Hard Times: An oral history of the great depression

We've heard a lot of rhetoric lately about how this is the worst economy since the Great Depression. Maybe that's true and maybe it isn't, but even if it were, what would it mean? I have no frame of reference for these sorts of claims. They smack of hyperbole, but I can't be sure. In my lifetime, the closest I've come to experiencing anything like the Depression was during the recession of the early 1980s, which was hard on my family.

I don't know anyone who lived through the Great Depression, so to find out what it might have been like, I turned to a book recommended by a couple of GRS readers.

In 1970, writer Studs Terkel published Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression, which features excerpts from over 100 interviews he conducted with those who lived through the 1930s. Terkel spoke with all sorts of people: old and young, rich and poor, famous and not-so-famous, liberal and conservative.

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More about...Economics, Books

Outside Looking In: How Others View Our Spending

Last week, I went running with my friend Mac. As we ran, we talked. Mac asked me how it felt to be out of debt, to actually be saving money. Like many of my friends, he's watched my financial turnaround with interest.

"It feels great," I said. "I should have learned from you and Pam earlier." Mac and Pam have always made smart financial choices. They're not misers, but they're thrifty, carefully choosing where they spend.

"I'm glad you've finally seen the light," Mac said, and though he didn't say anything further, I could tell what he was thinking.

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More about...Economics, Frugality

The national economy versus your personal economy

Yesterday I attended the mid-winter conference of the local financial planning association. I listened to various speakers talk about the economy and how it relates to personal finance.

One of the presenters was John Mitchell, a local financial guru, who spoke about the current economic climate in the state, the nation, and the world. Mitchell's presentation was outstanding — I wish I had recorded it. He argues that this country has encountered similar problems before, and has always overcome them. He's confident we'll overcome this one, too, but it's going to be painful, and it might take a long time.

A Generation-Changing Moment

Mitchell says that the current recession is a "generation-changing moment". Events like The Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, 9/11 — and the current economic crisis — fundamentally change the way people act and behave. He cited his own father, who was a teenager during The Great Depression. "For him, high-risk investment was a passbook account," Mitchell joked. Because he had seen the bank failures of the 1930s, he was leery of even a basic savings account.

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More about...Economics, Investing

The best recession-proof jobs

In The Little Book of Bull Moves in Bear Markets (which I recently reviewed), author Peter Schiff provides a list of the best jobs to beat the economic collapse he predicts is just around the corner. "I foresee the following as the 10 strongest professions and industries over the coming decade and beyond," he writes. His list:

  1. Engineering, because the abandoned U.S. industrial base will need to be re-tooled.
  2. Construction, to rebuild the American infrastructure.
  3. Agriculture, as we wean ourselves from imported foodstuffs.
  4. Merchant marine, to transport goods to foreign markets.
  5. Commercial fishing, because demand for fish is increasing in the U.S. even as foreign supply is declining.
  6. Energy, because we'll need to develop alternatives to fossil fuels.
  7. Computers and high technology, one field in which the U.S. continues to lead.
  8. Entertainment, another industry in which the U.S. should continue to dominate the world market.
  9. Automotive repair, small appliance repair, and the like. It's going to become more costly to replace items, making repair a viable option.
  10. Tailoring and textiles, because imported clothes will become scarcer and more expensive.

This list is predicated on Schiff's belief that the U.S. economy is in massive collapse. He also lists job sectors he believes will decline sharply: the service economy, banking and finance, real estate, health care, travel and tourism, and retailing. If you have a job in one of these industries, Schiff recommends planning for a career change.

Schiff's advice made me curious. What do other experts think are the safest jobs for riding out this recession? I did some digging to find out.

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More about...Career, Economics

Learning to Give: What *I* Can Do to Fight Poverty

In our recent discussion about tithing, I made a confession:

I do not tithe to church or charity. I feel guilty about this. My rationale is always: “Once I take care of myself, I'll take care of other people.” Yet what do I mean by “taking care of myself”? I don't know. Sometimes I think “once I've saved X, then I'll start sharing my wealth”, but X seems to be a moving target.

I've thought a lot about this over the past couple weeks. I've looked at my own life: I have a $10,000 emergency fund, a growing business, and no consumer debt. I own an 1800-square-foot home on half an acre, a car, and a pantry stocked with food. Despite all this, I still sometimes feel poor. I'm not. I know this. According to the Global Rich List, my wealth places me in the top 1% of the world population, and that will likely increase as I get older.

I ha

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More about...Budgeting, Economics

The story of Stuff

Every time I write about Stuff, readers point me to The Story of Stuff, a 20-minute video about where Stuff comes from and where it goes. Until today, however, I'd never taken time to watch it. According to the website:

From its extraction through sale, use and disposal, all the stuff in our lives affects communities at home and abroad, yet most of this is hidden from view. The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns.

The Story of Stuff is an interesting short film, particularly in its last half. Writer and narrator Annie Leonard explains that the "golden arrow of consumption" is the heart of the modern economic system, a system that's really only existed since the 1950s.

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More about...Economics

Scratch Beginnings: An interview with Adam Shepard

I just finished reading Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America for the third time. In this book, the author chronicles three one-month stints working as one of the American poor. Her goal is to demonstrate that it's difficult to succeed as a waitress, or a maid, or a Wal-Mart employee.

This is a book that I wanted to like — I sympathize with the author's motives — but what could have been an interesting project (and an interesting book) is instead a bizarre Marxist screed about class warfare. Ehrenreich enters her experiment with the end in mind — failure — and she seems to do everything she can to make this end come to fruition.

Nickel and Dimed could have been so much more. I wanted to hear about the people Ehrenreich worked with, wanted to hear their backgrounds and stories and dreams, but very little of that comes through in the book. Instead, we learn about all the little ways in which Ehrenreich sabotages any chance at success.

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More about...Economics, Planning