Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Next Great Depression

Dorothea Lange

Margaret Bourke White

I love both of these photos because of the contrast between real struggles and wrecked expectations in each.

I sometimes wonder if people realize just how bad the Depression really was. It is being invoked so readily, and so glibly, by all the political chatterers these days to describe the magnitude of the current economic crisis. The official unemployment statistics from that time show that a quarter of the population was out of work. The real number may have been around 30%. About half the population lived in poverty or near poverty. The Depression was a global nation-wrecking catastrophe. It very nearly wrecked this country. It did wreck others (especially Germany).
Both of my parents were children during that time, and fared well compared to others. But, they remembered that time vividly. My mother's father was a country doctor in central Illinois who was one of the very few who would accept payment in barter from the local farmers. Visits were paid for in vegetables and preserves. Minor treatments were paid in chickens; major surgery in beef and dairy cattle. She remembers eating well during the Depression. My father's father was a minor sales manager with Western Union in Dallas, a position that was originally intended to be punishment for union sympathies, but which turned out to be a lifesaver in the Depression. My father remembers his mother hiring all kinds of strangers who showed up on the doorstep to do yard work and odd jobs.

The current economic meltdown is plenty bad enough, the worst since 1982 (anyone remember that one? I remember people camped out by the rails in rural Missouri waiting to hop freight trains to Texas to look for work; no, that wasn't 1932, but 1982). I really wonder if we are up for anything close to the magnitude of 1930 to 1940, and if we could survive it. So far, our governing classes remain bizarrely detached from it all. The Republicans apparently see nothing in it but political opportunity for them, a chance to to return to power. For once I agree with Andrew Sullivan:
This much is now clear. Their clear and open intent is to do all they can, however they can, to sabotage the new administration (and the economy to boot). They want failure. Even now. Even after the last eight years. Even in a recession as steeply dangerous as this one. There are legitimate debates to be had; and then there is the cynicism and surrealism of total political war. We now should have even less doubt about what kind of people they are. And the mountain of partisan vitriol Obama will have to climb every day of the next four or eight years.

I'm worried that the stimulus package might not be enough. The current conventional wisdom all over the air-waves is that World War II and not government spending ended the Depression; conveniently forgetting that World War II was itself a massive government spending program complete with government economic planning to meet the needs of the war effort.   The prosperity of the 50s and 60s was partly built on government military spending.  Cold War research and development built California, and made the fortunes of a few "big gubmint" hating Texas billionaires like Ross Perot .  

It's going to be a rough 4 years.


Leonardo Ricardo said...

My Mom and Dad made it through the Great Depression rather smoothly Mom worked at a very high end Womens specialty store as a fashion and hairstyle model/consultant and my dad was part owner of a Taxi Cab company (that later got to be a very big Taxi Company after he sold his 1/3 and moved on) my Dad had been a Chauffeur in San Francisco as a youngman, always amongst the wealthy folk, even though he was originally from a VERY modest family from England...they struggled but they had work (the really rich ladies never did stop buying dresses, just fewer of them)...that´s what I think is happening now, the really wealthy folks will ¨cut back¨ on ¨things¨ and there will be a need for alternate transportation (maybe not Taxis but certainly carpooling, Vans, Buses and the Subway business ought boom)!

No doubt about it. As in the Depression Days of Mom and Dad, those who have something/anything to share will be sharing it with those who don´t...that´s the nature of well adjust, and emotionally/spiritually human beings...the others, well, they´ll keep complaining and hoarding, and trying to exclude/harm and is a clear opportunity in our ¨lifetime¨ of how to ¨Love thy neighbor as self.¨

Counterlight said...

Michael is having similar experiences in his line of work now. His clients are cutting back, but not cutting out. There's always a demand for looking fabulous.

Leonardo Ricardo said...

It´s still all about fear and hate (blame and shame).

I´d like to administer a few knuckle sandwhiches to the former administration, who´s hallmark, was to lie, self-promote, exploit others, thieve and run...they called it self-defense and promoting free market enterprise and never looked back except to say ¨I made a few mistakes¨...meanwhile almost all of humanity is struck to another, yet new, economic ground zero.

Free market slavery, usery and the promoting of Greed and Fear/Hate as to appear ¨normal¨ and ¨selfrighteous¨ character qualities to embrace and pontificate about...blowhards and lies were/are more plentiful than REAL facts!

We shall see what happens as the next stage of economic reality turns into insanity.

Let´s see who is RESPONSIBLE and who is ACCOUNTABLE...I don´t think the Republican Party will servive the test...Truth ALWAYS wins out in the end.

Whew, sorry, I got carried away.

Peace of mind and improved health for all, that´s my hope for the next years.


Grandmère Mimi said...

I'm worried that the stimulus package might not be enough.

Certain wise heads say it won't be. But we all know what will bring us back from the brink. TAX CUTS!

WWII certainly helped finish dragging us out of the depression. Let's hope that we won't take to the warpath again.

Counterlight said...

Tax cuts cured my laryngitis!

Grandmère Mimi said...

I know. I know.