I feel kinda depressed today. I think the Depression is getting to me.
A very large number of my friends and former colleagues are out of work or grossly under employed. Those with jobs have seen their earnings severely scaled back. Those lucky enough to land a job face employers who are offering lower wages while expecting longer hours and more responsibility (often wearing two or more hats).
I am so not liking where this highway is taking us.
There are days I wish my grandparents were still alive. Their first hand knowledge of the Great Depression is sorely missed. But alas, times are different and I'm not so sure their experiences would be of much help. Back then, America still made things. Not everything came from China. There were local farms, local merchants, local services, local mills, you get the idea. There was a sense of community. We don't have that today. Which is probably why we don't seem to care very much about each other.
Maybe it's always been this way.
Way back when, in my high school social studies class to be specific, the history book had a chapter on the Great Depression. The lead up to the Depression seemed pretty clear - the growth of mergers and acquisitions that resulted in anti-competitive monopolies, a flood of money onto the stock market by ordinary workers fueled by speculation, the availability of cheap credit for housing and farms, a construction boom, both - again fueled by speculation.
And like all booms, eventually it went bust in a giant flame out that took everyone and everything with it. Except the tycoons at the very top who - for unknown reasons - were idolized by the general populace through the mass media gossip pages owned by those very same tycoons.
It works every time. Eyes meet the wool hiding the wolf.
As the most recent housing boom was under way, I just watched in disbelief as folks I knew bought way more house than they could afford. People with aboslutely no experience in real estate were buying up rental properties with fantasies of kicking back and just watching the money roll in. The general attitude seemed to be the party would never end, their wages would always go up, and that housing never went down.
I can understand forgetting the 1920's and 1930's but why so many so easily forgot the more recent 1970's housing crash remained a mystery to me. You'd think the massive shut down of defense industries in southern California during the formative years of my peers might have left a mark on their psyche - making them wary of the sharp turns life feels compelled to throw at us. (I'm here to tell you it did not.)
"Surprise," best said with a French accent preceded by, "quelle."
We need jobs.
In January 1933, 15 million people were unemployed in the United States.  In August 2010, 25 million people are unemployed in the United States.  Yeah, the population has grown considerably since the 1930's but you'd think someone other than Princeton economist Paul Krugman might notice that unemployment is way too high.
The only way forward that I can see for job creation is a massive stimulus program on par with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) of the 1930's. Such a program needs to focus on a wide range of projects - not just federal transit - as announced today by President Obama. (President Obama to Announce Plan to Renew and Expand America’s Roads, Railways and Runways White House, Press Release, September 6, 2010)
But alas. Such a program as that which President Obama proposes will largely benefit a handful of multi-national defense contractors whose names you already know from the Iraq War (here's a hint: Bechtel, Parsons, Halliburton…).
I hope you weren't expecting something different from Washington DC. With the draw down of personnel for the Wars of Iraq and likely-soon-to-be Afghanistan, the revenue to defense contractors still needs to be maintained.
Like I said at the beginning, this Depression is getting to me.
The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11 by Amy Belasco, Congressional Research Service, July 16, 2010 - see charts on pps 3 & 10