Popular Opinion Often Proves Wrong

Harry Truman 1949 Navy Day New York City Hall

Navy Day 1949 at New York City Hall. Harry Truman gives a great welcoming wave and smile to photographer Bill Stanley.

Once upon a time, before I was born, the Roaring Twenties were in full bloom. Prohibition meant no liquor, but the speakeasies were doing a great business. It was the age of Al Capone, Dutch Schultz and, later, Bonnie and Clyde.

The biggest part of the 1920s was in the stock market. Everybody was investing — the mailman, the shoe salesman, the carpenter, the plumber. Everybody was in the stock market and making more money than they had ever known.

Then, in October 1929, the market hesitated and dropped a bit. Then, of course, it recovered, as it always had done, but then it dropped a little more, and on “Black Tuesday,” Oct. 29, 1929, the market crashed. They called it Black Tuesday because it was the worst day in the history of the stock market.

Today they talk of “Black Friday,” which, of course, is the best sales day before Christmas for retailers to put black ink on their books.

The point I want to make about the stock market crash is everybody thought it would go up forever. Most people borrowed money to buy stocks. So, when the stock market crashed, many not only lost everything they had, but owed the borrowed money.

That great crash ushered in the greatest depression the United States has ever had. While the crash started in 1929, it continued into the mid-1930s, and the Depression is what followed the crash.
There was no unemployment compensation, no Social Security, none of the programs we now have in place to help.

If you were out of work, your family didn’t eat. Norwich, like all of Connecticut, was hit as hard as any other town in the nation. Unemployment and food lines were the stories of the day.

Wake of Crash

Then, in Europe, there was a madman who came into power. His name was Adolf Hitler, and he was head of the Nazi Party. The world thought he was nothing more than a nut and was no threat at all.

There was one man, Winston Churchill in England, who predicted that Hitler would cause a world war and that he should be dealt with. But the world felt safe and secure that Hitler was no threat. Almost 10 years to the day from the stock market crash, Germany invaded Poland, and thus started World War II.

Today, there is another man who is referred to as a nut, but he, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is similar to Hitler as he leads the Islamic Republic of Iran. If he attacks Israel, as he says he will, then the world will pay attention.

It is a strange thing in life, how so very often the things we believe will happen never do. The things we feel cannot happen often do.

In the 1940s, everyone felt sure that America’s economy was exhausted after the war, and that we would head into a second Depression. But, as all the servicemen came home from war and married, America experienced a baby boom. That cause a housing boom, which gave us a very strong economy coming out of the war. The majority were wrong.

There was another unexpected event in 1948 when the world felt Harry Truman could not possibly win the election. At the Democratic convention, the party fought to the point that all other southern states walked out of the convention and formed a new party called the Dixicrats. Strom Thurmond was their candidate for president.

The Republicans nominated the popular, energetic governor of New York, Tom Dewey, and Harry Truman had ratings lower than George W. Bush. Truman could not possibly win. So sure was the Chicago Tribune. But, of course, when the final vote was counted, Harry Truman did the impossible. He won.

As America continued to prosper, and all of the automotive companies were running full blast, Ford announced a new car that would be the answer to all cars. It would be sleek, efficient and stylish. It would be the car of all times.

Ford introduced and heavily advertised the Edsel, which sold from $3,500 to $3,706. It came to be known as the “E” car, and by buying an Edsel, the public was supposed to be stepping up to prestige.

The car was beautiful. At the same time, a small, failing automobile company, called American Motors, was taken over by George Romney, and as much as Ford advertised the Edsel, sales continued to fail. The hottest car in America became the Rambler. So, the experts were wrong again. The Rambler was the car America wanted, and Edsel, within a few years, was taken out of production.

No Ice Age

For example, in 1975, in the April 28 edition of Newsweek magazine, they were predicting the coming “Ice Age.” The article started off, “There are ominous signs that the Earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically, and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production with serious political implications for just about every nation on Earth.

The drop in food output could begin quite soon — perhaps only 10 years from now.” So, the world prepared for an ice age.

One article in a popular magazine predicted that by the year 2000, it would be so cold that cars would be able to drive from England to France over a solid frozen English Channel. Now, of course, 2000 was 10 years ago, and, to my knowledge, they are still swimming the Channel. But it brings us to the point that I think, in time, global warming will prove as laughable as the ice age in 1975.

The global warming that the whole world is preparing for is hard to explain when the warmest year that we have had in the past 12 years ago was in 1997. Scientists are at a loss to explain why, with the coming global warming, we have had in 12 years of cooler winters, and the summer that just passed was the coolest on recent record. Is it possible that the public will be wrong again … that global warming is, in fact, an Edsel … that everybody could be wrong and the temperature changes will prove a natural occurrence that may have happened many times in the past?

I, for one, am a contrarian, and, through the years, my point of view has been more accurate than the popular opinion. It is just one old man calling attention to how often the public is wrong. The more enthusiastic they are, the more serious and expensive the false decision becomes.

When we consider all of the costly methods we are now employing to prevent global warming, we could find, down the road, that money might destroy the greatest economy on Earth for no reason at all.

Currently, we are going through a severe recession, and it was caused by the public who thought housing prices would go up and up forever. So, everybody bought a house, whether they could afford it or not. Today, the world is paying for that stupid enthusiasm.

After some of you who are reading this column reach the age of 80, you may yourself have some observations worth a second look.

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