The old man who cleaned our office, back in the 1970’s, would sometimes talk of the great depression. “Ohg,” he would say, “Bread was a nickel a loaf, but nobody had a nickel.” Then Jimmie would smile and go about his business. Jimmie had a different comfort level – his tolerance for meagerness was greater than ours.
Our parents were born in 1923. Their life as very different from the lives of our youth today. The Great Depression aside – our parents lived simple and frugal lives. Our mother saw her first airplane at the State Fair. The idea of space travel, of going to he moon, was ludicrous. Our father told of his third grade teacher telling the class that we could never go to the moon. Her conjecture was simple. If we built railroad tracks all the way to the moon we could not carry enough food to support us through the trip. The people of 1930 listened to the economic news on their neighbor’s radio. Neighborhoods had grocery stores and hardware stores – the people walked for most of their needs. Different times, different understandings.
The point is simple – the generation of 2008 has a very different comfort level – that economic threshold of tolerance. It is only the most poor among us who are acclimated to the type of disaster a Depression would bring. Most of us will suffer beyond our imagination if the economic crisis devolves into a true Depression.
Small businesses were very different in 1930. The idea of a small business was the neighborhood grocery, or hardware store. Perhaps a skilled craftsman would begin a carpentry or plumbing business. In today’s world many of the small businesses are niche markets feeding on big corporate contracts. We live in Punkin Center, Missouri, and there is no business here. But down in St. Joe there is a fella who runs a small business repackaging materials for some big company. Our point is that most small businesses are not locally dependent – but are dependent on the larger economy.
This writer believes that people have economic ‘comfort zones.’ Some live frugally, driving the wheels off their old cars, they have not owned a cell phone, they repair their toaster rather than buy a new appliance. These people will tolerate an economic downturn. But the vast majority of Americans are in for a very rude awakening about comfort.
We think the Congress failed to understand the inter-dependencies of a global economy. The idea of pushing the regulatory oversight to the State level was and is a silly and naive idea. The idea that government is inherently ‘bad’ seems silly. We also believe it is silly and foolish for the federal Government, or any government, to try to maintain luxurious life for all citizens.
So how does this generation define luxury? How does this generation define ‘hardship?’ For some, the loss of their cell phone would constitute a Depression.
Readers – what is your comfort zone? What loss of a modern item would cause you to suffer?