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Week 88: Forget the Past, and Maybe You'll Escape the Great Depression

[ Edited ]

Narratives have a pull.  Once you know the story of Little Red Riding Hood, you might get scared when walking alone in a forest.  Or once you know the story of Lady Macbeth, you might get ready for maddening guilt after a dirty deed.  The narratives of our collective past give us a lens for understanding where we’re at and where we’re going.

 

These days, we’ve been repeatedly reciting one big narrative in the political realm.  The country is in an economic meltdown.  That’s a fact.  But a meltdown can blossom or move forward in any number of ways.  We don’t know what will happen from here.  To give ourselves some orientation, politicians and media sources have been frequently evoking the story of the Great Depression.  “[The Great] Depression narrative is not merely a story about the past: It has started to inform our current expectations,” wrote Robert Shiller in a February 21 article for The New York Times.  “According to [one survey] earlier this month, nearly two-thirds of consumers expected that the present downturn would last for five more years.  President Obama, in his first press conference, evoked the Depression in warning of a ‘negative spiral’ that ‘becomes difficult for us to get out of” and suggested the possibility of a ‘lost decade,’ as in Japan in the 1990s.” 

 

“We have not seen a nationwide decline in housing like this since the Great Depression,” said the CEO of Wells Fargo in 2007.  “It is now clear that the U.S. and global financial markets are experiencing their worst financial crisis since the Great Depression,” wrote economist Nouriel Roubini one year ago.  

 

In some ways, it makes a lot of sense to understand the present through a story of the past.  Economic laws are economic laws, and history reveals them.  We’re in for a hit.  But there’s also a danger in repeating one dominant old narrative.  A story has a gravitational pull, and once we adopt it as our chorus, we assume roles within it, or surrender just a bit of our search for new solutions.  For instance, if a deli owner knows we’re “headed for another Great Depression,” she might scale back her produce even if her sales have not yet dropped.  Or people might not have the confidence to put their homes on the market, even if they don’t know how new mortgages will function.  We adopt certain roles before the mere facts tell us to do it.  “History will now take over.” 

 

History takes over when it feels grand and we surrender our agency out of awe.  In contrast, perhaps there’s sometimes a radical power in just being forgetful.  The eccentric therapist Wilfred Bion had a strange strategy for doing therapy.  Whenever a client walked into the room, he tried to radically forget every single detail he knew about this person.  Total forgetting is nearly impossible to do.  But he tried it: He blurred the eyes; he tried to forget his patient’s name and past and narrative.  He knew about the magnetic pull of old stories, and wanted to keep his ears peeled for whatever fresh possibility existed in the moment.  Forgetting stories can make us keen observers.  It allows us to suggest solutions we’d overlook if we lived merely by the scripts of Macbeth or Red Riding Hood or the Depression of the 1930’s.

Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 03-02-2009 09:35 AM



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Re: Week 88: Forget the Past, and Maybe You'll Escape the Great Depression

[ Edited ]

Wait a second: do you mean to suggest that the oft repeated "those who forget history" quote may just be a catchy sound bite?

 

In fact, as I am sure everyone knows, economists disagree wildly on the proper response to an economic downturn like the one we currently are experiencing.  Some would advocate adopting the roles learned from stories of the past; others warn that doing so will have disastrous results and that we should, in fact, forget the past's "lessons" (I put the word in quotes if only to remind people that it's not like we can agree on what the past's lessons even are!).

 

This discussion reminds me of your months' old post questioning the value of books and literature.  Are books -- and history -- of value only as entertainment, or are we to take something from them that we can apply to improve our lives and the lives of others?  There is no easy answer, but, for me, history and great books provide context to our lives; they may not provide all the answers, but they do give us a context in which to understand and react to that which we experience.  Maybe, in that sense, history and books are yet another form of religion!

Message Edited by Lurker on 03-02-2009 10:56 AM
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Re: Week 88: Forget the Past, and Maybe You'll Escape the Great Depression

You're right (tho tough on me, Lurker!).

You know I think there's a lot to learn from stories. 

I just also think there's a dangerous gravitational pull to meta-narratives, whether they be about Oedipus or Romeo with his Juliet or Job.

The dramatic Stanley Fish just posted a blog on how we might be drawn to biblical grand narratives in our desperation to makes sense of the current depression, here.

 

Another thing you mentioned is true: The Great Depression narrative has recently been supplanted in public media by a more detailed look at our current situation.  I was just trying to search for a few recent areas on NYT.com in which they invited different economists to offer new narratives for what's going on here.  Can anyone find those links?

 

 


Lurker wrote:

Wait a second: do you mean to suggest that the oft repeated "those who forget history" quote may just be a catchy sound bite?

 

In fact, as I am sure everyone knows, economists disagree wildly on the proper response to an economic downturn like the one we currently are experiencing.  Some would advocate adopting the roles learned from stories of the past; others warn that doing so will have disastrous results and that we should, in fact, forget the past's "lessons" (I put the word in quotes if only to remind people that it's not like we can agree on what the past's lessons even are!).

 

This discussion reminds me of your months' old post questioning the value of books and literature.  Are books -- and history -- of value only as entertainment, or are we to take something from them that we can apply to improve our lives and the lives of others?  There is no easy answer, but, for me, history and great books provide context to our lives; they may not provide all the answers, but they do give us a context in which to understand and react to that which we experience.  Maybe, in that sense, history and books are yet another form of religion!

Message Edited by Lurker on 03-02-2009 10:56 AM

 




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Re: Week 88: Forget the Past, and Maybe You'll Escape the Great Depression


IlanaSimons wrote:

You're right (tho tough on me, Lurker!).


 


Oh, dear Moderator, absolutely no toughness intended!

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Re: Week 88: Forget the Past, and Maybe You'll Escape the Great Depression

oh, but tough is good.

 


Lurker wrote:


IlanaSimons wrote:

You're right (tho tough on me, Lurker!).


 


Oh, dear Moderator, absolutely no toughness intended!


 




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Re: Week 88: Forget the Past, and Maybe You'll Escape the Great Depression

I am quite thankful that the media is finally moving beyond comparisons to the Great Depression, as most such comparisons seemed to forget the direction that many countries took to get themselves out of it: extreme nationalism and expansionist/colonialist war.  

 

 

 

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Re: Week 88: Forget the Past, and Maybe You'll Escape the Great Depression

Nice point!  Hitler and FDR, however radically different they were, got their countries out of Depression through nationalistic agendas.  We would radically rethink recession by considering it a global, not a national, problem.

 

 


Jon_B wrote:

I am quite thankful that the media is finally moving beyond comparisons to the Great Depression, as most such comparisons seemed to forget the direction that many countries took to get themselves out of it: extreme nationalism and expansionist/colonialist war.  

 

 

 


 




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mpaine
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Re: Week 88: Forget the Past, and Maybe You'll Escape the Great Depression

It seems to me that nationalization in the U.S. is not as far-fetched as we may think...

 

http://blog.cleveland.com/business/2009/02/bank_of_america_citi_shares_pl.html

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Re: Week 88: Forget the Past, and Maybe You'll Escape the Great Depression

[ Edited ]

Hi mpaine,

Thanks for joining the discussion.  In my mind, nationalization and hyped-up nationalism are really different things.  What's your thought about that?

 


mpaine wrote:

It seems to me that nationalization in the U.S. is not as far-fetched as we may think...

 

http://blog.cleveland.com/business/2009/02/bank_of_america_citi_shares_pl.html


 

Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 03-03-2009 05:25 PM



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Re: Week 88: Forget the Past, and Maybe You'll Escape the Great Depression

I don't think it was FDR's programs that got us out of the depression. More likely it was World War II.

twj

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Re: Week 88: Forget the Past, and Maybe You'll Escape the Great Depression


thewanderingjew wrote:

I don't think it was FDR's programs that got us out of the depression. More likely it was World War II.

twj


That sounds like a Republican speaking? 

 

And, it may be largely true, but I am rather glad for some of legacies of those programs -- from art works to buildings to bridges to parks.

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Re: Week 88: Forget the Past, and Maybe You'll Escape the Great Depression

This week you didn't pose a question to the group, so please indulge me as a rant for a bit.

 

Lately I've been thinking along the same line. My thoughts have leaned more toward the idea of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Daily the news outlets bombard us with doom and gloom. Yesterday, for example, after a day of up and down trading the stock market ended the day some thirty or so points down from where it had been the day before--a minor loss.

 

Monday, was indeed a bad day with the DOW losing over 300 points and falling below 7000 for the first time in 12 or so years and that is about half of the all time high. My point, yes the market did have a horrible day on Monday, but in the big scheme of things only losing 30 or so points yesterday wasn't so bad. You wouldn't have known that from listening to the news reports of "another devestating day," or how "horrible" the news was, and reports of the market "plunging" to new lows. Give me a break! Of course the nation is depressed and no one wants to spend any money--sure, we are in a serious economic downturn--but hearing Chicken Little spew doom and gloom day-after-day does more to keep the economy down than anything.

 

I'm not saying that we should view the world through rose-colored glasses, but I am saying that a more positive view would go a long way toward turning things around. You are exactly right, the more we hear that we are in a situation as bad as if not worse than the Great Depression--that is exactly where we will end up.

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Re: Week 88: Forget the Past, and Maybe You'll Escape the Great Depression


Peppermill wrote:

thewanderingjew wrote:

I don't think it was FDR's programs that got us out of the depression. More likely it was World War II.

twj


That sounds like a Republican speaking? 

 

And, it may be largely true, but I am rather glad for some of legacies of those programs -- from art works to buildings to bridges to parks.


I agree Pepper, and don't forget about programs such as unemployment insurance that will help keep folks out of the long bread lines.

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Re: Week 88: Forget the Past, and Maybe You'll Escape the Great Depression

I was not speaking as either a Republican or a Democrat. I was not judging the worthiness of the programs, just the success or failure for FDR's programs and they failed to help the country out of the economic mess on a long term basis. The war did that. Heaven help us if that were to happen now.

twj


Peppermill wrote:

thewanderingjew wrote:

I don't think it was FDR's programs that got us out of the depression. More likely it was World War II.

twj


That sounds like a Republican speaking? 

 

And, it may be largely true, but I am rather glad for some of legacies of those programs -- from art works to buildings to bridges to parks.


 

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Re: Week 88: Forget the Past, and Maybe You'll Escape the Great Depression

[ Edited ]

Hopefully, facts do not change based on political party affiliation. Anyway, I am an independent. Here is one opinion.    Here is another opinion. Here is a very interesting article with statistics.


Peppermill wrote:

thewanderingjew wrote:

I don't think it was FDR's programs that got us out of the depression. More likely it was World War II.

twj


That sounds like a Republican speaking? 

 

And, it may be largely true, but I am rather glad for some of legacies of those programs -- from art works to buildings to bridges to parks.


I agree Pepper, and don't forget about programs such as unemployment insurance that will help keep folks out of the long bread lines.


 

Message Edited by thewanderingjew on 03-04-2009 03:31 PM
Message Edited by thewanderingjew on 03-04-2009 03:31 PM
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Re: Week 88: Forget the Past, and Maybe You'll Escape the Great Depression

Well said, Beth.

The media does spin everything for us, even hope and lack of hope.

 


Aunt_Beth_64 wrote:

This week you didn't pose a question to the group, so please indulge me as a rant for a bit.

 

Lately I've been thinking along the same line. My thoughts have leaned more toward the idea of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Daily the news outlets bombard us with doom and gloom. Yesterday, for example, after a day of up and down trading the stock market ended the day some thirty or so points down from where it had been the day before--a minor loss.

 

Monday, was indeed a bad day with the DOW losing over 300 points and falling below 7000 for the first time in 12 or so years and that is about half of the all time high. My point, yes the market did have a horrible day on Monday, but in the big scheme of things only losing 30 or so points yesterday wasn't so bad. You wouldn't have known that from listening to the news reports of "another devestating day," or how "horrible" the news was, and reports of the market "plunging" to new lows. Give me a break! Of course the nation is depressed and no one wants to spend any money--sure, we are in a serious economic downturn--but hearing Chicken Little spew doom and gloom day-after-day does more to keep the economy down than anything.

 

I'm not saying that we should view the world through rose-colored glasses, but I am saying that a more positive view would go a long way toward turning things around. You are exactly right, the more we hear that we are in a situation as bad as if not worse than the Great Depression--that is exactly where we will end up.


 




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Re: Week 88: Forget the Past, and Maybe You'll Escape the Great Depression

Unfortunately there is a long-standing belief that negative stories are far more popular than positive ones.  And as the primary obligation of most media sources is to increase the amount of viewership/readership they focus on the negative.  

 

I'm not sure how grounded in truth this belief is, but it does make a certain amount of sense that "train wreck in Los Angeles today" gets a lot more viewers than "everything is going great in Los Angeles today" - perhaps more because of the seeming unexpectedness of the former than the simple fact that it's negative, but you can see this building into a sort of logic and resulting in media sources looking for more negativity to report when it seems like nothing else is going on.

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Re: Week 88: Forget the Past, and Maybe You'll Escape the Great Depression

I think what is interesting is that we all say we want to hear more positive news but we are drawn to or actually pay more attention to the negative. Is it human nature? What worries us is naturally more of a concern to us than what gives pleasure or happiness. That is what, I guess, we take for granted.

twj