Monday, October 06, 2008

"No TV for you tonight, Buster!"

I'm afraid this economic mess we've talked ourselves into is going to get a lot worse before it gets any better. What frightens me most about the prospect of a severe recession, or even depression, is not the hardship it will bring me and mine. I'm fairly confident in my ability to provide for even an extended family if push came to shove (the Hank Williams, Jr. song "A Country Boy Will Survive" has been bouncing around inside by brain-housing group lately). No, I'm not worried about feeding and keeping my clan warm and dry. But, I'm real worried about how everyone else might try to keep themselves fed.

The last time this country was in a depression (we've been in more than just one since the pilgrims piled off the Mayflower, in case you're wondering) this nation was a much different people and place. The American character of self-sufficiency and our ability to absorb pain and misery was still robust, owing to having just recently subdued a hostile continent. There ain't been no hostile-continent-subjugation required in several generations and the American character is predominantly soft and dependent.

In the intervening near-century since the Great Depression this nation has transitioned from a relatively balanced rural/agrarian and urban/industrial society to one in which nearly the entire nation lives in the suburban or urban environs of some sort of city (even the smallest city in our land provides for its citizens in ways unimaginable even in the greatest metropolitan centers eighty years ago) and the vast majority of our population behaves as if the food in the supermarkets and restaurants is provided by a replicator in the back. Early in the twentieth century, 40% of the population lived in cities--nearly double that percentage does today. The bulk of our population is so far removed from any understanding of a subsistence lifestyle as to make any rapid re-adaptation virtually impossible.

In 1929, the population of metropolitan New York was less than 9 million souls. Today the urban megalopolis centered around New York City numbers nearly three times that. Most cities, and their suburbs, in these re-United States have seen similar population growth. Were our nation to slide precipitously into a depression such as we experienced in the 1930s, with 25% unemployment (makes our currently 6.1% look wonderful), we would enter the mother of all crises; one for which no government is prepared to confront.

Oh, and in case you are looking for someone to blame for the housing and credit crises for which a 700 BILLION dollar bandaid has just been bought to cover a gaping compound fracture, step into your bathroom and take a look in the mirror. In the immortal words of Pogo, "We have met the enemy and he is us!" Our profligate spending on credit for things we do not need (never confuse want with need) is the cause of these compounding crises. We can blame the politicians and "predatory lenders" all we want, but nobody held guns to our heads and forced us to take out loans to procure homes, cars, and plasma TVs well beyond our means to pay for them. We've partied hard and now our parents have come home and caught us asleep on the couch in a trashed house.

We're all gonna get grounded.
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