My father was 18 years old when the Great Depression began. He used to talk about how the resulting economic condition affected the families in a rural village called el Rancho de los Solis near what is today La Feria, Texas, by the U.S.-Mexico border.
He said that one could tell which of the homes had food by looking to see if smoke was coming out of the chimneys. It was common for the families with no food to come by and ask for grounds to make coffee or a little sugar that ended up being more than that.
There was a constant hunt for meat and when someone came home with a kill it was shared with everyone. The little community survived by looking after each other.
It was also the time of Prohibition and Mexico was only 8 miles away. The liquor traffic and deliveries that were transported in cars all the way to Corpus Christi and San Antonio by the young men of the village were an important but dangerous illegal source of income for families on the edge of survival.
There was no thought about why this was happening to them since poverty was something they had been living with all of their lives. Their human condition also included a strong inherited stoicism that taught them to endure and put their plight in God’s hands.
The fact is that the Great Depression that began with the crash of the stock market in August, 1929 tested everyone’s ability to survive. The failure of our financial system that followed took over a decade of time and World War II to correct.
As much as we honor and admire private enterprise, it was that sector that caused the tragedy that became the Great Depression. Also, as much as we do not like government in our lives, it was President Roosevelt and the New Deal that confronted our potential loss of economic viability.
It can be said that it was our business and loose regulatory controls that brought us the Great Recession in 2007. The housing bubble with low equity for unpaid mortgages caused a sudden downturn of our economic system and the government had to step in again to stimulate and save us from economic catastrophe.
The response to the COVID-19 Pandemic and the economic recession it has caused is very different from the federal government’s role in the Great Depression and Great Recession. Washington and its leadership failed us this time as the business community, the work force and the people in general are victims of government ineptitude.
When the stock market crashed in 1929, followed by bank closures and unemployment, the federal government leadership took the matter seriously and even before the Roosevelt administration came to power, attempted a variety of initiatives to help turn things around. When the housing bubble burst in 2007 and the economy began to collapse it was the Bush followed by the Obama administrations that took the lead in finding effective solutions.
In this case, the public health crisis created the economic downturn. Ironically, the stock market, with a few glitches, continues its upward trend and that is what has mattered to this administration. Taking the pandemic, the source of our economic problems, seriously has not been the strong suit of the current government leadership. So far, in addition to a recession, the ineptness and lack of concern has created a public health crisis amounting to almost 15 million infections, almost 300 thousand deaths and counting.