The Great Depression Really Wasn’t so Great

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.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. denise says:

    Yeah, this recession may even top the great depression! how’s that..


  2. heedypo says:

    Hi Kitty,

    I couldn’t agree more with you that we could all benefit from reducing consumption. We could stand to live a little more ‘quietly’.

    Unfortunately, I’m less confident of your analysis of the US (and perhaps by implication, other industrialised western economies).

    Firstly, (as you, and I admit!), our demand for luxuries will not fade away easily, even in a situation where such powerful economic forces are in motion.

    Secondly, the reduction in the availability of luxuries will be skewed against the poor, as the rich will still be able to afford their airline travel. Homegrown Lentils for one, Kenyan lettuce for the other.

    Finally, and again from a social class perspective, (I am English after all), western economies are only predominantly information and media based for the middle class. The factory floor has not gone away, it has simply moved to the call centre and the shopping mall. As demand for services and products reduces, these are the people who will suffer – those unable to access information economy roles.

    The scenario I’m depressing myself with currently is that a reduction in consumption would eventually create a new African style developing world… on our doorsteps. We can blog while enjoying a view over the shanty towns.

    Clearly, now that I have cheered us both up, I shall go. My work here is done.

    Really like your blog. You write as I wish I could.



    1. kittyireland says:

      Thanks for the response, Heedy! I hope your fears don’t come to pass. These are things I’ve been dreading for years. I have hope that re-investing in the US economy by building sustainable resources and advancing technology will keep us out of that dilemma. But who knows…


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