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Angry Electorates - 1912 and 2016

Working people are angry in large measure because the tech-heavy gig economy is replacing one where jobs demanded fewer skills and promised longer term security. They want government to do something about the pain this is causing and to at least cushion the process.

The situation in 1912 was similar. There had been a financial panic in 1907 followed by years of hard times. All three candidates therefore supported financial reforms and limits on powerful business interests. All three also recognized that the nature of work was changing. Americans were moving off farms into an urban, industrial economy and people expected government to help them cope the new situation. The three presidential candidates in the election of 1912 all responded to these demands.

Woodrow Wilson favored small over big business and talked about “great industrial and social processes which (working people) cannot alter, control or singly cope with.” Theodore Roosevelt thought big businesses were a natural Darwinian development, but wanted government to regulate them. He also called for “social insurance” saying that “what Germany has done in the way of … insurance should be studied by us, and the system adapted to our uses.” President Wm. Howard Taft broke up several business combines, backed “generous workman’s compensation laws,” new laws to limit the labor of women and children, and other steps to satisfy the “just demand of the people for … solution of the complex and constantly changing problems of social welfare.” All three also were champions of environmental protection.

None of the three candidate 104 years ago would have dreamed of whitewashing the role of the private sector in the Panic and depression that followed and thought government had to do more to prevent recurrences. The Federal Reserve System, the Federal Trade Commission and other reforms grew out of this understanding. None argued that government was the cause of the other social, economic and environmental problems the American people were facing. None thought that the Federal government should step aside and leave solutions to these problems to the private sector and the states. All three nevertheless were committed champions of private enterprise. They just knew that government had a role to play in making it work better.

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