If I was writing a book I could give this concept a better treatment, but practicalities inspire me to write about it anyway. We may be living within a spiral of history, when things repeat but not in the same way. It’s happened in other theaters before, and a trick of language emphasized the somewhat similar recurrence. Are we really recovering from the Great Recession, or are we in the midst of the Second Depression?
The ‘War to End All Wars’ was also known as ‘The Great War’. The ‘War to End All Wars’ didn’t happen only once; but the war that started in 1914 was the first one that was readily recognized as a world war. It was barely conceivable that a second such war could happen because surely we humans had learned our lessons. After the start of the second world war, the ‘War to end all Wars’ was seen to be a fallacy, and there wasn’t much about the first one that was seen as Great. It became ‘The First World War’ and ‘World War I’.
Pick your date, but 1929 is a reasonably accepted start of ‘The Great Depression’. The US had many depressions prior to it, but this one got the name ‘Great’. It defined a generation, dramatically redefined the nation and its government, and became something to avoid at all costs. America had eleven more recessions before the Internet Bubble, a bubble that will only happen once. Right? That was followed by a recovery and then – ‘The Great Recession’. For some, The Great Recession is past because stock prices are high, interest rates are low, unemployment is low, and housing is recovering. For others, the jobs and wages haven’t returned, many feel trapped by mortgages, and expectations of advancement are seen as fantasies.
Spirals are only circles from one perspective. Every rotation involves change. World War II was not World War I again. Many of the countries and battlefields were the same; but most of the people, technologies, motivations, and strategies changed.
The Great Depression is typified by the Dust Bowl, the market crash of Black Friday, bank failures, mortgage foreclosures, massive unemployment, and massive government intervention.
The Great Recession is typified by the housing crisis, failed financial institutions, massive unemployment, a market crash, massive government intervention, and is possibly exacerbated by changes in climate and weather (he types as yet another extraordinary storm storms through in an increasingly ordinary fashion.)
The Great Depression is also known by how people adapted. They grew more of their food. They lived in simpler houses. They shifted jobs as necessary. They fixed rather than bought. They saved rather than spent.
Within this spiral of history, many things are reminiscent, but are considered retro and fashionable instead of depressing and regressive.
Fashionable is a good word for people who grow their own food, live in tiny houses, abandon conventional careers, make things, and become debt-free by choice. For many people, there is no choice. Growing their own food is cheaper, living in tiny houses is cheaper, conventional careers aren’t available, making and repairing costs less than buying, and getting out from under debt is a financial necessity because that money is needed for food, housing, and the other necessities of life. Even with all of those efforts, they may not be able to afford health care, day care, or retirement.
If America never had another depression or recession, those past two events could maintain their unwanted titles of ‘Great’. On average, the US has a recession every 4.8 years. The Great Depression wasn’t the only depression, but it grabbed the title. For the many of the 37% of Americans who aren’t working, The Great Recession isn’t a bit of history, it is current events.
There are troubling signs in the economy; always. The wealth of China is hunting for safe havens because of uncertainties in China’s economy. Some housing markets are in bubbles. Commodities, even oil and coal, are declining. It’s possible that the main thing propping up the dollar is the poorer state of the rest of the world currencies. Financial institutions have changed so little that the Fed is calling them into meetings to warn them that the public may not bail them out next time. Climate continues to change, regardless of any human debate. Refugee crises have already begun.
Maybe everything will work out. Maybe we really have learned our lessons and a new economy will clear up the inequities and renewable energies will clean up the environment. This isn’t facetious. We humans are amazing and can make these things happen.
In case we don’t mature quickly, maybe it is time to consider at least a simple shift in nomenclature and recognize that we didn’t just pass through The Great Recession, but instead are trying to survive and thrive past the troubles of the Second Depression.
I’d delve deeper and edit more thoroughly, but there’s a job application to complete, a kickstarter campaign to manage, and an intriguing conversation with a local entrepreneur in the food industry to consider.