80 Years Later – Same Culprits, Same Rage:James Quinn
The young man stands on the edge of his porch
The days were short and the father was gone
There was no one in the town and no one in the field
This dusty barren land had given all it could yield
I’ve been kicked off my land at the age of sixteen
And I have no idea where else my heart could have been
I placed all my trust at the foot of this hill
And now I am sure my heart can never be still
So collect your courage and collect your horse
And pray you never feel this same kind of remorse
Dust Bowl Dance – Mumford & Sons
The song from Mumford & Sons called Dust Bowl Dance is as pertinent to today as it was in describing the Great Depression. I was taken by the lyrics and the rage in the song. The setting for the song is the Dust Bowl of the 1930?s in the US Midwest. Picture the Joads in Grapes of Wrath. As I listened to the song again this morning I was struck by the similarities between the time period described in the song and our present situation.
The lyrics by Marcus Mumford tell the story of a young man who’s lost everything. His family is either dead or forced off their land. My interpretation of the lyrics is that the bank has foreclosed on his farm after their crops failed during the dust bowl. I picture a Mr. Potter like character who held the mortgages on all the farms and houses in a small community. The evil banker didn’t care that families had lived on this land for decades, raising their families along with the crops. These hard working farmers had done nothing wrong. They were victims of circumstances. But bankers didn’t care about ruining lives. The family farmers didn’t participate in the Roaring 20?s, borrow on margin to invest in stocks, or reap ungodly profits. The farmers were victims of land speculators and bad weather. The only son in the song took the law into his own hand and shot the evil banker. He was ready to do his time, because his act was righteous payback.
Eighty years ago the last Fourth Turning was also in its infancy. They generally last 15 to 20 years. The catalyst for the last Fourth Turning was the great stock market crash of 1929. The 1920s “boom” enriched only a fraction of the American people. Earnings for farmers and industrial workers stagnated or fell. Farmers were barely getting by during the roaring 20s. Only the Wall Street crowd was getting rich. The economic growth of the 1920s did not reach most Americans: 60% of American families earned less than the amount necessary to support their basic needs ($2,500 was considered enough to support a family’s basic needs). The agricultural sector was similarly stagnant: farm prices dropped after World War I when Europe again began to feed itself and new grain exports from South American further depressed prices. The lack of purchasing power of rural people and farmers resulted in declines in consumer purchasing in those areas, as well as increased defaults on debt. Rural, urban, and suburban consumers began to increase their personal debts through mortgages, car loans, and installment plans to buy consumer goods, such as radios.
The ever-growing price for stocks was, in part, the result of greater wealth concentration within the investor class. Eventually the Wall Street stock exchange began to take on a dangerous aura of invincibility, leading investors to ignore less optimistic indicators in the economy. Over-investment and speculating (gambling) in stocks further inflated their prices, contributing to the illusion of a robust economy.