Today’s guest post is from Glass Ceiling. The United States and the western world live in an interesting and terrifying time in terms of monetary economies. Yet even so, we are not on level footing. Our histories, traditions, and governments are different. Western Europe, for instance, is no stranger to continental man-made disasters. The twentieth-century alone provided many, many dreaded lessons that the US has only read about in history books and the internet. For instance, in November of 1923 the value of the German mark compared to the US dollar was 4.2 trillion to one. That’s 4.2 trillion German marks to one US dollar, as recently as 1923. Imagine that. Stories of folks burning their paper money to heat their homes, or using them as toilet paper are legendary. But just consider what it really meant in living terms. Supposedly people would do anything for functional money or to obtain food: sex, theft, extortion, murder, to name a few. Middle-class travelers from other countries often came in and swept up large piles of real-estate and a possible enjoyed a sexual holiday for pennies on the dollar. What does this kind of humiliation do to a nation-state? What do its citizens learn (or not learn) from such an experience?
In its short history, the US has experienced hardship as well, but nothing compared to the ancient civilizations of the world. Yes, we have stories of the Civil War and the Great Depression, but they are hardly on the same scale as the repeated blows of, say, Germany in the last five hundred years. Or China. Or Russia.
Our Great Depression was in fact a global depression, but we in the US tend to know more about our predicament in the 30s better than we know of any other society. We have heard stories from the mouths of those who lived it, from relatives, PBS, and the History Channel. We know that poor folks often had to get creative and barter for the essentials of life. They were a hands-on, wood-working, brick-laying, machine-operating, car mechanic-ing, farming, ranching, hunting, fishing, cooking, and sewing society: an agrarian and manufacturing economy to the core.
For several reasons, the US pulled out of its largest economic disaster to date. Undoubtedly, one of the main reasons was our population’s resilience and ability to find value in our own work, whether done by the officially employed or not. The figurative and literal distance between hand-to-mouth utility was very close.
That was then.