Leaving The Depression Behind And Moving Into Discretion

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It's the 1960s and Americans have left the Great Depression behind, are seeing their incomes soar, their savings increase and their interest in investing grow.

"Discretionary income," that pleasant bulge over and beyond the budget for necessities, was at the command of most families. Consumer credit, which in the past has expanded dangerously beyond people's ability to pay, has reached astronomic heights with an astonishingly low percentage of defaults.

The enormous and unremitting flow of dollars into the market place has returned unexampled profits to industry. Corporations have assiduously strengthened their underpinning, invested hugely in research, laid away cash surpluses, and still distributed the highest dividend totals in history.

The combination of these forces and these events—and of many others, as well—has been faithfully noted by the stock market. It has surged upward strongly, scaling peaks like a mountain goat, past the frayed rope ends and roken ice axes marking the high point of 1929, and into the rarefied atmosphere beyond.

Who are these people and what do they want? They are, for the most part, plain old American citizens who want a piece of the American future. They work, they earn, they put something by, and they believe they know a solid, reasonably safe, capitalistic investment when they see one. For nearly 15 years, American business has been doing handsomely, as anyone with half an eye can tell. It's a meager little town that hasn't acquired an assembly plant, a parts depot, a retail outlet, a branch sales office, or some other piece of one industrial complex or another in the past decade. There is a fine glow of prosperity about these places, and if you can't see it, your local friends who work there will be happy to tell you about it.

Never has industry seemed so glamorous. This is not to say that strikes and unemployment and other stubborn problems of the capitalistic pattern have been eliminated, but that there is a new gloss and glitter to industry's ability to perform and produce.

Ordinarily, such excitement would be noted almost exclusively by business and financial publications, except for the occasional rocket whose manufacturer's name makes the front page of the paper. But through television, industry is now in every home. Not alone to sell foods, drugs, cosmetics, cigarettes, and appliances; radio had—and has—plenty to say about these, too. But to sell industry itself—its resourcefulness, its inventiveness, its enormous concern with creature comforts and with national welfare. With tremendous visual impact, the institutional commercials of Westinghouse, U.S. Steel, duPont, Alcoa, and the rest are telling the success story of American business for all to hear.

Across the country, people with "discretionary income" are becoming acquainted with the sweet smell of corporate success. There are buyers and something to buy.

But why pick the stock market? Is everyone's memory so short that 1929 has been forgotten? Do these innocents want to get taken to the cleaners, playing an expert's game?

No. Times have changed here, too, and the word is getting around. Millions of people had their first investment experience with war bonds, and found it good. The bonds were issued in denominations small enough for people to handle easily. There was no fluctuation in their price, so you could put them away and forget them. They grew in value steadily, and could be cashed without fuss or trouble. If these conditions could be duplicated in the stock market, investment might make very good sense.

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