When the stock market crashed on this day in 1929, neither The Nation nor those boosters whom the magazine criticized for calling the crash merely a “healthy reaction” quite understood the depths of what had happened or how long it would take the country and the world to recover. The magazine titled its editorial “Wall Street’s Crisis,” but before long the editors would understand that the crisis was everybody’s.
It was a combination of fear and mob psychology that carried the debacle to the absurd lengths it reached; but obviously the market must have been extremely vulnerable to offer so little resistance. For why should this sudden hysteria, this utter lack of confidence, spread like wild-fire into every important financial center at a time when the country as a whole is enjoying at least a normal prosperity? The explanation lies, of course, in the speculative mania that has so long dominated the thinking of the financial community and in that time has jockeyed the prices of certain securities up to extravagant levels. This speculative spirit has long assumed that nothing could ever interrupt the greatest bull market on record….
Undoubtedly this so-called “healthy reaction” will do much toward sobering Wall Street’s speculative enthusiasm and establishing more realistic standards of stock values. It is a costly process, however, for the thousands, wise or unwise, who have had their accounts wiped out.
To mark The Nation’s 150th anniversary, every morning this year The Almanac will highlight something that happened that day in history and how The Nation covered it. Get The Almanac every day (or every week) by signing up to the e-mail newsletter.