Copyright 2001-2008, James J. Belcher. All rights reserved.
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Copyright 1998-2001, James J. Belcher. All rights reserved.
Richest Man on the Planet, Part 1
It was 1940 and a world gone mad. Half the world was embroiled in a conflict called World War II and much of the other half was either preparing to join in the struggle or scrambling diplomatically to stay out.
The man who would be somebody was a four-day-old infant. He had no real name, no mother, no father, no date of birth, no home but an orphanage. It was going to be a long road for him to get to anywhere, much less somewhere. It was an eerie world where he started.
America was in a particularly strange position, hurt by John Maynard Keynes and Franklin Delano Roosevelt and helped by the sorrowful plight of the British people. Keynes was a celebrated economist and FDR was President of the United States. FDR had been elected by claiming the Republicans got the nation into a depression, and then used Herbert Hoover's ideas on a greater scale to try to bring the national economy back. He pointed to Keynesian economics but he might as well have pointed to the moon and announced he could get there in one leap. It didn't work.
It was a country with millions of unemployed people and the banks were reluctantly taking back the homes and foreclosing the mortgages, so there was not nearly enough financial strength to expect the country's citizens to buy Treasury Notes and finance more national debt. If they couldn't pay $65 per month to the banks, they didn't have $10,000 to loan the U. S. government.
The nonsense governmental economic policy showed even less sense. People were paid to dig ditches, and more people were paid to fill them back up. They were paid the few dollars in the government coffers. The stock market crash of 1929 was followed by a more severe crash in 1933, the year FDR took office. He talked a great line because he was a great politician, and that made him just another lousy politician, more concerned with image than really helping anyone. The Great Depression was the worst and the longest the nation ever faced. His trademark cigarette in a holder didn't pay anyone's rent.
Hitler was winning and everyone else was losing. France was occupied territory, forced to sign a treaty of surrender in the same railway car that Germany had ignobly sat in twenty-odd years earlier as the site of the formal Armistice at the end of World War I.
Twenty-two miles of English Channel separated Great Britain from Hitler's Army, Navy and the immense power of its Luftwaffe. A desperate Britain turned to a non-combatant and an ally in the first World War, the United States.
FDR created Lend Lease, a program whereby Britain and the "Empire where the sun never sets" gave its money, its credit and its soul in return for shells and ships and planes and all the war materiel an unexercised economy in peacetime could deliver. The economy turned around, almost on a dime, because real sales meant real money and a country concerned with survival didn't quibble over price.
Even the title of the act made no sense. How could you lend a bullet that is shot or lease a ship that is sunk? It didn't matter. The world of the British Empire was coming to an end and the United States would get the money. That bailed the country out of the Great Depression. FDR was still in office and took the credit, but he was just another lying politician.
Contrary to today's conventional wisdom, they proved that just being poor didn't mean crime. There wasn't a fifth of the violent crime compared to today. "Poor but honest" was a trademark in America. You didn't steal, maybe because there wasn't much to steal, or maybe because there were families too proud not to go to church. It was a different world, and a mayor's son got the daughter of a proud man pregnant right in the middle of America, and the family was worried about its image, more perhaps than they were worried about their seventeen-year-old daughter.
It was what was done. It was the England of David Copperfield. It was cruel but a way to preserve family honor. The chauffeur drove the car up to the locked gate. There was a basket. He was secured in blankets and the buzzer was pushed and the car drove off as soon as someone opened the door, so they never knew who had taken the foundling to the Buckfield County Orphanage.
They only saw the handwritten note with two words, "Robert Algren". They knew it was a lie, but he would live with that name for half his life and an alias most of the other life.
It was 1940 and a world gone mad.