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Mon, Oct 29 2007

Musing over Black Tuesday on a Monday

Today is the anniversary of Black Tuesday. October 29, 1929, when increasingly large numbers of sell orders in the stock market began to result in what President Herbert Hoover would later term a "depression". The stock market crash wasn't the only thing that caused the Depression, but it certainly held a magnifying glass up to the rest of the financial conditions in the U.S. at that time. Economists still argue about how the crashing might have been avoided, or at least moderated.

The severe drought in the Midwest caused further heartache for Americans. President Roosevelt's New Deal projects put a lot of people to work and encouraged optimism, but a few years later things changed drastically again as World War II took employable men off to serve their country while many women learned industrial jobs here in order to keep things going on the home front.

It might be a big stretch to claim that Black Tuesday was one of the major factors that led up to World War II, but it's true that the financial stresses of the 1930s allowed socialism and facism to creep into many other countries. A lot of our own social programs such as Social Security were born or grew larger in the 1930s. The idea of taxing the rich began to shift into more taxation on middle-income Americans. Excise taxes increased and so did farm subsidies. We didn't fall into the trap of becoming a Communist nation, but we made a definite shift toward making ourselves a nation in which a large number of social programs are now not only accepted, but expected, on the part of many Americans and even on the part of those who sneak in illegally for their piece of the delicious deep-dish pie.

Today, stock market trading is automatically halted if trading losses reach a certain point during any particular day. That might prevent a short-term panic, but what if the long-term financial pressures on Americans keep spiraling downward over a period of months or years. How long can we keep operating on credit cards, real estate speculation and deferred payment on both personal and national levels? I know a lot of people who are having to dip into the money they thought they were saving for old age. As more people do this, more of us will become even more dependent on social programs for health care, housing and food. As long as the economic surface of things seems calm, there is very little incentive to change things. Look at what's been happening with the sub-prime loan market lately. Only a small percentage of mortgages have been affected. And yet the situation has affected other countries' currency as well as our own. What if a large majority of Americans were to become financially strained to the point of not being able to afford basic living needs? Could we see another decade like the 1930s? Or something even worse?

posted at: 08:47 | category: /Politics | link to this entry

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