Economic uncertainty 55 years ago, too

We stumbled across this Enterprise editorial when answering an email about our archives. It’s from April 16, 1958, by Jim Loeb, who (along with Roger Tubby) owned this paper at the time. It’s interesting to see what has and hasn’t changed.

The debate continues – just debate

As nothing – or very little – continues to be done about the economic circumstances of the moment, every day’s budget of Associated Press stories contains a fair sampling of opinions on tax cuts, public works, lengthened compensation, etc.

One interesting analysis is sent to us from a Saranac Lake summer visitor. It is included in the bulletin of one of the big Wall Street brokerage houses. We quote a few snatches of it:

“Ike is running the risk which proved fatal back in the 1930s – that of giving too much weight to those indications of business improvement which appear in any downturn and too little to those indications that the downturn is getting worse. What to do is of course a matter of interpretation – if Ike’s interpretation proves right, he’s going to be a hero, but, if it proves wrong, that bull market we are looking for will be cancelled.

“Washington’s uncertainty about what it wants to do has had a depressing psychological effect – quite a few businessmen don’t think tax cuts would do any good – when you get down to it they don’t seem to think anything would do any good. …

“In this writer’s opinion, there isn’t anything which couldn’t be mended if prompt decisive action is taken soon …”



The recession of 1958 was real, the first since World War II, although it was a puddle compared to the swamp of recent years. Many other things were different, too. In 1958, Americans were coming down from an economic high, as well as a high for tax rates. Now the unemployment rate is creeping slowly down from a high of 10 percent four years ago, tax rates are much, much lower, and the federal government is running trillion-dollar annual deficits. Also, Wall Streeters then had nowhere near the political power they do now.

The similarities are also striking. Then, as now, Congress and the president were debating without deciding together. Now, as then, some want the government to step out of the way of big business, and others want the government to step up and do more for those down on their luck. Now, as then, most Americans feel that unified leadership down one of those paths might be better than the gridlock that gives us campaigners instead of leaders.

Public approval of Congress has been below 20 percent all year, as low as it’s been in the 40 years such polls have been taken. It’s pretty universally agreed that gridlock is the reason. More people feel like they’re not getting the results they deserve from the leaders they elected. Meanwhile, as the rich get richer and spend more on lobbying, more Americans worry about the collusion and of financial and political powers.

But the divide in Congress also reflects a wider political gulf that’s grown between ordinary Americans. More and more, they’re getting their news and opinions from different sources, agreeing on fewer things as fact and accepting more radical interpretations.

There’s a congressional election coming up next fall, and we hope Americans will be ready to move past ideological infighting and vote for people who will keep the common good in mind and work hard to improve the country, compromising as needed.

North Country Congressman Bill Owens is generally pretty collaborative, moderate, independent and hard working, but too few are like that.

“Washington’s uncertainty about what it wants to do has had a depressing psychological effect” – that was written after Washington had only been uncertain a few months since the initial downturn, rather than seven years. It’s time to work together and lift that depression.