The Great Depression Version 2.0

As a kid growing up in the public school system of South Chicago I saw a quintessential picture of the Great Depression. The picture told the whole story, that part that counts, the human side of the equation. No stock ticker tapes can express the “depression” part. Now many years later we are in the midst of our own new and improved version. Given our marketing savvy gained over all those years I can’t rid myself of the thought that we are missing a branding opportunity: Bigger Better Bolder, Blacker. The despair in the woman’s eyes, the tired and presumably hungry children the picture told. This tells the story of the human tragedy, but what lasting image will my grandkids have of our current mess? Is it because in our 3D hi-def 1080P world the vibrant color can’t carry the impact?  Is it because the racial slant of today’s depression would not carry the same sympathy? Or is it just because this one is so much different than the original, more ambiguous?

One could argue that our hopelessness may even run a bit deeper given most of us can’t fathom what happened, yet we know the world has changed. We understand that social security may not help us, unemployment insurance has limits, and Medicare and Medicaid have costs. All these troubled institutions brought forth from the Great Depression are also failing us and the rising specter of national debt continues. And let’s not forget that everlasting battle of terrorism or even the ongoing war on drugs can’t save us like WWII did. Of course life was harsher back then too, no TV or Internet, the soma of my generation was available to soothe those original worried minds. Even in today’s poverty level households they have cable TV with 700 channels of nothing to watch. Also that Depression seemed more widespread, whereas today’s devastation is focused like a tornado vs. a hurricane. Some people seem to even be thriving while others are helplessly abandoned.

During the 1.o depression we were still largely an agrarian society so farmers could still eat, but in today’s urban areas it’s difficult to even muster a garden. My dad, a poor farmer, obtained work through the Civilian Conservation Corps and he worked in forestry, until the war at which point he found other employment with the US Marines. Today the Marines are still an option, but no CCC exists, no monstrous bad guy bent on world domination. Hopefully our way out won’t be at the expense of the destruction of another world war.

No, our modern day Depression is different from the original. This reboot has similar traits of hopelessness. There is a distinct racial component for this one just as there was for the legacy version. Minorities are still suffering more than whites. The banks that crashed weren’t the small ones like in “It’s a Wonderful Life”; they were the behemoths of the financial industry. Too big to fail others too small to save.

The contrasts and similarities go beyond the different eras. Something fundamentally is amiss and most of us can’t put on fingers on it, just a sense of impending continuing dread. That the world I leave to my children is not nearly as full as the sense of optimism we flower children had is apparent, but they way out is not. Of course you economists and statisticians may argue endlessly whether or not this is a depression, whether the financial crisis was caused by government or Wall Street, for me I need a picture, preferably one in black and white with the proper contrasts detailed.

– A. Graves