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[Detail] Vacuum cleaners on display at the J.C. Harding & Co.

Historical Issue-Analysis and Decision-Making

This collection provides a number of opportunities to identify issues and evaluate alternative courses of action. For example, a search on Stuart Chase Papers reveals an exchange between Chase and author Theodore Dreiser prompted by a critical review of Dreiser's Tragic America in which the consumer advocate questions the economic facts and figures in the book. Using data from the late 1920s, Chase deferentially debates the accuracy of Dreiser's statistics on unemployment and unchecked wealth, and takes issue with Dreiser's claim that "the [fluctuation of the business] cycle is deliberately fostered by bankers and great corporations, who welcome depressions because they find opportunity to cut wages and thus increase bank reserves and stockholders' profits."

Evaluate the two men's positions based on your understanding of the era and decide which position seems more accurate. You can also examine the more general economic concerns of the 1920s. A search on Anna Kelton Wiley Papers offers an overview of consumer issues including home economics, scientific management of the household, and thrift. A search of Recent Social Trends in the United States, a study commissioned by President Hoover and published in 1933, offers a number of possibilities. For example, users can read and discuss one section from the second volume of the study on the condition of labor in the 1920s:

So far as the essentials of life are concerned, the majority of workingmen are now farther removed from what may be regarded as the sources of their supplies and from their immediate power to secure them.

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Recent Social Trends in the United States

Use the following questions to examine these materials and to evaluate the economic issues and decisions of the 1920s:

  • What were the underlying factors contributing to the high unemployment rate during the Great Depression?
  • What course of action could have been taken during the Harding-Coolidge years that might have alleviated the high rate of unemployment?
  • Considering the prevailing political and economic philosophy of the 1920s, how plausible would it have been to promote a policy more favorable to organized labor?