Today I saw a headline on the newspaper about how people got through the “first” Great Depression and I immediately thought – with a bit of dread – of a book my grandma had when I was a little girl. It was a big musty hardcover book published in the thirties with recipes and tips for saving money.
One thing the book suggested that I remember all too well was putting cornstarch in dirty hair to soak up the grease, instead of using hot water or shampoo. Once there was a plumbing problem at my grandparents’ house, and she put cornstarch in my greasy hair. It was disgusting.
They also had handy tips about how to live off of nothing but flour and lard for weeks.
I hope that these tips from the thirties are pretty much irrelevant today, no matter how badly the economy collapses. Things are much different now, and whatever lessons can be gleaned from the past must be applied to a very different set of circumstances.
And I for one am not going to put cornstarch in my hair.
In the 1930’s there was an agricultural emergency on top of an economic collapse, which we could well see again, considering the unpredictable nature of climate change – but remember we are now working with a very different network of food distribution. So maybe instead of lard and flour we will have lentils… if transportation costs don’t get out of control.
Regardless, we no longer have a strong basis of agriculture or even manufacturing in the US economy. Our economy largely depends on the elusive resource: information. Intellectual property – like software – is a big part of it. Communication is a big part of it. Media is a big part of it. It looks almost nothing like the economic terrain of the Great Depression.
Living frugally is not bad for anyone, and this crisis might be a good opportunity for many to simplify. There has been so much excess in our culture and that has to change, even if it means shifting cash to more important things and making some painful adjustments in commerce. We need to produce more than we consume, on an individual and a national level.