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Our future lies in being more productive, not less

As some bask in the glow of the last Presidential election there is an inclination to compare the Obama regime to that of Roosevelt. It is obvious that both Presidents inherited a financial crisis of historic proportions. Whether or not what is going on in the real world is a Recession or the beginning of a Depression is a matter of perspective. The old saw that “it’s a recession when the guy next door loses his job but a Depression when I lose mine” may apply. I grew up in the Depression. Let me tell you my observations.

The money Roosevelt threw at the problem didn’t trickle down to either of my parents. I have been a silent witness to endless arguments about money, or supply as my Mother preferred to refer to it. The preceding decade of the Twenties had been good to my Dad and while we enjoyed a pretty good life there weren’t so many material things to accumulate, much less credit cards to exploit. When the crisis first began in 1928 my father’s bank took a hit for exactly the same reasons banks are in trouble today. Not as complicated but essentially the same problem of loans that should never have been made.

When I graduated from high school in 1935 I felt obligated to go to work so that I could put some money into the ‘pot.’ I didn’t feel put-upon or short-changed. I thought it was the only thing to do. Unfortunately, the first job only paid $10 a week with no deductions. It certainly wasn’t much but it was better than a punch in the nose. Until I retired in 1977 I was never unemployed and to this day the thoughts of not working can be haunting if not a nightmare.

That first pay came from working a ‘pit phone’ which connected the grain brokers office with the trading floor of the Kansas City Board of Trade. My only training came from being taught how to write numbers so that they were easily read. The street car ran from 10th and Main to within a half block of my parent’s home on 54th Street. The fare was 10 cents. I walked the five or six miles many times.

I can still see the used car lots with $10 and $15 painted on the windshields. The White Castle featured 20 hamburgers for $1 on occasion. The walk and the sights along the way are indelibly etched in my memory.

When the opportunity came I changed brokerage firms and eventually became cashier for a firm with a membership in the New Stock Exchange. There I did everything from mark the board to run the switchboard to manage the cage. When things got slow I was offered a pay cut from $100 a month to $85, which told me that it was time to get real. I got in the oil business and stayed there the rest of my life.

Meanwhile there was the NRA ( National Recovery Act), the WPA (Work Progress Administration), CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) and many others. I am sure some of the programs produced results of a sort but didn’t end the financial crisis. The CCC helped quite a few lads, but not me. The WPA created some notable infrastructure (earmark-like projects) but it didn’t end the Depression.

In fact, in 1938 there was another recession. I bought a new car then (a Plymouth for $804), just like I bought a new car last month. Just trying to help.

The Depression ended in 1939 with the great war which we now call WWII because WWI didn’t get the job done. The same aura that surrounded Roosevelt bought him lots of votes just as doling out money today in the name of fiscal recovery is going to bless Obama.

The Depression was character molding, for most Americans, as many life experiences can be. The overall affect is what made us the great power we became and enabled us to defeat Hitler and his unusual efforts to exploit class warfare. The tactic is called Nationalism by some

One thing is certain and that is there is no way to anticipate or measure the consequences of this economic crisis. The possibilities are endless. What is at stake is self-reliance. Those who are relying on promises or who have great expectations are fools.

What also is at risk is the immense satisfaction of being your own savior. As Ben Franklin once said, “the good Lord looks after those who look after themselves;” it has never been more true. Self-reliance is the back bone of character. Self-reliance sets you apart from those who are waiting for the handout just like an animal in the zoo. Self-reliance or the ability to figure something out by and for yourself is truly a God-given virtue that will make every day a bit brighter.

What I have always liked about Idaho, especially the north end, is that most people are not so much followers as doers. The economy used to be based on hard work, not hoping that the tourists are going to run next summer. I, for one, pray that the stuff that made us so has not been lost to a drug called “hand out.” Our future lies in being more productive, not less. If we are going to be lulled by hope let it be that we get over it quickly.

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Paul Rechnitzer Paul Rechnitzer Transplanted 30 years ago, Paul is a retiree from the oil business who knows no other place he would rather live and breathe local history.

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