The Great Panic

Welcome to Part Thirty-Nine of our summer diversion in Tales for Our Time Burning Daylight, Jack London’s sweeping novel of a grand American archetype conquering all before him, from the shores of the Yukon to the swamps of Wall Street.

After the last week, “a grand American archetype” may be just the ticket. It is for John Cholakovski, an Australian Mark Steyn Club member from locked-down Victoria, where it is illegal to remove your mask to drink a beer outside. Says John:

This is probably my favourite of all the Tales for our Time series. When I was young I always thought of these books as old fashion and never got around to reading them. Something I regret because I think a younger me would have enjoyed this rip-roaring adventure. Although, like some others, I’m finding the courtship ritual somewhat frustrating.

There’s a lot of that about, John. Fortunately, in tonight’s episode, there’s a market crash and a run on the banks to distract us:

In the spring of the year the Great Panic came on. The first warning was when the banks began calling in their unprotected loans. Daylight promptly paid the first several of his personal notes that were presented; then he divined that these demands but indicated the way the wind was going to blow, and that one of those terrific financial storms he had heard about was soon to sweep over the United States…

Money grew tighter. Beginning with the crash of several of the greatest Eastern banking houses, the tightness spread, until every bank in the country was calling in its credits. Daylight was caught, and caught because of the fact that for the first time he had been playing the legitimate business game… Nothing remained for him but to stand fast and hold up.

He saw the situation clearly. When the banks demanded that he pay his loans, he knew that the banks were in sore need of the money. But he was in sorer need…

He fought as with clay behind a crumbling wall. All portions of the wall were menaced, and he went around constantly strengthening the weakest parts with clay. This clay was money, and was applied, a sop here and a sop there, as fast as it was needed, but only when it was directly needed. The strength of his position lay in the Yerba Buena Ferry Company, the Consolidated Street Railways, and the United Water Company. Though people were no longer buying residence lots and factory and business sites, they were compelled to ride on his cars and ferry-boats and to consume his water. When all the financial world was clamoring for money and perishing through lack of it, the first of each month many thousands of dollars poured into his coffers from the water-rates, and each day ten thousand dollars, in dime and nickels, came in from his street railways and ferries.

Members of The Mark Steyn Club can listen to Part Thirty-Nine of our adventure simply by clicking here and logging-in. Earlier episodes can be found here.

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