A Depression Era Economics Lesson

By: Tom Chatham

When the great depression hit in the 1930’s, many people had a difficult time surviving. When the system they depended on ceased to function properly, they no longer had the ability to earn a living wage and care for their families. Even at a time when you could get a meal for a nickel, many people struggled to feed themselves.

In many rural areas, farmers faced the difficulty of being able to even grow enough to feed themselves. The drought that accompanied the depression left many no choice but to move to more hospitable locations where jobs could be found.

Some people were in a much better position to weather the national problems than others. They were not rich in monetary terms but they had a stable living condition that enabled them to get by as always.

In the rural community that my family had called home for over 100 years, my family got by better than most. The fact that many of the people were watermen, that made their living on the Chesapeake Bay catching various types of seafood throughout the year, made the depression different for them. As my father related to me, they really didn’t know there was a depression going on most of the time.

The men went to work every morning catching what they could. Anything they couldn’t sell was taken home for dinner. Everyone had a garden and maybe some chickens and a hog out back providing meat for the winter. The area was also surrounded by many small farms producing many things they could trade for. Nobody had much money but the area teemed with the things that were needed to get by and barter was the norm.

Electricity was not seen in the community until the late 1940’s and few people had a car. These people really did live off the grid. That was the norm for them and they got by very well even with the national economy in a state of hard times. They could not buy many of the things they needed so those things had to be made out of whatever materials they had.

There are many stories like this that have been told and they are worth listening to once again. These stories provide the foundation people will need when the economy fails again in spectacular fashion leaving many in dire straits. When everything fails you have to go back to what works. That is a lesson that our ancestors have left for us to follow if we have the sense to learn from their hardships.

The current generation has known nothing but excess and prosperity. When the system turns down again they will be lost without all of the creature comforts and gadgets they are used to getting with great ease. They have been raised with the notion that everything is easy and when that paradigm fails they will not know how to cope with reality. This is the problem we face and must deal with in the months to come.

There are two lessons that can be taken from this story. When hard times come your location and creativity can make up for many shortfalls in life. Those things can make the difference between suffering and having a decent standard of living. Living in an area rich with resources allows you to produce many of the things you need locally with little money and can even provide you with a stream of income. The lack of resources in your area can make things very difficult over the long term.

The current generation has lost the ability to trouble shoot the problems they are faced with and come up with simple solutions. Creativity is something many people no longer possess and that is one of the things that will make life hard on them. The greatest generation knew how to devise creative solutions to their problems that allowed them to get by and even prosper. That is a lesson we need to take away from the last depression.

It is good for people to plan for hard times by stocking up, learning to produce food and storing real money for times of need but that will not be enough when the time comes. Your location and the ability to be creative and solve the many problems you will face will be necessary ingredients to surviving the coming hard times. Keeping your plans simple and learning the ways of our grandparents will help in ways we cannot even contemplate at this time but their wisdom will be as critical as your other supplies. One of the many slogans that came from that time is worth remembering.

Make do, do without, use it up, wear it out.


Posted on October 23, 2014, in Economics, Preparedness and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. “The current generation has known nothing but excess and prosperity. When the system turns down again they will be lost without all of the creature comforts and gadgets they are used to getting with great ease. They have been raised with the notion that everything is easy and when that paradigm fails they will not know how to cope with reality.”

    THAT right there is going to be a huge problem. They don’t know anything except what comes out of that fool electronic device they are so plugged into. They can’t grow anything, they couldn’t preserve it if they did manage to eke it out of the ground, they simply have no concept of what it takes to provide for themselves. Yep, it’s gonna be fug ugly when things turn tough. My guess is many of them will simply die in the ensuing social chaos.

    • yep.I’ve seen kids that expect money from parents to get the latest new thing to keep up with all the other kids and they have no comprehension how hard money is to come by, especially these days. Like I told the old man, when the government checks stop flowing things are going to change real quick, and not for the better.

  2. patjflynn@bex.net

    Your article speaks to me Tom and I think you nailed it.

    My Grandparents ( who raised me ) were depression era raised and they did fine during that time because they both came from farming families. Other than what they read in the papers they didn’t see a difference. They were poor but well fed and industrious.

    They ended up middle class before the end of their lives because they were hardworking and frugal. My grandpa was an electrician and my grandma was a clerk in a bank. I learned so much from them both and picked up many of their skills and advice which I’ve incorporated into my own life.

    At 52 YRO and fairly successful I can afford to pay people to do home repairs or whatever else needs tending to. However, I prefer to do all my carpentry, electrical and mechanical work myself.

    The ironic thing is this: if I’m having trouble with my laptop, Kindle or PC then I have to go next door and ask the neighbor kid to come over and make a fix. I admire the fact that with a couple of keystrokes he can correct the problem. I doubt if he could butcher a rabbit or repair his vehicle but he is in HVAC repair school so there’s hope for him in the future. Not so much so for the spoiled people of all economic levels here in the USA.

    It’s wonderful that your folks had an abundance of critters to keep themselves fed during the depression. Here in NW Ohio i suspect the deer, squirrels and game birds would be hunted out pretty quick and it’s a good idea to have a large garden and can like crazy ( I do). We do have lots of lakes, rivers and ponds but again.I suspect those would fished out soon.

    You are correct though. Most of us live the high life due to technology and have never suffered severe poverty. Tough times build character. When 68% of the USA poor own a vehicle you know that we are prosperous. 42% of the working poor own 2 cars.

    Funny thing is that the poor people in the depression survived and rich bankers and investor were throwing themselves out of windows in the Great Depression. I’m curious to see how this all turns out in the next few years.

  3. People still don’t understand that there will be no coming back after teotwawki. You still write and reply as if things someday will get better. It won’t, it’s over when the lights go out. There is no bay to go fish in, no garden, no barter, nothing, it’s over. God help those that still believe they can live very long without a heck of a lot of food and water stored away in secretive locations. After that is depleted it’s foraging and nothing else.

    • If you’re right about the future we’re all dead anyway so it won’t hurt me to keep a positive attitude and get a good nights sleep. If however you are wrong about the future I’ll still be in a position to take advantage of any positive trends that occur. As far as foraging, what will you do if drought or other weather conditions kills all of the plant life in certain areas?

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