Hearts at Work

—A Column by Jim Tipton

“It’s all happened before.”

 

Most societies throughout the centuries have had their own versions of our corporate gangsters (often masquerading as capitalists) and their henchmen masquerading as talk-show hosts and newspaper columnists. Most societies have had their own versions of power-mad politicians. And all societies have experienced ups and downs. Their citizenry undoubtedly often felt it was “the end of the world.”

Look at these words: We live in a time “when the father no longer agrees with the children, nor children with their father…when your brother is no longer your friend.” And “Strong of hand, one man shall seek the city of another.” “There will be no favor for the man who keeps his oath, for the righteous and the good man, rather men shall give their praise to violence and the doer of evil. Right will be in the arm. Shame will not be. The vile man will crowd his better out, and attack him with twisted accusations…”

These passages were neither written yesterday, nor 100 years ago, nor even 1000 years ago. They were written around 800 BC—2800 years ago by Hesiod, one of the first two poets of ancient Greece.

But the current economic crisis…isn’t this a rare thing? Have there been crises like this one before? You bet! The first depression occurred in 1807, and it lasted seven years. Because Thomas Jefferson objected to the British practice of “impressing” American sailors from merchant ships to then serve on British ships in their war against France, he pushed through passage of the Embargo Act to punish Britain. The act prohibited American ships from landing in any foreign port, particularly England or France, without authorization of the president himself. Jefferson’s Secretary of the Treasury opposed the Embargo Act and correctly foresaw that it would be devastating to the emerging economy of the young nation. Exports fell 75%. Five years later we were at war with Britain. In 1814 terrorists (British soldiers) burned the White House and the Capitol.

We had another depression 1819-1824, complete with bank failures, a drop in real estate, rise in bankruptcies, and high unemployment. Speer Morgan points out in his editor’s Foreword to The Missouri Review (Winter 2008)—one of the finest magazines being published today—that the 1819-1824 depression was followed by a series of panics, each of which happened about thirteen years after the conclusion of the previous one, beginning in 1837, 1857 and 1873.

All were set off by a combination of similar events: the failure of banks or major insurance companies, lack of confidence in currencies, speculative bubbles in certain areas of the economy…The so-called Long Depression—called the Great Depression until a greater one occurred—overlapped the last of those three panics, lasting from 1873 through 1896.”

Morgan says, “Shall I go on? I won’t except to say that there were nine or ten more, including the Biggie, which was stopped not by Roosevelt’s programs, brave though they were, but by World War II. The Great Depression and most of the other periods of severe recession and inflation of the last century-plus were connected either to excessive credit, bank and insurance problems, wars—five for us, including Iraq—or to bubbles: railroads, dot-com, oil and real estate. Panics and depressions in the United States have occurred at an average of every twelve years.”

Morgan’s Foreword is titled “Hope,” and he concludes his short summary of US recessions and depressions with this: “Like other kinds of trouble, acute economic difficulty often feels shocking and unprecedented while it’s happening, but it is neither unique nor permanent.”

Happy people continue to count their blessings.

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