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Threescore and seven years ago.

Your Humble Blogger, for reasons that are not terribly interesting, happened to read FDR’s 21st Fireside Chat yesterday. It was broadcast on April 28, 1942; it begins “It is nearly five months since we were attacked at Pearl Harbor.” The war in the Pacific is not going well, and of course we have not yet invaded Europe. I read it in the Modern History Sourcebook version, but the Miller Center at UVA has the actual audio, for those who prefer it that way.

Digression: I know that Winston Churchill, after speaking to Parliament, had an actor read the speeches over the radio, rather than wasting time reading them all over again. So the voice that won the war, the voice that kept the English from surrender, was not actually Mr. Churchill’s voice. Although of course it was an imitation of his voice, a dramatization, of sorts, of the voice that did give those speeches a few hours previously. But as far as I understand, Franklin Roosevelt recorded those fireside chats himself. I’m not sure, but that’s what I think. I’m not looking into it too deeply. End Digression.

The speech has three major parts: the first is an update on the state of the war overseas, and the last is a trio of individual war stories. The middle is an announcement of a remarkable economic program. Prize ceilings, wage freezes, rent control, tax increases, rationing. The wordcraft of the speech is a combination of formality and bluntness that seems very, very old, from the 2009 perspective. He addresses people directly, saying that everyone will be affected. About sixteen minutes in:

Are you a business man, or do you own stock in a business corporation? Well, your profits are going to be cut down to a reasonably low level by taxation. Your income will be subject to higher taxes. Indeed in these days, when every available dollar should go to the war effort, I do not think that any American citizen should have a net income in excess of $25,000 per year after payment of taxes.

Are you a retailer or a wholesaler or a manufacturer or a farmer or a landlord? Ceilings are being placed on the prices at which you can sell your goods or rent your property.

Do you work for wages? You will have to forego higher wages for your particular job for the duration of the war.

That salary cap, by the way, is more or less $350,000 in 2009 money, according to a couple of inflation calculator sites. And the Dow Jones Index was at 92.92; it had fallen pretty sharply over the last few months, and was about to start climbing again. Because of this chat? In spite of it?

As a coincidence, of sorts, because this kind of info does come up fairly frequently on my left-socialist aggregator, yesterday’s Flowing Data note featured representations of CEO Compensation as the results of GOOD’s contest. And, you know, twenty or thirty times that cap. Or a hundred times. You know. Different times. After all, FDR was dealing with both a war and a financial crisis.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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