Depressed? Maybe. Depression? Not close.
Posted by Ron Coleman on November 23, 2008
All this historically inaccurate nostalgia can occasionally make you want to clock somebody with one of the three volumes of Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.’s history of the New Deal. The credit debacle of 2008 and the Great Depression may have similar origins: Both got going when financial crisis led to a reduction in consumer demand. But the two phenomena differ substantially. Instead of workers with 5 o’clock shadows asking, “Brother, can you spare a dime?” we have clean-shaven financial-services executives asking congressmen if they can spare $100 billion. More substantively, the economic trauma the nation suffered in the 1930s makes today’s woes look like a flesh wound. . . .
So what’s with all the speakeasy-era speak? Financial executives invoke distant history in part to make up for their own recent shortcomings. If a force as powerful as the Great Depression has been unleashed on the global economy, how can a mere mortal like Merrill’s John Thain be held responsible? The specter of the 1930s has also been deployed by political leaders to create a sense of urgency.
Gross could have said a lot more, but the article is a good starting point. Too bad he throws away the historical accuracy — or, perhaps, relies too much on Schlesinger — with this whopper:
A final difference: After the 1929 crash, the nation had to wait more than three years for a president who simply wasn’t up to the job to leave the scene. This time, we’ve got to wait only two more months.
Ha, ha, ha. Forget the slam at George Bush, utterly backed up with argumentation or proof, or the premise that the “president who is up to the job” is the utterly unproved Barack Obama. It’s Slate, so these “facts” are simply presumed accepted by readers. But it’s the facile take on Herbert Hoover that’s ignorant. Clearly the worst thing Hoover did in connection with the Depression was done well before the Depression, though it probably either caused it or made its depth inevitable: Signing the overwhelmingly popular Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act. But the main thing FDR did when he got in office was basically more of everything Hoover was doing — much of which was wrong, but virtually all of which was made legendary when effectuated with the increased political support in the hands of Roosevelt.
So maybe the parallel isn’t so inapt.