Monday, February 02, 2009

The More Things Change....

The psychic effect of the depression, it seems to me, is generally a good one.... It has taught people the difference between speculative values and real values. It has hastened the death of sick industries, and proved the vigor of sound ones. It has blown up the old delusion that the amount of money in the world is unlimited, and that every American is entitled to a police captain's share of it. Best of all, it has taught millions that there is really no earthly reason why there should be two cars in every garage, and a chicken in the pot every day.

A few years back we were all leaping along after the pacemakers, and making shining fools of ourselves. Life in America had become an almost unanimous effort to keep up with the Joneses, and what the Joneses had to offer by way of example was chiefly no more than a puerile ostentation. So many luxuries became necessities that the line separating the one from the other almost vanished. People forgot altogether how to live well, and devoted themselves frantically to living gaudily.

It seems to me that the depression will be well worth its cost if it brings Americans back to their senses. Once they rediscover the massive fact that hard thrift and not gambler's luck is the only true basis of national wealth, they will discover simultaneously that a perfectly civilized and contented life is possible without the old fuss and display.


~From H. L. Mencken's essay "What Is Going On In the World," published in 1933

HT: NPR

12 Comments:

At 2/02/2009 2:18 PM, Blogger misterjosh said...

He sure sounds like a curmudgeonly old bastard.

Too many people seem to think the way they live their lives is the way others should live as well.

As long as others' gaudy living doesn't interfere with my own, why should I care?

Now sure - in this case, gaudy living has led to a 700 billion TARP, and a potential 800 billion bucket of pig slop - I mean stimulus, but other than that, Mencken can stuff it.

 
At 2/02/2009 4:27 PM, Anonymous Lars said...

The fix was in last year. This "Perfect Storm" will bring us to a Depression period, followed by big Government coming to the rescue with the result that the average Joe will be forever a serf.
Obama said it: "I won" with the help of people like George Soros, who also can say he won. We are lost.

 
At 2/02/2009 4:35 PM, Blogger retire05 said...

misterjosh, perhaps Mencken was pointing out that there are more important things that the "stuff" we can acquire.

Americans on welfare live better than the average European. Take a drive to your nearest public housing. I can promise you, the parking lot at the one in my town is filled with vehicles a hellofa lot newer than mine. Ask the residents; do they own microwaves, big screen TV's, cell phones, X-boxes and games for their kids who can't read at grade level?

We have become a nation that rewards those who contribute nothing and we punish those who are ambitious.

Just saying.

 
At 2/02/2009 4:40 PM, Blogger CZ said...

Misterjosh, I'd like to think you're being tongue-in-cheek. Unfortunately this type attitude is the very reason we are in the pig trough and I certainly do not find anything stimulating about it. I wonder if people ever stop to think, "How much is enough?" To our own detriment we're chocking to death on our own excesses. I hope and pray Mencken is right. In fact the news reports say people are saving more now. What a concept. Wish our government would catch hold of this wisdom!

 
At 2/02/2009 4:49 PM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

A lower standard of living is unnecessary. Improved economic policies prevented a long-wave deep depression in the 1970s (i.e. depressions similar to the 1930s and 1870s). The U.S. had a quick and massive Creative-Destruction process mostly from 2000-02 (after a spectacular structural bull market from 1982-00) during a mild recession in 2001. Periods of feasts and famines are suboptimal.

 
At 2/02/2009 4:51 PM, Blogger CZ said...

Retire05, I absolutely agree with you. As a former public high school teacher I am still heartsick when I think of how children were indulged by their parents. Grades and matters of social propriety were the least important on the list, as long as their kids kept up with every other student and had the latest name brand or newest whatever. And the name brand HAD TO SHOW!

BTW, I taught in an inner city school so I know first hand what you say is true. And every grading period, parents who'd never shown their faces or answered my phone calls, came to beg for a way their kid could do a special project and raise their "F" to a passing grade.

 
At 2/02/2009 4:54 PM, Blogger Marko said...

"How much is enough?" Well, when it comes to success, I would say there is never enough. Rich have been getting richer during this post new deal era, but so have the poor.

I deeply hope that the American people will not put up with this anti-freedom socialist crap. I am heartened by the polls that show over 50% of people here believe private spending is the solution to this mess, and rather less think it is government spending that will solve our ills (which were caused by excess government spending, they were just arguing!).

I have the Audacity to Hope (tm).

 
At 2/02/2009 6:03 PM, Blogger misterjosh said...

Misterjosh, I'd like to think you're being tongue-in-cheek.

I was, but only partially. I fundamentally believe that "Your rights end where my nose begins."

If the gaudy living of others is only possible if the government taxes me in order to pay for it, then - yeah - that's not cool.

However, if somebody wants to bust their ass at two jobs or whatever in order to live gaudily, then I have to say "whatever." and move on with my life, whereas Mencken bemoans this attitude. It's really this part that I don't like " Life in America had become an almost unanimous effort to keep up with the Joneses, and what the Joneses had to offer by way of example was chiefly no more than a puerile ostentation."

It may be all in my mind, but I hear Mencken crowing "ha ha! Look at those schmucks, getting what's comin' to 'em!"

 
At 2/02/2009 8:19 PM, Blogger Craig said...

I don't think some of you read the citation carefully.

"It seems to me that the depression will be well worth its cost if it brings Americans back to their senses. Once they rediscover the massive fact that hard thrift and not gambler's luck is the only true basis of national wealth, they will discover simultaneously that a perfectly civilized and contented life is possible without the old fuss and display."

hard thrift and not gambler's luck is the only true basis of national wealth

Doesn't sound curmudgeonly or socialist to me in the least. It sounds like good common sense and sound economic principle.

 
At 2/02/2009 9:33 PM, Anonymous dbassam said...

I for one am glad that my children will be growing up in a time which values thrift, savings, and productive work. The excess of the past 20 years will be seen as a shameful time in our past. We will value productive work as offered by our farmers, tradesmen, doctors, and others who make their living through productive effort. No longer will millions and billions of dollars be made with the quick tap of a keystroke. Mr. Menken was correct then as he would be today. We will be a happier lot before this is done.

 
At 2/02/2009 10:19 PM, Blogger Plamen said...

Hmm, it's the Chinese and the Indians who need to learn, I think. They are the ones who repeated Japan's mistakes from the 80's - save, invest, work ,and get "rich" stocking on US debt, which is getting more and more toxic. The US will inflate its way out of this predicament, with some pain, to be sure... China and India, however, will have a "lost decade".

 
At 2/03/2009 3:43 AM, Blogger @sethstorm said...


I deeply hope that the American people will not put up with this

They will because they are tired of dealing with Wall Street trying to pound them into submission.

Now it is time for Wall Street to pay. Remember moments like these, for they will try to put Main Street back in its place.

 

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