Black humor, on occasion refereed to as gallows humor. Its an odd defense mechanism for dealing with unpleasant things in life that appears to be universal in nature.
The current economic condition of the nation, and the world, is officially listed as a deep recession. Do you know what the difference between a recession and depression is? A recession is when the neighbor looses his job and house, a depression is when you loose yours.
The subject of “depression” has dominated a great deal of my thinking in recent weeks. To clarify a bit, I am talking about economic, historical as well as current, depression, personal depression, and the mental state of friends, as well as the role the Great Depression played in transforming Route 66 into an icon. As they are all interrelated it seemed an appropriate theme for today’s post.
The Great Depression is the one that all modern economic downturns are measured by. However, there were two previous ones that were equally disastrous – one in 1893 and another in 1907.
The first was sparked by poorly thought out governmental policies manifested in the Sherman Act that resulted in an overnight collapse of silver prices, an event that devastated the economies of mining communities such as Tombstone. A simplified explanation for the cause of the latter was a capitalistic society caught up in a gold rush of industrial investment opportunity that unraveled with the collapse of General Electric stock values.
Among the long term ramifications of the second modern depression was the abandonment of constitutional mandated currency controls and the creation of the Federal Reserve, in essence this act was akin to putting the wolves in charge of the hen house. The policies of the Federal Reserve coupled with a variety of external factors, including the collapse of world wide agricultural prices and the post World War I recession,  resulted in the transformation of a major economic correction into a Great Depression during the 1930s.
An excellent case of the origins of the Great Depression, and subsequently an excellent tool for developing an understanding of the current economic morass, including the concept of “to big to fail”, is this fascinating book, Breaking the Banks in Motor City.
One of the haunting details gleaned from this book was the chronicling of the deaths by starvation in Detroit during the early 1930s. It was this dire situation which directly gave rise to President Roosevelt and his New Deal policies. I was aware of the precipitous drop in automotive production and resultant unemployment in the Motor City but this adds a very human element to the story.
From its inception U.S. 66 was blessed with gifted supporters that would have made P.T. Barnum proud. However, in spite of their best efforts it was the Great Depression and the westward exodus of displaced farmers, their families, and factory workers from the Midwest that served as the catalyst for transforming a ribbon of asphalt into an icon.
Grapes of Wrath, the book as well as the movie, placed Route 66 in the spot light. In an instant the American tragedy of the depression, the Dust Bowl, and all that these entailed had a stage.
From that point in time to the modern era Route 66 has magically morphed into something special for each generation. The movie Cars has ensured this legacy will continue for at least another generation.
These thoughts as well as the previously mentioned depression that I have been experiencing that stems from a birthday inspired bout of reflection, and a new book received for my birthday, Crosley, that chronicles the myriad of failures endured by Powell Crosley as well as his father spawned ideas that might manifest as book. Then yesterday, a friend, Chris Durkin, touched on this very topic. Like a ray of sunshine it dawned on me that, to paraphrase Chris, the road to success is paved with failure!