Midtown’s lights a little discomfiting at the brink of a depression
November 18, 2008 3 Comments
It struck me as a little inappropriate, as I walked through Midtown tonight, to see bright, elaborate Christmas lights and displays in store windows just as the nation is entering a severe economic downturn. Because of this incongruity, I was curious whether the lights were toned down during the Depression and discovered, at least according to a paper from a fellow at Yale, that the Roosevelt administration’s initiative to bring electricity to the south with the Tennessee Valley Authority actually allowed parts of the country to light up:
By 1939, 25 percent of rural Americans were receiving electricity, demonstrating a trend that increasingly allowed isolated Americans to enjoy the comfort of Christmas lights.
Still, the mood could have been more solemn than those lights I saw in Midtown:
All blue light displays, popular during this period, reflected the somber mood of a nation in trouble.
(This article reminds me so much of writing history papers, cobbling together facts from all kinds of primary and secondary sources and trying to make them fit together using stilted verbs like “reflected” and “demonstrated”).
In other Depression news, I was kind of surprised at the big leap David Brooks made in his November 17 column about the negative cultural effects of past Depressions:
The recession of the 1970s produced a cynicism that has never really gone away. The share of students who admitted to cheating jumped from 34 percent in 1969 to 60 percent a decade later.
Seems like there were plenty of non-economic related events going on in the 1970s like, ahem Watergate and the Vietnam War, to provoke cynicism, and it is another jump to blame high levels of cheating on cynicism about government.
All this said, doesn’t it seem a little weird how so many of us are prognosticating about what a Depression will be like, as if we are standing on a high dive, fearing how much the jump will hurt but never jumping? It makes me wish that more people had tried to imagine how much excessive corporate profits, low tax rates on the very wealthy, weak lending standards, and securitizing subprime loans, would hurt.