COMMENTARY | Our nation had a period of economic prosperity, of growth. It was a time of plenty.
And then the bottom fell out.
Though it just recently happened, and we’re still trying to scrap our way out of it, the failed Bush economy is not what I’m talking about. No, I’m talking about more than 80 years ago, when our country entered the Great Depression.
The similarities are obvious and striking. George W. Bush, a “businessman” yanked us headfirst into a downward financial death spiral. Herbert Hoover, also a businessman, like Mitt Romney, thought the private sector, not government, should address the needs of the populace, and those choices exacerbated the worst financial climate our country has known.
President Barack Obama pointed out this choice of policy when he said of Romney in Monday’s debate, “But Governor, when it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policy of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s.”
It’s worth noting that in the ramp-up to the Great Depression, 1 percent of the population controlled 40 percent of the country’s wealth. Vanity Fair made the same observation about our current 1 percent in 2011.
Photos during the Depression are shocking. Moving. Legend Woody Guthrie traveled the country and took in the desperation, translating all of it to music and saving it for the ages.
This video of “So Long, it’s Been Nice to Know You” combines images of the times with his plain music, creating a stark relief of an era we’d rather not relive.
But it’s important to remember how poverty-stricken we can be, how starving, how hopeless, how despairing, because the thin line between our recent financial crisis and our less-recent financial crisis is the oft-maligned social safety net. In the early 30s, there were no food stamps, and people lined up to eat, relying solely on the generosity of strangers, also known as the “private sector.”
There was no government office dedicated to securing housing; HUD came along in response to the Depression. No, people lived in shantytowns dubbed “Hoovervilles.”
There was no Social Security, no Medicare, and no Medicaid. Our unemployment benefits program also sprang form the dust of the Great Depression economy.
The reason we did not have a repeat of the haunting images of shacks made of nothing more than boards and lines of people hoping for food stretching to infinity is simple: These programs were created to ensure it would never happen again.
Mitt Romney views these programs as wasteful spending. No doubt Herbert Hoover felt the same.
Government is not a business. It is not the place to practice the most capitalism possible. We have a government of the people, by the people and, so often forgotten, for the people.
To run a successful business, you have to get rid of “dead weight.” But a nation has no “dead weight.” It only has citizens, some of whom are more fortunate than others.
This country doesn’t look like it did in the early 30s because the safety net works. It may not work perfectly, but it works. Removing it doesn’t make another Great Depression more likely; it makes it inevitable.