The Roaring Twenties & the Roaring Nineties
by ALAN CARUBA
December 22, 2008
My Mother was a “flapper”, one of the girls during the Roaring Twenties of the last century. She didn’t need a woman’s movement to assert herself. She drove a car and held down a job, but – I was assured – did not dance on table tops, did not smoke, nor did anything else that today would be taken for granted. She married a Certified Public Accountant and that tells you what a level-headed a girl she was. They stayed married for over 60 years. She would live to age 98!
I was thinking of the Roaring Twenties because, in so many ways that reflect the extremes of those times, the same illusions of ceaseless growth and spending, have come to an end. For Mom, Dad and everyone else of their generation, they could tell you the precise date, October 29, 1929 when the stock market crashed.
Now, almost 80 years later, we are repeating that generation’s experience with harsh reality. The generation that survives this economic and financial mess will emerge as real adults in the true sense of the word. They will save money for their old age. They will be parsimonious in the use of credit. They will be the Wal-Mart generation.
During World War II, my parents made their greatest purchase, a home in the New Jersey suburbs, a short train ride from New York City. The house cost $11,000. Twice they would take out second mortgages to put my older brother and then me through college, paying off both as rapidly as possible. After they passed on, I would sell the home at more than a dollar sign with six digits just a few years before the bottom fell out of the economy. Thank you, Mom and Dad.
I did not marry. Instead, after college, the Army, and a job in Florida that I quit the day JFK was assassinated, I returned home thinking I would get a place of my own. I stayed on and on. Before I knew it, the three of us had spent just slightly more than 60 happy years together. Mother was famed as an international authority on haute cuisine and wines. She wrote several cookbooks and taught for some three decades. Dad had a small, but successful accounting practice that my brother joined.
I think, in all that time, they took maybe two actual vacations. Their home was their castle and they loved entertaining friends at the dinner table. The wine flowed, the conversation flowed, and the food was superb. I just soaked it all in.
What I remember most was that these two people were adults in every sense of the word. St. Paul writes in Corinthians, when I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, but when I became a man, I put aside childish things.
The Great Depression turned my parents into adults. When it was over, they took great joy in their lives and we had all the material things that gave Americans a great lifestyle in the decades that followed World War II (Dad was too young for WWI and too old to serve in WWII), but always lingering in the back of their minds was the struggle of the long decade of the 1930s and the sacrifices of the 1940s in response to the war. There was gas rationing. You needed government-issued stamps to buy meat, sugar and other items. People grew vegetables in “victory gardens” in their backyards.
This present younger generation, the Millennials born between 1980 and 2000, are going to be a lot like my parents and their grandparents who had to persevere through those difficult times. Their children will be the real beneficiaries even if they won’t realize it until they too are adults with children of their own.
Americans have been through hard times before and they will come through the present difficulties. Some industries that did not or would not change will pass from the scene or be reduced in size. Others will grow in response to the times. We may well see far less business travel as communications allow people to hold virtual meetings. Vacations may take place closer to home.
In time, Americans may realize just how important their energy industries are to the nation’s economy and put aside childish notions of “clean” or “Green” energies like wind or solar. Talk of “global warming” will fade as a Little Ice Age sets in again, much as the last one did from 1300 to 1850. People will discover that electric cars are just too expensive to justify their purchase. Much disparaged family values may assert themselves.
The same exaggerated expectations of the 1920s, albeit with a new set of enemies, will be replaced with a more realistic sense of how the world really works as this new century wears on. There is much talk of “globalization,” but my parent’s world was no less connected to and impacted by nations far from our shores. Nothing happens in Beijing, in Baghdad, in Berlin, in Moscow or Mali that does not affect us all in some way.
We will still need to have a strong military. Ronald Reagan said that no nation in history was ever attacked because it was too strong. We will still need to tap our own natural resources, to repeal the massive regulatory chokehold on the economy, to return education to the states and local communities, and away from the straight jacket of federal mandates.
These are lessons that each generation must learn again and again and again. Hard times seem to be the only way they reassert themselves.