By JIM ZBICK
Rev. G.A. Humphries did not shy from using his pulpit at First Presbyterian Church in Tamaqua to rail against what he felt were excesses in society.
In late January 1910 he used his time to discuss the reasons for the high costs of living facing residents. Many of the pastor's observations of a century ago still ring true today.
Humphries admitted he was no economist.
"I do not wish to go into the deeper aspects of economic conditions which explain why the struggle for existence has become so fierce during the past few years," he stated.
Despite the bad economy impacting all families, Humphries optimistically chose to look at the glass as half full rather than half empty. He said there were reasons to be thankful in the midst of the economic doom and gloom.
"We are dissatisfied, and justly so, with present conditions but let us be contented even in the midst of our dissatisfaction," he said.
Humphries attributed some of the higher food costs to the new government standards or "pure food laws" which were implemented in 1907 in order to better regulate health standards in the food industry.
"It costs much to be civilized," Humphries said. "Our civilization is one cause for the high price of foods."
He stated, however, that implementing and enforcing the "pure food laws" come at a price.
"The grocer does not dig pickles and crackers our of barrels anymore; they hand them out in bottles and packages and boxes and cans," he explained. "You do not go to market today and ask what is for sale. You read the advertisements in papers and magazines, and then either telephone or wait for the clerk to come to the house for your order, and then deliver the goods. We would not do without these conveniences but remember that they cost money."
Humphries said merchants spent a staggering amount of money on advertising alone and that they expected a return on their investments – with consumers buying their products.
"Do we wish less of these things? Certainly not," he said. "We are civilized – they are necessities, but if the merchant pays for them, we must pay the merchant."
To stress his point about excess and waste, Humphries referred to the New Testament story of Jesus feeding the 5,000, pointing out that the leftovers were gathered up at the end of that outdoor meal. He said the fact that nothing was thrown away should send a message about our wasteful lifestyles.
"We Americans failed to learn that lesson of economy and today we are paying the penalty for the sin of wastefulness," he said. "We have poisoned the fish in a thousand rivers. We have destroyed game as wantonly as an insane people, and wiped out of existence generations of food – birds and animals. We throw into the garbage can every day enough good wholesome food to feed a city."
He said these excesses and extravagance were directly attributed to the rise in consumer prices.
"We are the best-dressed people on the face of the earth, but clothes and hats purchased not because we need them, but because our tastes in the matter of dress have become greatly exaggerated, leading us to consider them necessities," he stated.
He also saw an extravagance in the way people were being amused and entertained.
"Vaudeville, the theater, baseball, a thousand forms of recreation run rampant, consumes a billion a year and helps swell the adverse tide against which we struggle to secure life's actual requirements to keep body and soul together," he said.
Humphries pointed out that Americans were spending $800 million on tobacco products and $1.5 billion on liquors annually. He said this was enough to supply every man, woman and child in the United States with two full (5-cent) loaves of bread every day for a year. Additionally, he said if the grain used to manufacture liquor was instead used for bread, it would reduce the overall costs by 40 percent.
Humphries said there was a vital connection between the liquor consumption in the country and the high cost of living.
"The rum crusade is not based on fanaticism but like many other great national movements upward, is based on hard economic facts," he said.
Humphries used other Bible analogies to help explain why boycotts were not the answer to finding solutions to the long-term economic problems.
"Boycotting is mere child's play," he explained. "It strains at a gnat and swallows a camel. Even if it succeeds, it is but a temporary expedient, for as soon as the public goes to sleep again, as the public always does after a strenuous effort, prices will gradually return to their former position.
"If prices are unjust let the government pull up the evil, root and branch. If they are the logical result of supply and demand, then by boycott the people, Samson-like, inevitably pull down the same destruction on themselves."