No relief valve for another Great Depression…

December 1, 2008

(Copyright 2008)


By Tony Walther

It could indeed get ugly quick if things don’t turn around economically.

I wonder if we as a nation have the fortitude to stand up to and endure something like or even worse than the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Speaking in broad generalities, we’ve had it too soft for too long, two or three or more generations now.

And there is no relief valve.

Back in the 30s a large portion of the population still lived out on the farms. A lot of folks had to leave the cities and move in with relatives still down on the farm. At least they had somewhere to go.

And then came World War II, the biggest relief valve of all. Young and not so young men were called up or joined the military in droves (women volunteered too), while a large portion of the workforce was directly or indirectly employed in the war effort.

A lot of women got a chance to do men’s jobs and did quite well at it (and I have something to add somewhat relative to that at the end of the blog).

But this time around there are not all those farms out there to go back to. Besides, not all the folks who live out in the country are into raising their own food as they might have back in the 30s. I recall that back in the 1980s (I think it was) when farmers were having it rough in many rural areas people were reportedly going without enough food even when surrounded by tillable land. It seems that a lot of farmers are more into specialized and big equipment type farming – gardening skills have declined. It was not uncommon back in the 30s for even commercial farmers to raise some of their own food, with vegetable gardens and chickens running around and a hog to butcher and such.

I know there are folks today who have farms or just acreages who practice what you would call subsistence farming. Providing they can pay their taxes and hold onto their land and maybe still have some outside source of income and/or marketable skill, I would think they are in the best position to weather the current economic downturn (aside from those who simply have so much money that they are just insulated from the whole thing).

By and large, though, we are just not self-sufficient enough to get by. We are extremely vulnerable to any economic upset, price surge in fuel (it could easily happen again), or natural disaster (recall Katrina on that last one).

A couple of days without deliveries and the grocery stores would be wiped out.

I saw a rather chilling video news report before I started writing this blog. A black woman working at some type of warehouse – in Detroit I think – was reacting to the fact that they were going to lose their jobs due to the problems in the auto sector. She said young people are already robbing older people and that this will just make it worse.

While I realize that a lack of jobs could lead people to crime, it has been my observation that by and large the criminal element is the criminal element (black and white and Asian) regardless of the state of the economy. On the other hand, if people get desperate enough, that is if they get hungry enough, anything could happen.

If people will trample a store worker to death to get early Christmas bargains (as happened last Friday on Long Island), what would they do in a real desperate situation?

I also read a story in today’s newspaper that said the survivalist movement so popular in the 1990s has experienced a resurgence. What has always made me wonder about those folks who head for the hills with their canned and freeze dried food and their guns and who say the government is the enemy, is what do they think will happen if our government really did break down. Would they be able to stand up to well-equipped outside invaders?

While I do understand some of the sentiments (not all) of the survivalists, I am just as wary about them as I would be about the mob or outside invaders or the government. (In the same vein, I am no more comfortable with the liberal judge who lets a criminal go free than with the vigilante mob out for blood or even the jury who decides to ignore the evidence or lack of it.)

You may have read about that so-called Russian analyst who wrote a paper with the thesis that the U.S. will fall apart and break into separate nations. I doubt that. And I certainly hope that would not be the case.

United we stand, divided we fall.

P.s. When I was in college a little firecracker of a woman attorney gave one of my classes a presentation. She had represented some female employees of a Sacramento area defense plant during , I think, the Korean War. The women were doing some highly technical work on gyroscopes used in jet aircraft. They taught men how to do the job and then wound up working for those men who then became their supervisors. They also had to suffer sexual indignities on the job. That attorney eventually got them a big settlement.