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What we can learn from the Great Depression

February 22, 2009|By LLOYD "PETE" WATERS

"If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in five years there'd be a shortage of sand," remarked Milton Friedman some years ago.

Who is Milton Friedman, you might ask? Well, he won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1976 and had an opinion on what works and does not work from an economic viewpoint.

As I intently listen to the daily economic news and plans of government to put us on the right course, I have a few obvious concerns. Some see the need of government intervention while others disagree.

I hear those stories about people losing their money in the 401 (k) plans; I read where the unemployment rate has risen to 7.2 percent; Bailout seems to be the buzz word for solving our nation's economic problems.

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Even Larry Flynt has joined the foray. Flynt alleges that the amorous behavior of his readers has fallen 20 percent because of the economic downturn and reader anxiety. Since the government created the recession, he would like for his Hustler magazine to be bailed out as well.

The auto dealers seem to have obtained a few billion dollars from the government even though people are not buying cars. A 36 percent reduction in December sales has the auto industry in a tailspin. How exactly a few billion dollars will help the industry remains to be seen if people continue to not buy cars.

Ben Bernake, who heads the Federal Reserve, was leading the charge on saving our economy. I have to wonder a little about his economic astuteness as he failed to see, analyze or prevent the housing market fiasco, which has contributed to some of our current crisis.

Where all this economic mess will lead us remains to be seen.

When I examine the behavior of a different generation and the Great Depression of yesterday, I don't see the same behavior of people.

Many people searched for any kind of work in the 1930s. The current attitude seems to be if I can't work daylight from Monday through Friday with weekends off, I don't need a job. No way am I working for minimum wage. Our work ethic has diminished.

I hear stories from my elders about how families depended on help from their neighbors to survive the economic hard times in the Great Depression.

From my viewpoint, people don't seem that willing to help each other today. Maybe another depression will help eliminate that selfishness.

The arrogance of companies in dealing with customers by way of recorded phone menus and offshore assistance while seeking maximum profit has not served this nation well.

Perhaps a new desire to attract customers through personal relationships and product value will grow from this economic mess.

The waste of government is a norm accepted by government. As I pulled travel trailers to Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I saw money wasted by the truckload.

Fiscal auditors estimated that billions of dollars were wasted as a result of the government's plan to assist Louisiana and nearby states. Maybe some fiscal accountability will grow from this economic downturn.

The Great Depression taught our elders to conserve everything. Perhaps as the economy continues to fall, some of this attitude to conserve might return to our society and waste might be further eliminated, even within the confines of the home.

Balancing budgets, too, seems to be a thing of yesteryear. Our government's debt has grown not in thousands, or millions, or billions of dollars, but now we find ourselves trillions of dollars in debt, with more looming. If you're interested, the next mathematical increase is a quadrillion.

Whether or not government can cure our economic ills remains to be seen. We, as a people, on the other hand, can do much better in remedying some of the bad habits we have acquired since the last Great Economic Depression ...

Lloyd "Pete" Waters is a Sharpsburg-area resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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