Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Original Great Depression (no... the other one... no... the OTHER other one)

We think of the Great Depression as the depression of the 1930s, but before that, there was the original Great Depression... of 1873.  It was long, deep and lacked even the rudimentary social safety net established by FDR.
Much like our time, the Gilded Age was an era of economic booms and busts. None was greater than the financial crisis that began in September 1873 with the collapse of Jay Cooke & Co., the nation’s premier investment bank. Like many other firms, Cooke & Co. overextended itself by offering risky loans based on overvalued real estate.

Cooke’s collapse launched the first economic crisis of the Industrial Age. For 65 straight months, the U.S. economy shrank — the longest such stretch in U.S. history.
And the government's response to this calamity was to do... nothing.  Kind of like today (unless you consider QE2 to be a "something" and the pathetically small stimulus of 2009 to be "something").
The continued economic misery for the many, juxtaposed against fabulous wealth for the few, generated intense hostility to great fortunes. Workers, suffering the most without a welfare state, responded with ever-greater militancy.

The labor struggles of the age were as epic as the fortunes of the tycoons: the Molly Maguires of the Pennsylvania coal fields; the great railroad strike of 1877 that nearly paralyzed the nation; the Haymarket affair of 1886, in which a bomb killed eight people in a Chicago demonstration; the Homestead strike of 1892, probably the most violent labor conflict in American history.
So is it any wonder the #WIUnion is a force to be reckoned with?  Revolution anyone?

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