Friday, October 31, 2008

Why the Next Depression Will Be Worse

Two Jims (survivalist Jim Rawles and new urbanist Jim Kunstler) give their views on how average Americans will handle a second Great Depression. Both of them think we will suffer considerably more than the Thirties generation did:

The Depression of the 1930s -- Why No Societal Collapse?
(Jim Rawles)

Consider the attributes of America in the 1930s:

A largely agrarian and self-sufficient society. (Now, just 1% of the population operating farms and ranches feed the other 99%.)

Not heavily dependent on computing and communications, technology, grid power, and petroleum-based fuels.

Shorter chains of supply. Most food was grown within 100 miles of where people lived.

A very small underclass that was dependent on charity or public welfare.

Lower property tax rates and lower (or nonexistent) license fees, vehicle registration fees, et cetera.

The majority of workers lived near their work.

Most displaced workers were willing to accept lower-paying jobs--even doing hard physical labor.

The entire nation was economically self-sufficient and could carry on without many imports.

Far greater self-sufficiency at the household level (domestic water wells, windmills, wood burning stoves, home vegetable gardens, home canning, and so forth)

A much lower level of indebtedness (public and private). At the outset of the Depression most families had cash savings. (We are now a nation of debtors.)

A sound currency, still backed by specie. (Although FDR's administration seized most privately-held gold in 1933, the currency was at least still fully redeemable in silver coinage until 1964.)

Lower percentage of corporate employment--so there were less risk of huge layoffs that would devastate communities

A significantly more moral society that still had compunctions and a prevalently law-abiding attitude.

A homogeneous population that largely shared common Judeo-Christian values. A much larger portion of society attended church regularly

A simpler, less extravagant lifestyle, with tastes in cooking and entertainment that did not require large outlays of cash.

Most families owned only one car (with proportionately lower registration and insurance costs), and they lived in smaller homes that were less expensive to heat.


The Nausea Express
(Jim Kunstler)

In a few months, America will be full of angry economic losers. We're not the same nation that crowded around the old radio consoles for Franklin Roosevelt's fireside chats. Back then, we were mostly a highly-disciplined, regimented, industrial society full of citizens who mostly did what they were told to do, and mostly trusted in authority. Today we're a nation of tattooed barbarian "consumers" with no impulse control, a swollen sense of entitlement, ruled by a set of authorities ranging from one G.W. Bush to the grifter-billionaire pantheon of Wall Street CEOs -- now heading into secret bunkers with their stashes of krugerrands, freeze-dried veal Milanese, and private security squads armed with XM-8 carbines.

Yet another Jim (SurvivalBlog.com reader Jim Fry) offers more information on the economic resilience of a Thirties household:

In the 1930s, many more people lived on farms or gardened. Even in many towns and cities, it was common to have a garden and raise a few animals including chickens, rabbits, pigeons. An enormous difference, then and now, is that the garden seeds then were "heritage" or open pollinated. That means that a family could save their seed year after year, and always have a crop. That is no longer possible with today's hybrids. If you save seed now, they, (the hybrids), won't come back the next year. In a major economic breakdown, there will be little distribution of anything, including seed. No seed, no garden. In the 1930s, most people had wells or cisterns for water. Today, if the electricity goes off, no more "city" water. Formerly, most people had outhouses. They didn't need flushing. Today, if you can't flush, you've got a biological lab in your bathroom within three days. In the 1930s, there were more horses, more donkeys, more mass transit and railroads, and more bikes. Today, no gas means no mobility. 80 years ago many more people preserved their own food. It was common for most folks to dry, can, smoke, salt, pickle and cold cellar, food. Today, many people consider food storage a discount card to a restaurant. In the 1930s, most people heated with wood or coal. Now, it's almost entirely "on demand" gas in a pipe, or electricity. Formerly, most people had treadle sewing machines, grain grinders and meat grinders. Today, nada. In the 1930s, far more people practiced folk medicine and used herbs. If you got cut, sew it yourself. Got sick, chop a chicken and make soup. Today? You'd better have a pill bottle and insurance.


Not just for laughs
Farm animals like those shown in the Our Gang shorts
really were kept by city dwellers in the Thirties.

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