01 November 2008

First person accounts of the Great Depression

Now, before I get accused of spreading panic, I don't believe we're on the cusp of another Great Depression. Although to use the parlance of the day then, hard times is comin'. I doubt I'll find myself on a breadline any time soon but it's good to keep in mind that the economic growth and stability that the US has enjoyed since the end of the Second World War is both unprecedented and a historical anomaly. Hard times are the usual course of of events, not peace and prosperity. We're incredibly fortunate to live in the times we do and it does a body good to review what life was like for the people on whose shoulders we're standing. 

With that said, the online magazine Slate has a finance-themed spin off site called The Big Money. The Big Money got their hands on a diary written by a Youngstown, Ohio attorney named Benjamin Roth. Roth started keeping a diary in 1931 and did so until his death in 1978.
Benjamin Roth was born in New York City in 1894 and moved shortly thereafter to Youngstown, Ohio. He received a law degree and moved back to Youngstown after serving as an Army officer during World War I. When the stock market crashed in 1929, he had been practicing law for approximately 10 years, largely representing local businesses. After nearly two years, he began to grasp the magnitude of what had happened to American economic life, and in June 1931, he began writing down his impressions in a diary that he maintained intermittently until he died in 1978. His perceptions and experiences have a chilling similarity to our own era, and The Big Money believes that Roth's words—though they are 75 years old—have much to teach us today; we'll be serializing several excerpts.

The Big Money ran the first installment last week and you can find it here. The second installment posted this week and you can find it here.

Despite my Steinbeck-fueled romantic notions of that era, it had to have been a horror to live through. It's interesting to read Roth's usually dispassionate descriptions of his daily life. Check it out and count your blessings.

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