A Nickel for Bread, But No One Has a Nickel
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Ohg Rea Tone is all or nothing. He is educated and opinionated, more clever than smart, sarcastic and forthright. He writes intuitively – often disregarding rules of composition. Comment on his posts – he will likely respond with characteristic humor or genuine empathy. He is the real-deal.

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A Nickel for Bread, But No One Has a Nickel

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?

See: Where is Woody Guthrie

There Are 4 Responses So Far. »

  1. As America goes through this economic downturn there are undoubtedly things that we will all individually lose, and if we lose jobs we lose even more. Poverty is already very widespread and it will get worse before it gets better.

    But I also choose to look at the side of America that we might be able to do without..shopping malls every 5 miles, grocery stores every 1/2 mile…a Target, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and tons of pizza huts everywhere…perhaps “downsizing” is a good ting. Perhaps this is what we need…not a “depression” but a downsizing. What if Target closed 1/2 of its stores? Learning to live without. My mother-in-law was raised in Oklahoma during the depression..she once told my husband…”You never allow yourself to go without” She would never have thrown away old margarine containers, birthday bows, pickle jars. She got along fine without cable, a cell phone..it can be done. She appreciated everything she had…and family was #1. As my family, siblings, parents and I face the possibility of our worst fears..a real depression, we are also talking about a life all living together to help each other out. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. So I choose this perspective…America is “downsizing”. Maybe that’s naive considering how big this thing could be..but right now its all I can wrap my brain around.

  2. The question of comfort level is a hard on for me because I honestly believe that if it were just my husband and I we would be comfortable with very little. However, we have 3 school aged children and it pains me to think of them doing without the extra things that we like to provide for them. I am not thinking of extravagances, but new school clothes and supplies cost money and are not really necessary every year. Renting movies and buying ice cream and cookies is even getting hard to do. The kids are involved in various activities that all cost more money every year but in my opinion keep them out of trouble and let them explore who it is they want to become. The issue of cell phones comes up often and while they are something we could certainly do without, I have a teenage daughter who goes to the local fairs and such with her friends and it gives me peace of mind to know that she has a way to contact me if she needs anything. Payphones no longer exist and it is a relief to get the occasional text just letting me know she is ok. I don’t know what the answer is. We are constantly cutting back little things, but I’m not yet willing to give up on the things that keep my family running and, well, comfortable.

  3. My husband reminded me that after the crash of ’29, it was the rich who were defenestrating (OK, how many times do I get to use defenestration in a sentence? So I seen my chance and I took it) themselves, not the poor. That’s pretty much why Mr. Polly and I are regarding the financial news sorrowfully but with equanimity. We have his pension, my dog-eared copy of the Tightwad Gazette (by Amy Daczynzyn, invaluable), and a pantry full of lentils. No car, no plans to buy anything needing credit, no stocks.

    Still, how could we do without a high-speed computer connection? I shudder to think.

  4. To whoever wrote this piece…you might want to revise/correct your spelling of ‘nickle’……it’s ‘nickel’.

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