The Daily Star
---- — Regardless of your political affiliation, a website worth looking at is that of the U.S. National Debt Clock, www.usdebtclock.org. The speed of the numbers changing is one that may make a few jaws drop. The deficit and economy will certainly be growing on the minds of many in the coming weeks, during what has been called the worst recession since the Great Depression.
People were concerned about government spending during the Great Depression, just like today. It played a role in the 1932 presidential election. The concerns prompted the formation of an organization in New York, called the State Economic Council. Smaller groups formed in each county.
The Oneonta Star reported on Thursday, Aug. 18, 1932, that there would be a public meeting on Friday evening at Oneonta High School, then on Academy Street. The speaker was the Hon. Merwin K. Hart of Utica, president of the State Economic Council.
“Mr. Hart is coming here to tell what is being done in over 40 other counties of the state, to bring the taxpayers, hitherto quite silent, but important partners in the business of government, into one effective organization so that the voice of those who will pay the cost may be heard when new bureaus or increased appropriations are asked.
“The proposed organization is not being fostered in support of any party, clique or individual and its sole purpose is to effect such economies, especially in state and federal affairs as will give relief to taxpayers and not impair efficiency in administration, opportunities for which are believed numerous.”
About 150 taxpayers attended the Friday evening meeting, with representatives from about 10 towns across Otsego County.
“We have long been used to talking about billions of dollars,” Mr. Hart told the audience. “Down to 1929 these billions represented profits or increases in wealth. Since then they have represented deficits in government budgets.
“In the federal fiscal year ending June 30, 1932, the federal government spent more than twice its income. It ended up with a deficit of $2,885,000,000. Every dollar of this had to be borrowed because there was no surplus … in the government’s till.
“In short, we are in the greatest crisis of public finance that perhaps this country has ever experienced. There are two courses open, one is to increase taxes. The other is to reduce expenditures.”
The work of the Otsego County Economic Council soon began. A member of the council, Frank H. Bresee, the founder of the Oneonta Department Store, was a speaker at a sub-district meeting of the state Dairymen’s League in Cherry Valley on Friday, Sept. 9.
“We seek to reduce taxes by one fourth during 1933,” Bresee said.
He said he felt at home with farmers because he grew up on a farm near Hartwick, and worked with them as he established his business in the late 19th century.
Bresee added about reducing taxes, “This can be accomplished by organization. Free spending of the public’s money for this and that luxury that can be done away with must stop, and the taxpayers are the only one who can help stop it.”
It was reported in mid-October how each town in Otsego County had at least one member on the committee of the Economic Council. Both political parties had approved the state council and a majority of candidates in the upcoming election had declared themselves in favor of reductions in government expenditures, comparable to the reduced income of the time of the taxpayers.
In the 1932 presidential campaign, Franklin D. Roosevelt ran a vigorous campaign against President Herbert Hoover’s economic failures, with the incumbent hard-pressed to defend himself. Roosevelt accused the Hoover administration of being the greatest spending administration in peacetime in U.S. history. Roosevelt’s running mate, John Garner, attacked Hoover on “leading the country down the path of socialism.”
Roosevelt did not have a clear idea of the “New Deal” he offered America yet, but that would change.
Building, rebuilding and demolition projects were plentiful in October 1982.
City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at email@example.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.