As I peeled pears, cored them, and sliced them for another good washing in preparation for pear butter, I turned on the television for company and background noise. This is not the norm our home. Generally, when I am working on projects like applebutter, carrots, peaches, collards, or another labor-intensive canning project the background noise is the radio.
I found a news channel and set to work. As the swirls of peels fell into the bucket, I listened while political candidates, financial experts, and news casters proclaimed our nation’s financial troubles another Depression. That’s right, “Depression” with a capital “D.” Have you heard this word booted around like a football? Did it make you want to reach through your television and strangle someone?
The Depression, as many of you know, was not just about the stock market or the banks. There were many factors and one huge one was the severe drought (which began in 1930) and erosion known as the Dust Bowl which ravaged vital crops and farms. The Dust Bowl caused thousands of hardworking country folks from the Midwest to leave their farms. At this point in history, our currency was based on the price of gold. For each dollar in circulation, the government had the equivalent amount of gold in stock. Our dollar was essentially valued on the demand for gold and the global market for gold.
The Federal Reserve began reducing the money supply as fears of inflation increased — the Consumer Price Index and the price of gold internationally translated to the decline in the value of the dollar. Loans were not given because of the gold supply (remember, the gold supply reflected the money in circulation and they were reducing the amount of money in circulation). About midway into the Depression, owning gold was declared illegal.
Meanwhile, the streets filled with the unemployed, displaced, and now-homeless. At this point in our nation’s history, my grandmother (a small child at the time) was selling what little food they had to the men in the railroad cars. The soup lines stretched for blocks and always seemed to close before the last person was fed. Children witnessed men diving from buildings and dying on the sidewalks below. Banks and factories closed, farms and farmhouses were destroyed, and many succumbed to starvation.
We are not in the midst of another Great Depression. We, as a nation, live beyond our means and waste far too much. We buy houses that we cannot afford, purchase clothing that we do not need, acquire vehicles that aren’t just impractical but also far too expensive, and we waste food as we drown in our debt. The heart of this problem isn’t just as one dimensional as high-risk loans and a deflated real estate market. The heart of this problem is within our own citizens and our distorted ideas of success.
Just as our nation (and nations the world over) had to rethink basing the dollar on the value of gold, we need to rethink basing our own value on what car we drive or the clothing we wear. We need to adjust our priorities and start spending quality time with our families, church congregations, and begin investing in our communities through volunteer work. We need to stop wasting our money and also wasting food. We need to train ourselves to plan our meals, buy items that are in season and locally grown, and actually use the food that we purchase. We need to cut up our credit cards or train ourselves not to be so dependent on them. We need to sacrifice some luxuries so that we can hack away at our debt by increasing our payments on credit cards, mortgages, and loans.
So, the next time you hear someone talking about Depression with a capital “D” think about this post. Start planning your garden and your menu. Focus on what is truly important and reinvest in long term happiness. Scale back that holiday spending, make the gifts yourself, start canning and preserving food, make your own laundry detergent, and return to the basics.
*NOTE: The title of this post comes from a Seinfeld episode in which a stressed person screams “Serenity Now” in an effort lower their blood pressure and deal with their stress. They soon discover that saying “Serenity Now” does not actually help them deal with the stress and it ultimately blows up in their face.