A Historic Nomination…with a Precedent

You may have noticed a somewhat curious wording about Hillary Clinton’s historic nomination yesterday. Most media outlets are reporting that she is the first woman to win the nomination of a major political party, not the first woman to win a nomination.  Continue reading A Historic Nomination…with a Precedent


A Nineteenth Century Donald Trump

Historian Joanne Freeman has a great op-ed in the New York Times today about early 19th century political grandstanding.

“…the swaggering threat, the mocking taunt, the over-the-top insult” – This sounds like Donald Trump, but she’s actually describing Congressman Henry A. Wise – who benefited from his outrageousness and served six terms from 1833 and 1844. Six!

“Then as now, raising hackles before the eyes of the press was a play for power; politicians who displayed their fighting-man spunk were strutting their suitability as leaders,” writes Freeman. So if you think election politics are worse than ever…take heart. It’s an American tradition.

Book Review: The Richest Woman In America

Recently the Gilded Age has been cropping up in economic and social discourse as a parallel to today’s wealth inequality and ostentatious elite. So it seems quite timely to review a biography of a woman living in this very era.

The author of The Richest Woman in America, Janet Wallach, describes the Gilded Age as an era of “avarice, opulence, and easy credit, [one which] burst from gluttony” (p. 201). But the biography focuses on a woman whose critics would not dare mention opulence and easy credit alongside her name: Hetty Green.

A Savvy Investor

Hetty Green, circa 1900.
Hetty Green, circa 1900.

Hetty was thoughtful, astute investor who never strayed from her own advice: buy when everyone is selling and sell when everyone is buying. She was a one-woman example of how to resist herd behavior: trust your instincts and don’t worry other people’s decisions. When it came to how she did business, Hetty did not care in the least what people thought about her. In his classic, The General Theory, Keynes would write of the long-term investor, “worldly wisdom teaches that it is better for reputation to fail than to succeed unconventionally” (as cited in Scharfstein and Stein, 1990). It is almost as if he is describing the public reaction to Hetty a half century earlier.

Hetty succeeded – well beyond the wildest dreams of most men – and yet, because her approach was so unconventional, her reputation suffered. She was often vilified and mocked in the press and became known as the Witch of Wall Street (though oddly, Wallach chooses not to mention this moniker in her book; perhaps this indicates a soft spot for Hetty). A 2001 article in The New Yorker noted that this nickname was not fully derogatory – there was a certain awe that came with Hetty and her approach. And indeed, as a lone woman succeeding in a man’s world, Hetty should inspire awe. Continue reading Book Review: The Richest Woman In America

An Encounter with a Familiar Name

I ran into David Lloyd George while in France earlier this month for a work conference.

The plaque announcing the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. Mr. Lloyd George is the third name from the bottom.
The plaque commemorating the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. Mr. Lloyd George is the third name from the bottom (click to enlarge).

Yes, the off-screen nemesis of the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey makes an appearance on a plaque at the Trianon Palace Hotel, which is just outside the gates of  the Chateau de Versailles gardens in France.

French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau decreed the terms of 1919 Treaty of Versailles in this hotel, and the Treaty was signed a few days later in the Chateau de Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors.  David Lloyd George represented Great Britain and signed his name alongside Georges Clemenceau, US President Woodrow Wilson, and other leaders of Allied Powers. Formally signaling the end of the war between Germany and the Allies, the treaty targeted Germany specifically and aimed to have the country take responsibility for the First World War. Negotiations among the Allies took six months, and even at the time of the treaty’s signing, the exact reparation terms had not been settled – they would be announced two years later, in 1921.

I like Liaquat Ahamed’s retelling of the contentious debates that happened before the treaty was signed, in a chapter of Lords of Finance he titles “Demented Inspirations.”

Lloyd George, “pandering to public opinion” wanted harsh, punitive measures taken against Germany (p. 105). Woodrow Wilson, on the other hand, wanted a more moderate approach. The French, Ahamed writes, while in favor of harsher terms, were more concerned with border security than reparations. Continue reading An Encounter with a Familiar Name