This Diary from the Great Depression Is Like Reading a Modern-Day Newsfeed

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by Fabian Ommar, The Organic Prepper:

During times like these, keeping close tabs on events unfolding is critical. It’s always more productive for the pragmatic, though, to be aware and knowledgeable about such events’ developments.

One of the best ways to do so is by learning from history. For the most part, natural events are unpredictable, random in impact and reach, and localized. Economic collapses, on the other hand, follow a more cyclical dynamic and have all-embracing consequences.

Because consumption, finance, and economy are in great part determined by psychology and behavior (mainly fear and greed), and because humankind always reacts the same to abundance and scarcity, history tends to repeat itself with reasonable consistency and similarity in these areas.

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Even though crashes can’t be forecast with accuracy, brewing crises always send warning signs frequently early on. Perhaps even more important (and useful for us), its consequences are well studied and vastly documented.

The current crisis is being compared to The Great Depression of the 1930’s

But how these SHTFs compare away from charts and figures, more close to society and people’s lives? Are contemporary fears and (apparently insurmountable) matters of monumental debts, hyperinflation risk, social fragmentation, political animosity, government intervention, and widespread conflicts genuinely unprecedented? 

I looked at a few excerpts from “The Great Depression: A Diary” by Benjamin Roth to find out. It’s a personal yet surprisingly dispassionate account of the darkest years of the1930’s big slump, right after the stock market crash of 1929. Written 90 years ago in journal format as events were unfolding, without hindsight or historical distancing. It is a candid and powerful documentation of the depression zeitgeist.

Benjamin Roth was a young lawyer in Youngstown, OH, then an important steel production center of the flourishing Rust Belt. A common, middle-class professional and family man hit directly by the economic devastation, Roth was trying to understand and cope with the craziness going on. All that makes his observations very compelling and his narrations all the more relatable. 

Reading through Roth’s diary feels like reading a tweet, blog, or newsfeed today.

Anyone following today’s current events will be amazed at the similarities between that period and now regarding facts and events. But mostly as to how people felt and reacted to those. In that sense, Roth’s book won’t provide direct answers. But it’s filled with great insights and highly entertaining stories. 

Likewise, the idea here is not to draw a detailed or factual comparison nor provide a more in-depth analysis. We live in a very different world. The economy is considerably bigger and orders of magnitude more complex, so things are not directly comparable. The excerpts only illustrate parallels and allow for observations, with emphasis on context and human behavior. Hopefully, this will inspire you to grab a copy. It’s great reading.

It also provides a few important lessons to combat the anxiety caused by uncertainty

Many people are battling the anxiety of not feeling better prepared for the evolving situation.

One lesson is that, as the Stoics say, “This too shall pass.” Back then, the whole tribulation seemed to people like the end of times. This sentiment certainly got solidified further by WWII breaking out just a few years later. It sure feels like that today, too, with the endless cascade of bad news and looming threats all over.

In that regard, and not making light of it (crises are a real catastrophe to many), the fact that we’re still here, in an even better situation than ever before in history, should be taken as a sign that we’re learning and improving, as species and civilization. That shows that it’s entirely possible to overcome significant hardships no matter how bad the present feels or how dark the future looks.

Another lesson is that these ordeals take time to pass, and invariably the cost is brutal in various forms. It’s a huge ordeal spreading insecurity, pain, suffering, and causing loss to people, families, and businesses everywhere. (Not to mention that widespread instabilities increase the risk of authoritarianism, hot conflicts, and other worrying developments.) 

Let’s see what the Great Depression of the 1930s and Mr. Benjamin Roth have to tell us

(Note: The excerpts aren’t in chronological order).

 “January 18, 1933 – I am reading a book written by Claude Bowers entitled The Tragic Era. In it, he describes the panic of 1873 and I am amazed at the similarity to conditions today.”

I couldn’t find a more fitting start than the author looking back to get some insights and answers to his difficulties. That is what we do. People get lost during these periods. It’s hard to know or be sure of much or interpret things correctly when we’re immersed in the chaos, dealing with hardships, changes, and turmoil almost daily.

Takeaway: Looking at current events through the lenses of the past helps achieve a more balanced view. As I said, even though it doesn’t offer much relief in practical terms, it’s Diasomewhat comforting to know that we’ve been through this before many times and survived. Individuals and society.

 “August 14, 1932 – The movement back to the farm has grown stronger during the past two years until today it is almost an exodus from the city to the farm.”

Whenever the economy dips, things start to degrade everywhere. But cities get hit harder and faster, making people flock to the country en masse. It’s a recurrent, global phenomenon, though more prevalent and visible in the U.S. and other highly-industrialized and urbanized nations. The reasons are various: spikes in homelessness and crime, tax hikes, diminishing job opportunities, dwindling entertainment, faltering public services. That, and a lot more, haunted the population back then as it does now. In our case, with the added effects of lockdowns, social distancing, and multiple restrictions.

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