Will Rogers' Weekly Articles

January 4, 1931 - Current

January 4, 1931

AMERICANS GOT THEIR MODERN TASTES
ON CREDIT

Well, here it is 1931, and what are we going to do about it. Don’t look like we are going to be able to prevent it. That’s one thing the Lord sure did regulate. He fixed so one year would just follow another one whether you had a calendar or not. He left us in doubt about everything else. We don’t know when it’s going to rain, snow, sunshine or anything. We don’t know when we are to get sick, rich or die. We don’t know who is going to follow us on when we are gone. We don’t know what will happen to Prohibition, we don’t know when or where the next war will break out.

We sure are dumb. But he did let us know what day followed what day, and made it so it would happen, no matter what happened. There has been 1930 of these same New Years roll around just since we been reckoning time, and I reckon a couple of million before that, kinder in porportion to whether you believe in Noah and his Ark, or the old monkey swinging by the tail theory. But never mind how we all got here. What we got to do these hard times is to worry about how we are going to stick here as long as we can without getting hungry.

We got to make some resolutions as well as interest and tax payments in this joyful season. It’s the starting of a new year of trials and tribulations, and if everybody that does anything is caught it will be mostly trials. We have just about broke the record when it comes to having done devilment during this last year. There has been more people and more commandments broke in 1930 than in any year since away back when old Sodom and Gomorrah was the local New York and Chicago of its day.

We havent had such a bad year in comparison to years we used to have, but we have had a disappointing year, for it’s been a bad year in comparison to the last eight or ten years. We have been just going like a house afire, and we couldent see any reason why we shouldent keep right on burning. We dident see how we could ever run out of fuel. Our tastes were acquired on credit, and we wanted to keep on enjoying ’em on credit. But a guy knocks on the back door during the year 1930 and says, “Here, pay for the old radio or we will haul down your aerial.” “Get out of that bath tub we got to take it back.” “Get out of that hoot nanny, you been driving it without payments long enough.”

Well, that was a sort of a jar. The man talked so nice when he sold it to us, we had no idea he would ever want it back. Why we had kinder got used to all this and took it as a matter of fact. If you never had a fifty cents cigar why a nickel one is mighty satisfying, but let you get to puffing on a real one for awhile and the old nickel one is going to be mighty nauseating.

Well everybody had just made things, and sold things, and it just looked like one of these endless chains where everybody gets a pair of $4 shoes for $1.25. They do but a fellow finally comes and gets the other $2.75. Well, that’s what has happened to us this last year. It wasent what we needed then that was hurting us, it was what we was paying for that we had already used up. The country was just buying gasoline for a leaky tank. Everything was going into a gopher hole and you couldent see where you was going to get any of it back.

You see in the old days there was mighty few things bought on credit. Your taste had to be in harmony with your income, for it had never been any other way. I think buying autos on credit has driven more folks to seek the revolver as a regular means of livelyhood than any other contributing cause. All you need to make a deferred payment on anything now is an old rusty gun. I don’t reckon there has ever been a time in American homes when there was as much junk in ’em as there is today. Even our own old shack has got more junk in it that has never been used, or looked at than a storage place. Most everybody has got more than they used to have, but they havent got as much as they thought they ought to have. So it’s all a disappointment more than a catastrophe. If we could just call back the last two or three years and do our buying a little more carefully why we would be O.K.

But things turn pretty quick, and with the government helping out like it is finally going to, why we are liable to get out of this bog hole before we know it. And it will be a good thing for everybody in the long run. We was just getting the idea that nothing could go down in price, we thought the only way it could go was up. Just buy it and hold it a day or so that’s all we thought there was to finance. Well, from now on you are going to find some mighty careful folks. A Salesman knocking on our door now with some new fangled pet knife is going to have to be mighty good to even get in the door much less make a sale. The Lord just kinder looked us over and says, “Wait, you folks going too fast, slow up and look yourself over, a year of silent meditation will do you good.Then when you start again you will know you got to get it by working and not by speculation.” So the old year just gone is liable to prove in the long run a mighty beneficial year after all. It may bring us back to our senses.

January 11, 1931

IT HAPPENS EVERY 100 YEARS

Well all I know is just what I read in the papers. I was just reading a thing here where just exactly 100 years ago there was a long Editorial in the papers asking the people not to get panicky, that they had had a bad year, but that “Fundamentally the Country was sound,” and that they looked for things to pick up, that there had been an overproduction of Overshoes, Red Underwear, knitted things about the length of a well rope, that you wrapped and rewrapped around your neck and also tied ’em over your ears.

Then there was too many lanterns on the market, for the amount of night work that was being done. There was also a glut of the Market on Mustache Cups. The men wasent buying them like the Producers had thought, they was just letting the old upper lip foliage drain right through the Coffee. It told of the evils of Mass production, that you shouldent produce faster than the buying power. If I remember I think the Republicans were in then too. And oh, yes, they was going to try and get the farmer some relief, going to give him some ammunition so he could shoot him some meat to eat. Oh yes, they was going to work on the roads, too. The President had just appointed some Commissions, one to look into and see what the Boys was drinking. Now all this was just exactly 100 years ago, so you see every 100 years we have what is humorously referred too as “Depression.” It’s always temporary. That it happens every 100 years proves that it will pass away. But it is funny how there is really nothing new under the sun. I sho was glad to get hold of this old article for it proves that we have had these things before and lived ’em down and we can this one. But regardless of bad times we got the Xmas holidays over in fine shape, and the New Years. Biggest excitement over the holidays was “The Young Pioneers” of New York. They put on a Burlesque of Xmas, and the birth of our Savior, and the Xmas Spirit, that must have been mighty gratifying to their Parents.

A Xmas in Russia would just suit them fine. But you just try to pay the fares of any of them and offer to send ’em, and you would have to call out the Marines. The old Communist preaches his doctrines, but he wants to do it where he is enjoying the blessings of Capitalistic surroundings. He preaches against the Pie, but he sure eats it.

Congress adjourned for only a week, so they been back at it again for about ten days. Back at what? Why back at what they was back at before. What was they back at before? I don’t know but they still back at it whatever it was. Some talk of a Special Session after this one is over on March 4th. But its not what you would call by “Popular Demand.”

Wickersham Committee havent turned in their report yet, so we don’t know if the Country is drinking or not, or if so, what?1 But as soon as they report why we will get that problem straightened out right away.

Mr. Hoover weathered quite a storm with his hired hands, but seemed to have come out on top and is in better shape than he has been in a good while. The boys have called him about everything they could think of, and as everybody laughed it off, why they have about decided to let him alone for a while. McKellar of Tennessee just discovered Xmas week that Hoover had been in England for some time, that’s about a record for being behind times.2

Got a nice letter the other day from Barney Baruch.3 I had about a year and a half ago, just before the crash, sorter half way decided to get a little dab of some kind of stock. Everybody all around me was just rolling so in profits, that it made my little joke telling stipend seem mighty little. I had never, or havent yet, got a dollar that I dident tell a joke for, either on stage or paper, so I knowing Barney mighty well, and having a mighty high regard for him personally and as being the last work in business, so in my little talk with him I asked him to invest in his own way a little dab that I thought I could spare.

Well I had to naturally tell him something of my affairs, so I told him what I owed, mostly on unimproved Real Estate. Well he liked to have thrown me out of his Wall Street Office. “You owe that much, and you want to take some of your money and buy stocks? Say you go home and pay your debts. Lord knows how long it will take you to do ’em. But pay what you can of ’em. You won’t like this advice, no man does. He don’t want to pay his debts as long as he thinks he can make an easy dollar in something else. I wouldent invest a dollar for you anyhow, things are too high, they don’t look good. Now go start paying on your debts.”

That’s the nearest I ever came to owning stock. (I mean outside of a few horses, and cattle.) Less than a month from the day I was in his office the Bust come. So every few months he writes me and asks me how I am making out on the debts, and how much I got ’em whittled down.

You know he is kinder the Angel for the Democratic Party, that is if you could call anyone connected with the Democrats an Angel. And he is forever trying to pay ’em out of debt, so I am writing him and tellin him, that I am just as good a business man as he is. That he can’t keep the Democrats out of debt any more than I can keep myself. So whenever you hear of the Democrats being out of debt I will be too.

1For George W. Wickersham see WA 344:N 1.
2Kenneth Douglas McKellar, Democratic United States senator from 1917 to 1953.
3Bernard Mannes Baruch, American businessman, statesman, and Democratic political adviser and financial contributor; confidant of several presidents.

January 18, 1931

LET’S GIVE EVERY MAN A JOB!

Well all I know is just what I read in the press. Course those five hundred that come in out of the woods down in Arkansaw and demanded food for their families, that was a real sensation.1 It caused more than any one item that had appeared in a long time. Now those folks down there sho was hungry or they wouldent have come in and asked for food for if there ever was proud people it’s them. They don’t believe in accepting Charity.

Well the Government woke up and voted $15,000,000 for food right away. At first the Government said they would try and provide money to get the Farmers some seed for their next crops, but that they wouldent give them money for food as that would be too much like the “Dole,” that’s the thing they do in England when you can’t get work they give you a certain weekly allowance, and it’s called the “Dole.” Course everybody over there says it hasent worked out, and that it was a mistake to start it.

But I guess the ones that have been receiving it and buying their bread, don’t think that it is such a terrible blunder, so that’s the way it is. It sorter depends on which side of the fence you are on.

If you live under a Government and it don’t provide some means of you getting work when you really want it and will do it, why then there is something wrong. You can’t just let the people starve, so if you don’t give ’em work, and you don’t give ’em food, or money to buy it, why what are they to do? What is the matter with our Country anyhow?

With all our brains in high positions, and all our boasted organizations, thousands of our folks are starving, or on the verge of it. Millions of bushels of wheat are in Granaries at the lowest price in twenty years. Why can’t there be some means of at least giving everybody all the bread they wanted anyhow?

Here they are starving in Arkansaw and in our adjoining State of Oklahomea they are feeding their wheat to the stock to try and get rid of it.

Oil, there was never such an overproduction of oil in the World, and yet Gasoline was never much higher. But there you have a business that’s in the hands of a few men, and they see that the price is kept up. It’s not regulated by supply and demand it’s regulated by manipulation. If the Farmer had a Rockefeller among them, you wouldent see them pulling off a hundred different ways, and no two agreeing on what to do.2

Now this Farm board I been reading all I can about ’em, on both sides, and Lord knows there is sure two sides. If ever a Gang of fellows that are, (we all know trying to do some good) ever kicked up a dust it’s them. Now take Mr. Coolidge for instance he had always kinder kept his typewriter out of Government affairs.

He had always stuck pretty well to writing on the merits of the ten Commandments, and the Merits of “Hard work, perseverance, and taking care of your Oppurtunities.”

But even he said that the Government going in and buying wheat to try and stabalize the market was bad dope. Well, that is about the first flat footed statement that he has come out on since he advised everybody to advertise. But on the other hand Mr. Hoover put some mighty fine men on that Farm Board, and it don’t seem hardly that they could all be so terribly wrong. But it’s like argueing the tarriff, no two can agree on just where it should start or stop.

But the main thing is we just ain’t doing something right, we are on the wrong track somewhere, we shouldent be giving people money, and them not do anything for it, no matter what you had to hand out for necessities, the receiver should give some kind of work in return. Cause he has to eat just the same when he is laying off as when he is working.

So every City or every State should give work of some kind, at a liveable wage so that no one would be in actual want. Of course it would cost the taxpayers more money, but if you are making it, and all your fellow men are not why you shouldent mind paying a good slice of it for the less fortunate. Course the big man’s argument, and all the heavy Taxpayers’ alabi is that when you take too big a slice from a man as taxes it takes that much more out of his investments and might cut down on money being put into enterprises. But it dident work that way after the war, and during it why income taxes run as high as seventy percent on every dollar earned, and yet there was more money being made and put into things than there is now.

If your Income Taxes go to help out the less fortunate, there could be no legitimate kick against it in the world. This is becoming the richest, and the poorest Country in the world. Why? Why, on account of an unequal distribution of the money.

How can you equalize it? By putting a higher surtax on large incomes, and that money goes to provide some public work, at a livable wage. I don’t mean a wage that is maintained in other lines. I mean a wage is provided for the unemployed. That is if you could in no way find a job, you could go to some State or National, or City or Country Public work, that would give you say four hours a day work, instead of the usual eight.

You wouldent be accepting Charity. But you would be doing honest work for it, until you could get employment in some line that was not public work, and at a regular wage. It wouldent cheapen labor. It would only cheapen Public works, the thing that belongs to all the people, and the thing they would like to have cheapened. But it would be an Insurance against not having anything to do.

There is nothing that makes a man feel better than to know that no matter how bad things break he has something to fall back on, that he can make a living out of. It would be a glorified Community Chest idea, only instead of it being doled out to you as Charity you would work for it. There would never be any real Unemployed. The so-called unemployed would be working for the State or Government a guaranteed number of hours each week, at a living wage.

Now that we got that settled all we have to do is get by Congress and see if the Republicans will vote a higher Income tax on the rich babies. It might not be a great plan, but it will DAM sure beat the one we got now.

1Five hundred farmers marched through the business district of England, Arkansas, on January 3, 1931, demanding food for their drought-stricken families. Two days later, the Senate voted to add $15 million to a $45 million drought relief bill passed earlier by the House. The House, however, later refused to approve the added expenditure.
2For John Rockefeller, Sr., see WA 351:N 5.