Great Depression, Part Deux? [quote]

We had a study last night on the history of the Christian Church when this quote came up.  This was written in 1985 by Justo Gonzalez in The Story of Christianity: Volume Two – The Reformation to the Present Day about the Great Depression in the 1930.  I have bolded the interesting sections…remember this was writtin in 1985.

On October 24, 1929, panic gripped the New York Stock Exchange. With short periods of slight recovery, the market continued dropping until the middle of 1930. By then, most of the western world was in the middle of a great economic depression. One-fourth of the labor force in the United States was unemployed. Britain and other nations had social security systems and unemployment insurance. In the United States, fear of socialism had prevented such measures; therefore, the unemployed found themselves entirely on their own, or forced to seek charity from relatives, friends, or churches. Soup kitchens and breadlines became common sights in all major cities and many smaller towns. Runs on banks, bankruptcies, and foreclosures reached a record high.

At first, the nation faced the Great Depression with the optimism that had characterized earlier decades. President Hoover and his cabinet continued denying the existence of a depression for months after the market had crashed. When they finally admitted that there was a depression, they insisted that the American economy was sufficiently sound to rebound by itself, and that the free workings of the marketplace were the best way to ensure an economic recovery. Although the president himself was a compassionate man who suffered with the plight of the unemployed, there were around him those who rejoiced in the hope that the Depression would break the labor unions. When finally the government intervened to prevent further bankruptcies in industry and commerce, comedian Will Rogers quipped that money was being given to those at the top hoping that it would “trickle down to the needy.’

Gonzalez, 1985, 376

Still don’t think there are parallels to today?  Foreclosures at record highs?  Fears of socialism?  An entire school’s union fired?  Bailouts at the top hoping to trickle down to the bottom?  Wow.

This isn’t a partisan political discussion…but it is an interesting parallel that the Church has to decide how to respond.  How do we offer hope in the midst of similar despair?  How do we not repeat the mistakes of the past and seek new relevance today?

Thoughts?

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Comments

  1. Pat says

    Great post. Even with social security and unemployment insurance, the church is needed to provide for others, because the government systems will never be enough. The church should respond to need regardless of the cause. The hope is in knowing that God and God's people are always there. I have had to cut back on spending at all levels, and it will make me stronger, just as it made my parent's generation stronger. They didn't need (and still don't need) all the latest gadgets, etc. My treasure is not here on this earth.

  2. Marla Marcum says

    Thanks for this really striking post! I assumed there were parallels between our situation and the Great Depression, but that description could have been written about today (with only a few names changed). I suspect that our true unemployment rate is much higher than the official figure. I know plenty of people who have given up trying. And then there are those like me whose household income (and for me with some help from my mother… I'm not ashamed to admit it!). I am working way more than 40 hours per week as a volunteer doing the work I feel called to do in the world. In a healthy economic climate, there would be some funding for this work. I am not counted in the unemployment statistics. I'll continue on this path for as long as we can make ends meet, but we certainly don't have any savings.

    The church is ALWAYS needed to respond to immediate needs, but shouldn't we also be examining the root cause of the problems? If we don't, we're just going to be the ones who put band-aids on the wounded… but we won't be doing anything to prevent the wounds to begin with.

    This week in our churches, we contemplated the temptation of Jesus… the part of that story that really hit me this year was the temptation to turn a stone to bread… this year, I read that as the temptation of convenience, short-cuts, and band-aids. We are called to follow Jesus and resist those temptations… let's dig-in and try to do the hard work of changing the systems that create wounded people (while we continue to care for the wounded). Sounds like your congregation, Jeremy, is doing this work!

  3. Carolyn says

    I find the parallels frightening. Just reading that quotation makes me realize that simple optimism and hope can't get us through this situation on our own. It's not OK for the US government to deny that its people are in need, and "trickle down" just doesn't work so it's not OK either. I agree that churches must step up to help, but where do churches' monies come from? The people! We need a government with a conscience, one that discards a laissez-faire attitude in favor of intervention designed to save lives and families.

  4. bthomas says

    It might be helpful if the author of the quote had a meaningful grasp of they dynamics of micro and macro economics. At best the excerpt quoted only reflects a lay opinion. Foreclosures are not sweeping the nation as was much the case in previous downturns in the economic cycle. At present foreclosures are primarily centered in a few states where speculative residential property was overbuilt. This combined with lending to unqualified individuals produced a unsupportable structure that ultimately could only fail. It is not fundamentally different from other boom-bust cycles.

    Within any system of exchange, supply and demand must balance based on what individuals are willing to give and take. Artificial efforts to manipulate exchange, i.e., socialism, communism, marxism, etc. are fundamentally inequitable as opportunity or property of one person is arbitrarily or idealistically taken and given to another person perhaps in the name of the greater good of society. It is true that in any system of exchange there will not be an equality of outcomes. One can seek to provide some social safety net so that those who fail can have an opportunity to begin again. Even by the most authoritarian extremes one can not eliminate loss any more than one can guarantee gain.

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