According to the observations of a popular humorist during the early years of the 20th century, William Penn Adair Rogers, better known as Will, a Cherokee cowboy, a trick lariat performer, early radio star and political commentator during the so-called Great Depression years, it appeared our country and the entire civilized world was wallowing in a whirlpool of financial collapse. One of Will’s more memorable observations was, “America is the only nation going to the poor house in an automobile.” Another Rogers witticism not so well known, but certainly applicable today, was, “Let Wall Street have a nightmare and the whole country has to help get them back in bed again.”
As the retiring president, Herbert Hoover prepared for the inauguration parade with president elect, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Hoover received the information that every bank in America had closed its doors. Today, 2009, if you believe all the TV newscasts, our country is again tottering on the brink of collapse.
Americans born in the 1920s and still alive, having survived the Great Depression and World War II, were dubbed by Tom Brokaw, “the Greatest Generation.” I don’t know about that; I do know my generation did not seek greatness. When World War II ended, G.I. Joe hastened to return to civilian life. He had many shattered ideals and many delayed wants.
He wanted to marry his childhood sweetheart, he wanted a car, wanted children, wanted a refrigerator, wanted a home with electric lights and indoor plumbing. He wanted a good life and, raised in the frugal days of the depression and inducted into a war he knew nothing about, Joe, the G.I., returned to what he did know from the examples set by his parents.
He knew how to work and how to save. America was lush with promise; business boomed. A “made in America” label signified quality. Blue collar workers manufactured the best of everything, from Buster Brown shoes to John Deere tractors and they were envied throughout the world.
However, the post-war generation rejected their parent’s nine-to-five work ethic. The era of instant gratification was upon us.
The Hippie Generation emerged. The Flower Children rejected tedious work. They espoused free love
and drug-induced dreams of a psychedelic world. They rejected discipline and ridiculed their parent’s desire for a neat, tidy life in affordable housing.
The children of the Greatest Generation rejected their parents’ way of life and marched in protest against everything their bewildered elders had worked so hard to obtain.
The Hippies ran from a regulated lifestyle and tidy neighborhoods for an unregulated commune existence. Short hair was out. Long hair was in. Tie-dyed cotton replaced polyester suits. Marijuana replaced martinis and happy hour started at sunrise, not sunset. The hard working, thrifty and industrious Greatest Generation gave their children the world, but their children didn’t want it or the regulated military. They chose flower power and drugs and free love and, in the course of their lives, they begat the Credit Card Generation.
This generation doesn’t save for the future or pay cash for anything. The insidious credit card came with usury fees hidden on the back in small print. The credit card became a way of life and when one was maxed out ... why, just start another.
Individuals and our governments continue to pile up debt and have just recently decided it’s time to pay the long overdue bills.
How will they do it?
I don’t know, but I do know they will. I have faith in my grandchildren’s generation to face these problems and solve them.