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Could we survive a Great Depression today?

 
 
Reply Thu 5 Mar, 2009 11:22 pm
Lot of gloom and doom here with the economy and all, kind of leads to this question.

Of course we would ‘survive’ another Great Depression. But might there be a tipping point that would make this one a whole lot worse, violence wise? And meaner, more dangerous, if you will?

I had an interesting conversation with an older relative who was a preteen when the Great Depression started. Neat old guy, still sharp, pretty opinionated.

He grew up on a small truck farm in a southern state, lived a few miles outside a small town. Said the GD didn't hurt too badly at first, but most of the businesses in the nearby town where they purchased goods shut down over the next couple of years.

They grew a lot of their own food, raised chickens and hogs, were pretty self sufficient until they didn't have much money to buy stock. Went without a lot, he said. He said his dad did some kind of work away from home at times, but didn’t have any work when the depression hit.

He said he remembered the 'government' (he wasn’t sure if it was state or federal, or even the county) giving out food at scheduled times in town. He recalled his dad being reluctant and embarrassed to take it, but they did. Going to town, he remembers it was always 'like church', with everyone dressed up in their best.

He tells me he recalls this was a matter of pride; if people were going to take a handout, they were going to keep their dignity.

Remember, this was during a time when there no unemployment insurance, no social security, no welfare (at least where he lived, although he said he heard about 'relief' in larger cities), no aid to dependent children, disability, etc.

Anyway, his take on today:

He asked me if I thought hungry people were going to have the patience to wait in line all day for a bowl of soup. Or, will they simply loot the soup kitchen?

He points out his family didn't have a problem when they didn't have electricity. They had the means to cook, keep warm, etc. They could mostly feed themselves. Most of the people in the US lived this way, then. Now, we are all dependent on the trucks supplying the markets, and the tenuous links of our society staying intact.

It was an easy solution for the govt to establish safety nets from scratch, and they had a great impact. Now, many people depend on that safety net for their daily living. Where do they go from there?

If things get really, really bad, do people today have the character to handle the discomfort from being truly hungry? Civil disobedience, while not unknown at the time, was restricted to union actions and other unique events. Not many riots like we have seen in the last 40 years.

I would add that people either come together during a crisis, or become the worse of beasts. Often, it depends how long the crisis might last, and how the crisis affects a person’s children.

A hungry child can be a great motivator, for either good or not so good, I’ve found.
 
aidan
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Mar, 2009 01:33 am
@A Lone Voice,
I was talking about this with a friend yesterday - we discussed exactly the same question.

Neither of us were alive during the Great Depression and he's English, so I described for him what the general tenor of the times seemed to be (most of which I've gleaned from reading) in the United States.

He said that he thought it'd be different in the ways that you posited. I asked him why he thought that and he said because we've all lived through the 'me' decade. This would inform how people view inconvenience to themselves, the role of 'others' and their response to 'others' who might enter their own safe little circle or universe and try to access scarce resources that someone may have earmarked for themselves. People seem to worry about their own need more than anyone elses moreso than used to be the case.

I think he's right. When I think about the excess resources, technology and means to distribute those resources that have become available, and the fact that they aren't - that tells me something about the people we are now.
0 Replies
 
edgarblythe
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Mar, 2009 05:38 am
One huge difference between that depression and today's situation is, great numbers of the rich suffered equally with the poor, then, but the government seems determined to prevent that from happening this time around.
0 Replies
 
BumbleBeeBoogie
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Mar, 2009 08:30 am
Who knows? Maybe people will revive the Cooperative movement in America that was created during the Great Depression. People working together to help them survive and have food for their families.

I was an activist in the Cooperative Movement. I met the finest people I've ever know in that Movement.

The Cooperative Movement is alive and well in the Scandanavian countries. I visited many of them in Sweden in 1968.

BBB
BumbleBeeBoogie
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Mar, 2009 08:35 am
@BumbleBeeBoogie,
THE COOPERATIVE MOVEMENT - AN EXAMPLE OF WORKING FOR THE COMMON GOOD
By BumbleBeeBoogie

Examples of the Cooperative Movement go far back in British history to the laboring Trade Guilds. They are also historic in the Scandinavian countries and still thrive there. In the U.S. most cooperatives started during the Great Depression, but some were established earlier than that.

There are generally two types of cooperatives (hereinafter referred to as Co-op): Consumer (retail level) and Producer. The producer Co-ops can include agricultural producers (such as Sunkist citrus growers), utility companies, especially in rural areas. There are thousands of small producer co-ops around the U.S. that are combinations of both types. Examples are bakeries, etc. Then there are service coops such as childcare cooperatives, where parents of enrollees are required to donate some supervision time each month.

As you can see, there are many varieties of Co-ops, all for the Common Good.

In U.S. Consumer Cooperatives, the structure is a nonprofit corporation under each state's laws. Members of the public are entitled to purchase one, and only one, share, which is usually very inexpensive. I paid $5 for my Co-op share. Each shareholder is entitled to one vote in the corporation. The shareholders annually elect a board of directors from its membership to establish co-op policies and to oversee its fiduciary responsibility for the Common Good.

The cooperative, through its board, may hire staff to run the operation; establish various committees of volunteer shareholder members.

At the end of each fiscal year, the Board establishes a cash rebate percentage rate, which is based on the earnings of the corporation. This rebate is calculated on the total amount spent by each shareholder's purchases during the fiscal year.

This limitation of one share, one vote per member protects the Co-op from domination by any particular party for the Common Good. Members may coalesce into advocacy groups within the co-op to lend weight to their policy change initiative, if they wish. But it can only be accomplished by democratic open and/or secret ballot vote for the Common Good. And, unlike some private corporations, everything a co-op does is public information because of its nonprofit status. And, contrary to some myths about co-ops, they do pay taxes on a nonprofit corporation basis.

In Producer Co-ops, the structure and process is much the same. The main difference is that the producers have joined together to leverage or protect their product's viability. In the case of rural utility co-ops, it often was to create a benefit that the area's population and/or local government didn't have the financial capability to establish the utility. By cooperating for the Common Good, many rural areas were electrified for the first time.

My personal experience with cooperatives: In the 1930s, in the depth of the Great Depression, the Finnish Community in the San Francisco California East Bay Area got together, pooled their meager financial resources, and formed a Consumer Cooperative similar to what the immigrants had known in Finland.

It started in member's garages where its members bought products in bulk to save money. Examples were large blocks of cheese, which were then cut into family sized chucks and sold at nearly wholesale prices to the Co-op's members.

Gradually, the Co-op expanded into fresh produce from farmers, who welcomed the market for the fruits and vegetables that would otherwise rotted in their fields. Realizing more space was needed, the member rented a tiny warehouse on University Avenue in Berkeley. Canned goods then began to appear later. The tiny co-op lacked adequate refrigeration, so it took a long time for perishable goods, such as meats and fresh milk, to be sold.

Gradually, the tiny warehouse expanded to add a tiny retail store. Its members volunteered their time to drive to bulk-product sources and bring them back to the store. Other members donated their time to help members receive their products (no money to hire staff). Everyone pulled together during a tough time for the Common Good.

During World War II in the 1940s, the little Co-op grew in response to the great need. With good management it was finally able to hire, it prospered and garnered the admiration and respect of the surrounding communities. It had finally been able to hire a small staff, but volunteers still took an active part in the day-to-day operations for the Common Good.

The little store grew into two, then three stores. One of the new stores was in the poorer neighborhoods for the Common Good even though the two other stores had to subsidize it for a number of years.

In the 1950s, as I began my family, I became aware of the Consumer Co-ops. I joined the grocery co-op first. I later joined its Credit Union in 1956, and I'm still a member. I became an active volunteer in the co-op when it opened a store in the suburban town in which I lived at that time.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the Co-op grew into the following for the Common Good: 7 grocery stores with one wholesale warehouse; 3 credit union offices; 2 book stores; 3 garage and/or gas service stations; 3 full-service pharmacies; access source to the Kaiser HMO Health Plan; 2 hardware/garden stores; a travel service; childcare co-op; in-store branch post office; in-store child care facilities to make it easier for parents to shop; and full-time staff Home Economists and the expertise they could provide to consumers---in the stores; and even book writing and publishing. UCLA students at the Berkeley campus organized a student co-op and built housing. There are probably others that I've momentarily forgotten.

In addition to all of this, the most valuable Common Good assets of the co-op was its members, some of the greatest people I've ever known. So many volunteers gave so much to the cause and it proved that one or two people could make a difference in people's lives. There were so many local heroes.

A small example is that our home economists discovered that the makers of a well-known biscuit mix product had secretly removed the vitamin and mineral nutrient supplements from its biscuit mix to save money and increase their profits. We exposed their action and they had to restore the nutrients after the home economists took on the corporation.

Another example is my own small contribution. It started one day as a result of my frustration while shopping in the cereal section of the co-op. Manufacturers deliberately avoid standardized packaging sizes and content weight so that consumers have a hard time determining the better buy. I had an idea. I asked a friend (John Hopkins) who knew how to use a slide rule to help me compute the "price per pound" of the products. We would walk the store sections while I called out the product's weight and price. John would compute the cost-per pound, which I would write on a tab and post it on the shelf. We then spent the next year's weekends computing the entire store (remember, no computers at that time) and posting the information on the shelves next to the product prices. The product manufacturers hated what we were doing and some of them with their own staff product stockers would remove our information tabs every time they came into the store to stock shelves.

Then an amazing thing happened. The customers loved the price per pound information. Other neighborhood grocery stores heard about what we were doing and started copying us. We finally got a computer system and the hand posting came to an end. We were very grateful.

But the most amazing part of this story is that I was asked to testify before the California Legislature on a Bill to require that all grocery stores post accurate, up to date "price per pound" information on their shelves for their products. It was a tough fight, with the retail and wholesale producer industries fighting us every step of the way. I had to go back to the legislature a couple of times to block some of the big grocery chains from putting and end to the law when its "sunshine" effective period was to end. But, with the help of California's Labor Movement, we beat them each time. The law is permanent in California and---amazingly, it spread nationwide.

So, friends, when you go grocery shopping and you see the "price-per-pound" information on the shelves to help you get the better buy, you know that one or two people CAN make a difference. And my friend John and I went to all that effort for THE COMMON GOOD.
0 Replies
 
Green Witch
 
  3  
Reply Fri 6 Mar, 2009 08:54 am
LV, I have over twenty years experience with soup kitchens/food pantries. We have more demand than ever at the moment. I can tell you that people are patient and grateful. Many people offer money even if it's only a dollar or two. Many people start to donate back once they find a job. No one is proud or happy to be in the line. Many women come in and tell us their husbands are too embarrassed to get out of the car. These are people who mostly do not qualify for food stamps because they own a car worth more than $2300 or the spouse still has a job and they are technically above poverty level. A lot of them start crying when you hand them a box of food.

I think the big difference today is that people are so used to instant gratification. Many people in this country have never known what it is like to go without. We assume poor people are lazy and stupid. Previous generations were better at suppling their own needs and were better at making due. Current generations look for money and the Corporate World they work for to supply everything. We have no sense of society or understanding that by helping your neighbor you are also helping yourself. United we stand...The one thing I like about this economy is that it is making everyone take a new look at the overindulged American lifestyle. We are not sustainable. Our economy can grow forever - it's a Ponzi scheme. We have to start investing in the well being of our country, and the world, and stop worrying about who has the biggest pile of stuff or the I've Got Mine, Go Get Your Own way of life. If it takes a Great Depression to wake us up - I'm all for it.
Green Witch
 
  1  
Reply Fri 6 Mar, 2009 09:12 am
@Green Witch,
Quote:
Our economy can grow forever - it's a Ponzi scheme


Should read "can't grow forever" - (duh)
0 Replies
 
A Lone Voice
 
  1  
Reply Mon 9 Mar, 2009 10:37 pm
@Green Witch,
Quote:

I think the big difference today is that people are so used to instant gratification. Many people in this country have never known what it is like to go without. We assume poor people are lazy and stupid. Previous generations were better at suppling their own needs and were better at making due. Current generations look for money and the Corporate World they work for to supply everything. We have no sense of society or understanding that by helping your neighbor you are also helping yourself. United we stand...The one thing I like about this economy is that it is making everyone take a new look at the overindulged American lifestyle. We are not sustainable. Our economy can grow forever - it's a Ponzi scheme. We have to start investing in the well being of our country, and the world, and stop worrying about who has the biggest pile of stuff or the I've Got Mine, Go Get Your Own way of life. If it takes a Great Depression to wake us up - I'm all for it.


You make a great point about instant gratification. This, after all, is what got us in the mess in the first place in many cases.

Re your neighbor/neighbor comment: I've lived in small towns for a good potion of my life, although this has been interspersed with city living.

What is it about a small town that allows neighbors to bond, where most city dwellers can't even tell you the name of the person living next door?

I've experienced it both ways; one of the reasons I choose to live in a small town now.

And I've got to say, I think we'll do a whole lot better when it gets really ugly than those who live isolated among hundreds of thousands...
0 Replies
 
Linkat
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Mar, 2009 10:07 am
I am afraid that we could be tending toward a big depression. I saw a news report of a tent city near Sacramento - similar to the way it was in the Great Depression. All I can compare it to is the recent American Girl doll movie. I've discussed this with my friend and I let her know I am concerned about making dresses out of pototao sacks - we also talked about boarders and stuff like that to make money (of course part in jest and part having real concern).
Green Witch
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Mar, 2009 10:34 am
@Linkat,
Here you go, Linkat. The problem is potatoes come in paper now not cloth:

http://www.quiltersmuse.com/images/feedsack_dress.jpg

Even chicken feed comes in plastic bags nowadays.
Linkat
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Mar, 2009 10:36 am
@Green Witch,
Well then we will be wearing plastic and paper.
Green Witch
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Mar, 2009 10:39 am
@Linkat,
Maybe we could use our reusable canvas shopping bags for fabric.
0 Replies
 
Tai Chi
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Mar, 2009 10:40 am
@Green Witch,
Rice still comes in burlap bags and you can make a purse:

http://blog.craftzine.com/ricepurse.jpg
Linkat
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Mar, 2009 10:54 am
@Tai Chi,
keep the ideas coming - I want to be prepared just in case.
0 Replies
 
Gargamel
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Mar, 2009 10:57 am
To prepare, I have had my teeth sharpened so that they will more easily tear through human flesh.
Tai Chi
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Mar, 2009 11:01 am
@Gargamel,
Gargamel wrote:

To prepare, I have had my teeth sharpened so that they will more easily tear through human flesh.


...and is that marinade you're sloshing around with you? Good thinking!
Gargamel
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Mar, 2009 11:02 am
@Tai Chi,
I will patch the soles of my shoes with duct tape, but by golly I will not give up teriyaki sacue!
0 Replies
 
FreeDuck
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Mar, 2009 11:12 am
ALV, I wonder if someone who lived through the depression in a major city would have the same perspective as your friend. Maybe the difference between then and now is more a difference between country and city than anything else. Most people live in cities now, as opposed to then.

As to the question of whether I think it could lead to violence, absolutely. Desperation usually does. Add to that the cuts in basic services like police and fire brought on by lack of revenues to state and local governments and it could get ugly pretty fast. Crime is already on the rise.
A Lone Voice
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Mar, 2009 08:54 pm
@FreeDuck,
Quote:

ALV, I wonder if someone who lived through the depression in a major city would have the same perspective as your friend. Maybe the difference between then and now is more a difference between country and city than anything else. Most people live in cities now, as opposed to then.

As to the question of whether I think it could lead to violence, absolutely. Desperation usually does. Add to that the cuts in basic services like police and fire brought on by lack of revenues to state and local governments and it could get ugly pretty fast. Crime is already on the rise.


That's an excellent point, Duck. I've never personally spoke to anyone who lived in a city during the depression; as you said, most Americans lived on farms or in small towns then. I think the perspective of someone who lived in a situation similar to many people now would be fascinating.

I think if it is a slow, gradual fall to a depression, much like what is going on now, people will adapt, to a point. It's just that there are so many tipping points in the world today...

patiodog
 
  1  
Reply Tue 10 Mar, 2009 10:44 pm
@A Lone Voice,
There's also the uncomfortable fact that the population of the U.S. is 2.5 times what it was then, and the past 2 decades have seen a lot of valuable farm land turned into McMansions, and into suburbs in the decades before that. If we were to try to turn back to a more subsistence based lifestyle, there's a lot more people and considerably less land.

Not that this is a scenario I envision, but if we're going to expect people now to get by as my grandparents got through the great depression...
 

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