19th Century

The Interstate Commerce Act & The ICC (from "Have To" History)

Three Big Things:

1. After several states attempted to limit the power of railroads and grain storage facilities on behalf of farmers and other citizens, Congress passed the Interstate Commerce Act (1887). This established the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to regulate railroads, including their shipping rates and route choices.  

2. The ICC was the first federal regulatory agency; it’s “success” spawned hundreds of others in subsequent decades. When you hear people complain about “big government,” these are a big part of what they mean. At the same time, they remind us that economic systems are not natural rights; they’re practical mechanisms designed to serve the largest number of people in the most efficient ways possible – at least in theory.

3. Ideally, regulatory agencies attempt to balance the good of society and the general public with the rights of companies to make reasonable profits from providing useful goods and services. They oversee “public services” – things considered essential for most citizens but which don’t easily lend themselves to a competitive marketplace due to the infrastructure required or the necessary scale of the service.

Follow The Yellow Brick Road

Wiz Book CoverIn 1900, L. Frank Baum published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a children’s book he wasn’t convinced would do particularly well – not compared to his fabulous Mother Goose and Father Goose collections a few years prior. Turns out it was a hit, and spawned multiple stage versions – usually musicals – and thirteen written sequels by Baum.

It was also turned into one very odd black and white silent film in 1925, directed by and starring a man with the very unfortunate name “Larry Semon.” Egads.

Singing Bi, Bi, For Our Money Supply...

Silver & GoldTalking economics in high school is like trying to diagram sentences in another language. Students’ brains are not acclimated to this sort of information; they’ve experienced relatively little of the real world, financially speaking. Then again, when it comes to economics, WE don’t actually know what we’re talking about half the time. Most economic theories are made up AFTER stuff happens, then applied backwards to prove that whatever happened HAD to, and explaining why – until next time, when it works differently. It can be a bit of a mess.

Let's Have A (Populist) Party!

Farm MachineAs the century approached another turn, farmers across the Great Plains were enduring hard times. They were growing and raising more good stuff than ever before! Wheat! Corn! Cotton! Moo-cows! Chickens! Tomatoes! Quiche! But thanks to the laws of supply and demand, the more they raised, the lower the selling price. That’s great for those purchasing, but suck city for those producing. Throw in improved agriculture in Europe, and the American farmer was in a world of hurt.