Former Senator Phil Gramm recently shook up the political landscape when he said, in effect, that Americans are a bunch of “whiners” when it comes to economics.
While the statement may have been tactless and most certainly politically incorrect, defenders of Gramm argue that he did have a point. Perhaps so, but I don’t believe it is that we are whiners; rather, we are victims of economic overkill by a media obsessed with focusing on bad news. Sadly, this overemphasis on bad news more often than not is pursuant to a political agenda.
Politicians using scare tactics to drum up votes also add to this victimization. It is not very likely that you will hear someone running for office, especially Congress, who does not allege that everything is in a mess and he or she will clean things up if elected. Young people, in particular, are affected by this kind of rhetoric because they have not heard it before, like those of us who have been around a long time and have heard it many times.
How soon we forget how things were when the economy was really bad. This was brought home to me a few weeks ago when the History International Channel ran a two-hour program on the life of President Franklin Roosevelt. While the program was primarily about the personal life of FDR, it did spend considerable time on the two great crises he had to deal with as president–the Great Depression and World War II.
The program was meaningful to me because I lived through both of those crises and felt the hardship first hand. Most people alive today were not living during either of these events and have no basis to compare that experience with today’s happenings.
I have vivid recollections of what it was like when the unemployment rate was officially at 25%. We now know that the actual rate was much higher because when WWII started, millions came off of farms to join the military or work in defense plants-and farm production increased. There were unemployed and underemployed. I remember the long lines at soup kitchens feeding the hungry and people selling apples on the street to eke out a living.
I saw some long lines on TV a couple nights ago. One was a line waiting to be the first to buy Apple’s new iPhone for about $300 a pop–the modern day “apple merchant.” A few days later another long line appeared on TV–people waiting in line for up to 18 hours. Waiting for food? Nope. Waiting instead to be among the first to view the new Batman movie, “The Dark Knight.” Wow, an 18-hour wait to watch a movie–now that is something to really whine about.