Why FDR’s words wouldn’t resonate today
“No country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources. Demoralization caused by vast unemployment is our greatest extravagance. Morally, it is the greatest menace to our social order.”
In 1934, FDR’s point was obvious to most Americans, even those who were part of the tiny privileged class that is always immune to depressions and recessions. Nowadays, even the leaders of the Democratic Party don’t seem to make the connection between sky-high unemployment and the threat of serious social disorder. Apparently, they’re convinced a steady diet of beer and circuses will keep Americans enervated, even after homes are foreclosed on and unemployment checks stop.
They might be right, at least for now. The percentage of Americans who lack food, shelter and clothing is small compared to what it was in the 1930s, at the peak of the Great Depression. Most Americans, even the ones out of work and/or in danger of losing their homes, still have resources to fall back on, whether it’s savings or even emergency lodgings with relatives. There’s more food than there was then, even if most of it is swill, and a vast array of consumer goodies — TVs, iPhones, iPods, video games, vibrators and so on — that weren’t available 76 years ago to distract people from their misery, or impending misery.
Also, most people are oblivious to legal and political realities until they are hit over the head by them. I’ll bet not one in ten of us know the implications of the Patriot Act or care that it’s now legal for corporations to anonymously steer vast sums to candidates who represent their interests.
But will we remain as brain-dead if our toys are gone? If they are repossessed or can’t be had because our credit is exhausted? If we can’t afford to watch gladiators on cable TV or the new version of Grand Theft Auto?
It won’t come to that, at least for a while, if Wall Street witch doctors can conjure up another phony boom and we can keep it going with more borrowed money. But a new boom is unlikely, given the depth of the national debt, and the fact that most of the jobs lost so far in this century — millions of them — have been off-shored or eliminated by technology.
I’m going to stop writing now before I really depress myself. Besides, it’s almost time for the Phillies game and, after that, The Real Housewives of Pitman, NJ. Go team!