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We’re going back to the Depression - NOT

Okay, this is a late-night, non-urban-politics personal rant, but I’m going to gag if I see many more media stories saying that the current economic crisis is having such a profound impact on people that they’re rediscovering their Depression-era values, scrimping and saving like it was the ’30s again.

Oh, puh-leez. This MUST be written by people whose entire knowledge of the Depression comes from watching the movie Seabiscuit.

I have had the great good fortune to grow up the daughter of someone who lived through the Depression and, believe me, you’re no Depression. These are some of my mother’s recollections of life in the 30s on a wheat farm in southeastern Saskatchewan:

They would sometimes eat boiled wheat because there was nothing else in the house. Ontario farmers sent out exotic items like cheese and oranges, which were received with great excitement. My uncles had to ride the rails because there was no work for them to do locally and they couldn’t find regular jobs. My grandfather realized at one point he needed to apply for welfare to feed his family but he was so ashamed that, after walking all the way to the nearest town, he turned back without asking for it the first time.

As far as I can tell from reading media coverage and listening to people talk, this is the new Depression:

You try to haggle with someone in a store to sell you a blender for only $200. You don’t open your investment statements. You put off buying a flat-screen TV for the bedroom. You wonder if you could pick up a secondhand car at a good price, given the world economic disaster and all. You eat out at restaurants with $20 entrees instead of $30 ones.


The only thing that’s possibly more annoying than those stories is the glee of all the anti-consumer types who are tearfully envisioning a scenario where impending economic Armageddon will somehow prevent hordes of teenagers from splurging on Ugg boots and True Religion jeans, while their parents will be forced to forego even more serious spending.

Oh, it’s all such wishful thinking. The reality is that we live in a world where, by and large, a majority of us in the industrialized countries have enough money to cover the necessities of life and then some. We also live in a complex consumer society. Both of those mean we are unlikely to go back to the lifestyles of your average 1930s farm or factory worker.

It’s going to take a lot more than a few months of economic uncertainty for that to happen.

Frances Bula reports for Vancouver Monthly, The Globe and Mail and other fine publications.

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