More Things I Didn’t Know
February 17, 2009, 6:40 pm
Filed under: Ian

Apparently, depressions were really fraking common before the invention of the modern welfare state:

[T]he US — to say nothing of the rest of the industrialized world — was in one phase or another of a major depression in roughly half of the twenty-four years between 1873-1897. The contraction that began in October 1873, for example, lasted 65 consecutive months and had near-universally corrosive results. Labor unions were annihilated; the Republican party officially threw up its hands on the question of Reconstruction; mass unemployment immiserated the land, and by the end of it all, striking railroad workers from Baltimore to St. Louis were being fired upon by federal troops. The economic catastrophe of the 1870s intensified racial animosity toward Chinese workers on the West Coast, leading to the passage of one exclusionary law after another; the depression of the 1890s spurred on lynch mobs in the rural South; and all of them roused otherwise sane people to spastic fits of worry over the menace of the foreign-born. In the US, the downturns of the 1880s and 1890s helped rejuvenate the principles of manifest destiny, leading to grossly dishonest efforts, public and private, to secure resources and compliant markets in Asia and Latin America. And throughout industrialized Europe, the Long Depression lent greater urgency to the project of colonialism, whose bloody results — if initially unremarkable to all but their immediate victims — were perfectly evident to everyone else by the late summer of 1914.


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