Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Great Depression

I would love to write a long post sometime soon. But I'm busy with the process of transition in a time when that's not really the best place to be. So it goes. That said though, I'll invite you to spend a little time today by joining me in some educational reading. I've never really doubted George Santayana's adage that, "Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it."

Anyone involved in education today can tell you that a general awareness of world history is anything but a strong point among today's youth. The arguable failure of our current school system to educate our populace in genuinely useful ways that have anything but immediate applicability will be the subject of another post, but in the meantime, I'll invite you to chew on this with me:

The Great Depression was a worldwide economic downturn starting in most places in 1929 and ending at different times in the 1930s or early 1940s for different countries. It was the largest and most important economic depression in modern history, and is used in the 21st century as an example of how far the world's economy can fall.[1] The Great Depression originated in the United States; historians most often use as a starting date the stock market crash on October 29, 1929, known as Black Tuesday. The end of the depression in the U.S is associated with the onset of the war economy of World War II, beginning around 1939.[2]

The depression had devastating effects in virtually every country, rich or poor. International trade plunged by half to two-thirds, as did personal income, tax revenue, prices and profits. Cities all around the world were hit hard, especially those dependent on heavy industry. Construction was virtually halted in many countries. Farming and rural areas suffered as crop prices fell by roughly 60 percent.[3][4][5] Facing plummeting demand with few alternate sources of jobs, areas dependent on primary sector industries such as farming, mining and logging suffered the most.[6] However, even shortly after the Wall Street Crash of 1929, optimism persisted; John D. Rockefeller said that "These are days when many are discouraged. In the 93 years of my life, depressions have come and gone. Prosperity has always returned and will again."[7]

The Great Depression ended at different times in different countries; for subsequent history see Home front during World War II. The majority of countries set up relief programs, and most underwent some sort of political upheaval, pushing them to the left or right. In some states, the desperate citizens turned toward nationalist demagogues—the most infamous being Adolf Hitler—setting the stage for World War II in 1939.

Yes, it is from Wikipedia, alternately lamented as the bane of serious research and yet linked and referred to without restraint by many of the same people who warn against it. I tell my students simply, "It's a beginning." This article is as heavily footnoted as any. If you're uncomfortable with Wikipedia as a source of information, then go buy any of the dozens of books in the "Further Reading" list for this article. But, as a primer on what we've been through already and what more and more people are coming to realize we are facing again, but in even more devastating breadth thanks to a world economy more "global" than ever, this is not a bad place to start.

Wikipedia: The Great Depression