Great Depression, Nostalgia, Futurism
February 10, 2008 12:00 AM   Subscribe

Hank Stuever's 3000-word Washington Post article thinks about the Depression and what it means to the U.S. now. via Snarkmarket
posted by cgc373 (25 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Hank *Stuever* is not an economist.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:16 AM on February 10, 2008

Yes, so many people aren't. It's tragic really...

posted by Naberius at 12:25 AM on February 10, 2008

I'll take your word for that, KokuRyu, because neither am I. Still an interesting post. I think that that sort of guilty romanticization that Stuevner talks about could be applied to the Second World War, as well, and on a wider scale romanticism in general. The bad fades, the good remains and is magnified. We admire heroes even while forgetting that the situations which brought them to the fore were usually pretty horrible.
posted by AdamCSnider at 12:26 AM on February 10, 2008

Dammit. Thanks for the spelling correction, KokuRyu.
posted by cgc373 at 12:50 AM on February 10, 2008

As far as I'm concerned, if you love the Great Depression so much, you can have it. I agree, in hindsight almost anything can seem nostalgic; for example people in Eastern Europe and Russian now glamorizing life under Communism, but when things are as bad as they were during the 30s, I don't believe anyone has a real idea of what they might be (sort of) wishing for. There is a fascination about the Depression, but I think it is partly the contrast between the Roaring Twenties and the sudden devastation after, rather than there being much beautiful about the desperation of the time itself. Any difficult situation will bring out both the best and worst of people, and maybe everyone collectively did learn some important lessons, but it is still not something that you would want, ever.

There was an article in the Atlantic Monthly recently, Autumn of the Multitaskers, that made the point that a Depression could bring a sense of relief from the out of control frenzy that characterizes our current era, which may very well be true to some extent, but still, all I can say is that at best it looks like some very hard lessons.
posted by blue shadows at 12:53 AM on February 10, 2008

Out of control frenzy Chicken Noodle Soup Buying filter
posted by longsleeves at 1:11 AM on February 10, 2008

That was evocatively pretty. It doesn't have to be economically rigorous. It's just some guy writing.
posted by blacklite at 1:50 AM on February 10, 2008

Is it Valentine's day already?
posted by srboisvert at 2:23 AM on February 10, 2008

Nice link, thanks. It's a well-written little piece, and it's worth thinking a little about how today's Americans are going to handle an actual recession. Nostalgia aside, I have the sense Americans expect a lot more than they should from the government if things get bad. I guess you can spend your $500 Bush-bate anyway you like, though.
posted by Ella Fynoe at 4:12 AM on February 10, 2008

Can anyone explain how, if there were a run on the banks today, the FDIC would be able to give everyone their money (the insured amount, what is it, $10,000?)

I'm thinking the FDIC and other "safeguards" are only useful as far as they encourage people to "trust" that their money is safe.
When that trust is eroded, say by a government that acts like a soulless corporation for eight (or more) years, bailing out corporation (United pension fund) after corporation (thieving subprime mortgage enabling banks) and sector (energy bill?) after sector (bankruptcy bill) after sector (insurance, pharmaceuticals, etc...),
while telling the non-corporate among us (you know, the "people") to stop looking to the government for handouts or help or fulfillment of promises...then i can sort of imagine that it isn't quite so impossible for the system to break down.

If people lose "confidence" in the system, or even if "consumers" lose confidence, couldn't there be a tipping point where the FDIC and other safeguards become useless?

Why does it seem so farfetched to so many economist types that this supremely callous administration would have a problem throwing their hands up and saying "oops, we did it again," while the rest of us pay the consequences?
posted by mer2113 at 4:36 AM on February 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Hank *Stuever* is not an economist.

he's not an acute social observer or a historian either - how quickly people forget how the bonus army was tear-gassed out of washington - how quickly people forget demagogues like father coughlin and huey long - how quickly people forget the gangsters and the criminals and the occasions when people actually went en masse into the grocery stores and took what they needed - how quickly people forget the bitter comments of the republicans against the new deal - or the bitter comments from the socialists and communists that fdr was giving a corrupt, doomed system an artificial crutch

we had a certain amount of social capital back then that kept us "together"

we don't have it now - if we have another great depression, people will take what they need and many of them will be armed as they do it

back then when farmers started to be foreclosed upon, there were actual civil insurrections in a few parts of the country like iowa

what do you think people would do now, in a society where authority is even less respected?
posted by pyramid termite at 4:55 AM on February 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

For a better view of what it was like for people during the depression, read Studs Terke, HARD TIMES, an oral ahistory of those who lived through those times. My parents did and it was hardly fun.
posted by Postroad at 6:18 AM on February 10, 2008

wow. i never even heard of arthurdale, and i grew up about 2 hours from there, the child of depression-era parents. even though i've never lived through a national depression, i've been poor enough of my life to know i never want to give it a go.

he draws an interesting picture, but unfortunately, i don't have to wait for an economic crash to see people living in tents and scrounging through garbage.

mer2113, fdic guarantees are for $100k, not $10k. as if that matters if the whole thing goes bust, anyway. my own feeling is that we'll be seeing something not-so-good in the next 10 years, because what do you think is going to happen when all the boomers (i'm thinking me here) start to cash in on their retirement ira's and 401k's?
posted by msconduct at 6:35 AM on February 10, 2008

FDIC is federal insurance. And now the folks on the Right say they do not want govt insurance for health plans because that is Socialism! yet FDIC is govt insurance (as is Medicare and the G.I. Vets Hospitals etc).

No economist myself, I do know that we have a silly irony here: the govt is going to hand out money to give a spurt to the economy so we can reduce the deficit. But of couse we get the money to hand out by adding to the deficit!

We have learned from the Depression. But we seem unwilling to apply those lessons. Wer we to cut way back on the outrageous military spending--lots of it you don't even know about!--we could work on the infrastructure etc in our country...and yes: people here can do the work and not send that sort of thing overseas.

Of course we have had a history since icon Ronnie of deregulating over and over and thus we have allowed greed etc to get us in this sort of jam.
posted by Postroad at 6:53 AM on February 10, 2008

The writing was a bit too folksy for me, and I don't really agree with parts of the premise, but this was an interesting piece and thanks for posting it.
posted by WPW at 7:41 AM on February 10, 2008

OK, what the heck? This article makes it sound like it's common for Americans to fantasize about the Great Depression. Is there any truth to this? I personally never have, and it's not as if I've never fantasized about epic disasters that provide me an opportunity to show my hidden strength of character.
posted by baf at 8:03 AM on February 10, 2008

Historical events about 80 years distant have some parallels to our own times. Those about 40 years distant are about as opposite as can be. Hippies (1968), laughable .. Depression (1928), cool. Well, off a year, September 2009 could be bad. That's my general 40/80 rule of thumb for what's hot and what's not.
posted by stbalbach at 8:25 AM on February 10, 2008

It's easy to romanticize a Depression if you don't have to live through it. Let's ask the folks down in Argentina if it's comforting to think about the hyperinflation of the 1990s. Or let's ask the Russians about the late 1990s - I guarantee that they're anything but nostalgic.

Divorce rates always rise during times of economic hardship. Certainly nothing romantic about that.

Also, let's remember that the Great Depression only ended because of World War II. How anxious are we to see another one of those?
posted by Afroblanco at 8:41 AM on February 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Apocalypse is a dream best enjoyed from the warmth, comfort and safety of one's plush sofa.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:15 AM on February 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Hippies (1968), laughable .. Depression (1928), cool.

because guys with raccoon coats and ukeleles were so much cooler than guys with dye-dyed clothes and finger cymbals?
posted by pyramid termite at 9:25 AM on February 10, 2008

Am I the only person to find this article tasteless and annoying -- perhaps not on the level of photoshopping Paris Hilton into pictures of Holocaust camp inmates, but close behind it.

The WP Style section is crap.
posted by bad grammar at 9:30 AM on February 10, 2008

"Am I the only person to find this article tasteless and annoying -- perhaps not on the level of photoshopping Paris Hilton into pictures of Holocaust camp inmates, but close behind it. "

Yeah, it was pretty tasteless. I actually cringed when I read this line: "Because there's nothing wrong with feeling fond of strife."

Christ, what an asshole.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:41 AM on February 10, 2008

A little something to annoy the hippie haterz:

The Hippies Were Right All Along -- We Knew That
posted by telstar at 4:53 PM on February 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I thought the reimagining of Migrant Mother (I got it at "timing belt" ...) was interesting. After that it kinda meandered. The stuff about Arthurdale was interesting, too, but somehow less conclusive.

I don't think that he was going for face value with the line that mr_crash_davis didn't like. But on the other hand, I'm not really sure what he was going for. "Hey, people trivialize what they don't understand!" It's a bit like LOL lookit the foreigners, or maybe meta-LOL lookit the people going LOL at the foreigners.

Shrug. He probably was on deadline.
posted by dhartung at 5:10 PM on February 10, 2008

because guys with raccoon coats and ukeleles were so much cooler than guys with dye-dyed clothes and finger cymbals?

Damn straight!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:12 PM on February 10, 2008

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