Manual Voices of the Great Depression--The 1930s

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PBS Presentation: The Great Depression

These storms will plague the nation for the next nine years, causing devastating agricultural damage to America's prairie lands and leaving thousands homeless. August 16, The first prisoners are delivered to Alcatraz Prison in San Francisco Bay, which houses mostly notorious bank robbers and murderers. The prison will become an iconic symbol of mystery, thrilling Americans with its stories of ghosts, murders and escapes.

The call marks a new era in technological advancement. April 27, Flash Gordon , the popular science fiction radio show debuts, starring the fictional character Gale Gordon. The American public is immediately enthralled with the exciting story of the hero's adventures on the planet "Mongo. November 15, The Nazis revoke German citizenship for all Jews.

With the Olympic games scheduled in Berlin, the German government tones down public anti-Jewish rhetoric over worries that international criticism of Hitler's government could lead organizers to transfer the games to another country.


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News of Owens' accomplishment sparks public interest, however, Owens continues to face racial inequality at home. Radio stations around the nation broadcast news about the flood for weeks without commercial breaks. Most broadcasts are filled with messages for rescue crews, as many government agencies have no other means of communication. January 20, Roosevelt is inaugurated for the second time as a result of one of the greatest landslide victories in American history. May Another dust storm hits the West and Midwest.

Economic recovery comes to a halt, sending the economy of the region into a second depression and local morale to a new low. May 6, The Hindenburg, a German airship carrying passengers planning to attend the coronation festivities of Queen Elizabeth in London, explodes in Lakehurst, N. The media there to cover the flight ends up recording the disaster live with newsreel, radio coverage, and photographs. CBS reporter Herbert Morrison's eyewitness "live" radio report is broadcast the next day. July 2, Amelia Earhart crashes off the coast of Howland Island in the Pacific Ocean in her attempt to become the first woman to fly around the world.

The news media round-the-clock coverage of the event fascinates the American public and helps generate conspiracy theories about the cause of the mysterious crash. Fans adore the show and identify Welles' voice with the wealthy, young crime fighter who has psychic powers. Americans visiting the exhibit are also awed by the General Motors Pavilion, a large glass exhibit and ride that serves as a model of the world in 20 years.

Only with the advent of the Soil Conservation Service and a whole set of other institutions aimed at regulating and improving industrial agricultural practice , did the situation turn around after the Second World War. In , the financial crisis, and the Great Recession struck. Most point to speculation, excessive debt, and an ensuing housing bubble as the "cause" of the recession. Few remember, however, that the s were the time when academic finance and the financial services industry really took off.

Driven by deregulation and the rapid develop of distributed computational power, exotic financial products such as CDOs and derivatives became possible for the first time.

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Just like mechanized farming in the s, these new tools got out of hand. In the free-for-all that ensued, financiers securitized and arbitraged their way to oblivion, causing widespread misery and wealth destruction. When will we create the global institutions required to regulate and improve the functioning of this new force of nature?


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  8. Until this happens, expect the New Dust Bowl to continue. This is very insightful. I will definitely ponder on and follow up on this. Would the US economy of the s have been materially different if the share of total income accruing to the top 0. Krugman certainly thinks so.

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    In fact, big money does not always find a way, nor does its influence necessarily increase as the top 0. Whether the average plutocrat has 1, or 50, times more than the average worker makes little difference in this respect. But this lesson was forgotten only by a lunatic fringe, some of whom suggested that the Great Recession was needed to shift workers out of bloated sectors such as home construction.

    As for lessons that were forgotten, one is that persistent ultra-low interest rates means the economy is still short of safe, liquid stores of value, and thus in need of further monetary expansion.

    Great Depression

    During and after the Great Recession, denying this plain truth and calling for an end to stimulus became a litmus test for any Republican holding or seeking office. Worse, these politicians were joined by an astonishingly large number of conservative economists, who conveniently seemed to forget that the short-term safe interest rate is a good thermometer for the economy.

    But an even more obvious culprit was hyper-partisanship. Another lesson is that printing or borrowing money to buy stuff is an effective means for governments to address worryingly high unemployment. After , the Obama administration effectively rejected this lesson, in favor of the logic of austerity , even though the unemployment rate was still 9. A related lesson is that high levels of government debt need not lead to price instability or an inflationary spiral. After all, the plutocracy itself profits when money is cheap and lending is dear.

    The larger issue, then, is an absence of alternative voices.


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    If the s had been anything like the s, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Conference Board would have been aggressively calling for more investment in America, and these arguments would have commanded the attention of the press. Labor unions would have had a prominent voice as advocates for a high-pressure economy. Both would have had very powerful voices inside the political process through their support of candidates.

    Did the top 0. The problem is not so much that the plutocracy has grown stronger as that countervailing powers have disappeared. After all, there are wealthy donors and philanthropists on the left as well as the right, and some billionaires have even started to demand that they be taxed more.

    s: 'New Deal' Starts to Fail, Just as Threats Grow Overseas

    Of course, the political implications of plutocracy are dangerous and destructive. In the US, Olin money has captured the judiciary, Koch money has misinformed the public about global warming, and Murdoch money routinely terrifies retirees about immigrants. But just because the public sphere is tainted and skewed by plutocratic influence does not mean that more rational policymaking is doomed. Once we are aware of the problem, we can begin to work around it.