For those of you who make your living in the residential construction, real estate, or mortgage lending industries, you have been descending from a recession into a depression for the past two years.
As more mortgage-meltdown and unemployment-related foreclosures occur, additional segments of the economy such as auto manufacturing, building materials, and retail sales will sink into recession as well. As the factories that supplied these industries close their doors for lack of orders and ship their plant, equipment, and manufacturing jobs overseas, the "Bush Recession" will quickly turn into a full blown depression, the likes of which have not been seen since the 1930s.
Exacerbating this situation are Bush administration economic and foreign policies that have devalued the U.S. dollar to historic lows against other world currencies. The U.S. dollar is about to be replaced by the much stronger Euro as the world currency of choice. The good news here is that international criminal organizations will now be laundering Euros instead of dollars.
The astronomical levels of national debt and deficit that the Bush administration has charged on our national credit card are of such a magnitude that unborn generations will have to devise new and inventive ways of paying off the economic sins of their forefathers.
The final nail in the U.S. economic coffin is of course the skyrocketing price of oil to unimaginable levels. The $1 a gallon gasoline that was promised to result from the Iraq invasion has never materialized. The current market price of oil has adversely impacted all segments of the U.S. economy to the point where many small businesses can no longer continue to operate. The only question here is which small businesses in your own community will fail?
There is, however, some good news in all of this for those who are able to survive hard times. A prime example is that more Americans will be forced by economic necessity to give up their motor vehicles and walk or ride bicycles instead. Horse and buggy transport may also see a revival. This will greatly reduce (1) greenhouse gas emissions, (2) Americans' body fat, (3) U.S. dependence upon foreign oil imports, (4) the balance of trade deficit, (5) pollution-related respiratory illness, and (6) the cost of health care because Americans will be forced to exercise and become more physically fit.
With fewer people able to afford fuel and vehicles, our existing highways will have far less traffic congestion, and the need to build new highways will diminish as well. Mass transit in urban areas also will experience a renaissance for the increasing numbers of auto-less riders.
The reduction in family income during the depression will result in benefits such as (1) Christmas will revert from a shopping extravaganza back to a religious holiday as originally intended; (2) energy efficiency and conservation will become economic necessities of life; (3) people will have to learn how to do for themselves or do without; (4) obesity will diminish as the cost of food escalates; (5) tent cities called "Bushvilles" (formerly known as Hoovervilles) will spring up around the country to house foreclosure victims; (6) cable TV shopping channels will disappear for lack of customers; (7) suburban sprawl will come to a grinding halt; and (8) when gasoline hits $4 a gallon the "Kill A Winnebago for Christ" crowd will finally have their day in the sun.
Depending upon one's age group, either your parents, grandparents, or great grandparents survived the Great Depression of the 1930s. These survivors had qualities that are not found in those of us who have only lived during times of relative prosperity.
Depression-era survivors were by and large frugal ('shop until you drop' had not yet been invented, and they didn't have money to spend anyway), they understood the value of a buck (which was worth a whole lot more in those days), they actually knew how to save money for a rainy day (what a novel concept), they never trusted financial institutions because they had seen so many fail with their own money in them (this sounds eerily familiar), they shunned debt and only purchased goods with saved-up cash (easy credit and creative financing had not yet been invented), they saw numerous family farm foreclosures and witnessed the aftermath (déjà vu all over again). Additionally, they fully understood that their economic existence was entirely dependent upon finding and keeping a job, they greatly valued their work, they knew how to show up on time and get the job done (historically true, believe it or not), those who were Dust Bowl refugees experienced first-hand the devastating effects of climate change but, above all, Depression-era survivors learned the skills required to tough it out and survive during hard times without complaining.
They never forgot their Depression-era experiences, which shaped the rest of their lives and made them strong enough to survive not only economic hard times, but WWII, post-war reconstruction, and Korea as well. They have been called by some the "greatest generation" for their perseverance, self reliance and ability to struggle through desperate times and live on to fight another day. In their later years they became true Citizens of the Republic in every sense of that term, and took great interest in both their local communities and nation as a whole.
If any good is to come out of our current economic crisis, it is that hard times will change the survivors forever. Hopefully, this time around that change will be for the better and not degenerate into an apocalyptic future. Building character, instilling a moral compass, and finding strength of purpose through overcoming adversity are archaic concepts in the Internet age, but maybe ones whose time has come again. We can only hope that after suffering the consequences of national fiscal irresponsibility, survivors of the "Bush Depression" will learn the hard way how to survive through tough times, and be better citizens for it.
• Fred Kessler of Carson City is a general contractor.