the rest of the war go? Without eliminating France first, the Germans pretty much had to beat everyone else instead. And they more or less did. But they still faced the French, British, and Belgians in the west, and when the Americans joined them it was only a matter of time.
* When I was a child in the early 1970’s, one still occasionally heard someone who’d made a blunder refereed to as a “dumb Kluck”.
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