4 ways our eating habits have changed since the 1930s

Breadline, New York City, Xmas Day, 1931

Food was the single largest expenditure for families in the early 1930s, amounting to about a quarter of family spending…Today that number is lower, despite an increase in dining out; food expenditures amounted to about 10% of families’ disposable personal incomes in 2014…

In 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt approved a plan to create the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, which gave federal grants to states, who used the funds to distribute relief including food to U.S. families.

I’ll list the 4 categories of change wrought during Depression years:

1. The government took an active role in educating people about food

2. Bland foods were in

3. Cow’s milk was a ‘wonder food’

4. ‘Farm-to-table’ was the opposite of trendy

You get the idea; but, the review provokes a lot of interest. Some is pretty easy for geezers as old as me. Some will likely be surprising to folks whose knowledge of the Great Depression derives from romantic sources. No one in the family left to relate their personal tales.

And…the comments are worth wandering through. My favorite, so far…talking about the food being bland…“Too bad Phyllis Schlafly never wrote a cookbook. It’d give us something to laugh about.

Cooking with Phyllis:

Hello Ladies and Gentlemen. Today we’re going to be cooking with water. I’m going to show you how to make one of my favorite dishes: boiled liver.”


Robert Shiller asks — What good are economists?


Since the global financial crisis and recession of 2007-2009, criticism of the economics profession has intensified. The failure of all but a few professional economists to forecast the episode – the aftereffects of which still linger – has led many to question whether the economics profession contributes anything significant to society. If they were unable to foresee something so important to people’s wellbeing, what good are they?

Indeed, economists failed to forecast most of the major crises in the last century, including the severe 1920-21 slump, the 1980-82 back-to-back recessions, and the worst of them all, the Great Depression after the 1929 stock-market crash. In searching news archives for the year before the start of these recessions, I found virtually no warning from economists of a severe crisis ahead. Instead, newspapers emphasized the views of business executives or politicians, who tended to be very optimistic.

The closest thing to a real warning came before the 1980-82 downturn. In 1979, Federal Reserve Chair Paul A. Volcker told the Joint Economic Committee of the US Congress that the United States faced “unpleasant economic circumstances,” and had a “need for hard decisions, for restraint, and even for sacrifice.” The likelihood that the Fed would have to take drastic steps to curb galloping inflation, together with the effects of the 1979 oil crisis, made a serious recession quite likely.

Nonetheless, whenever a crisis loomed in the last century, the broad consensus among economists was that it did not. As far as I can find, almost no one in the profession – not even luminaries like John Maynard Keynes, Friedrich Hayek, or Irving Fisher – made public statements anticipating the Great Depression…

We do not blame physicians for failing to predict all of our illnesses. Our maladies are largely random, and even if our doctors cannot tell us which ones we will have in the next year, or eliminate all of our suffering when we have them, we are happy for the help that they can provide. Likewise, most economists devote their efforts to issues far removed from establishing a consensus outlook for the stock market or the unemployment rate. And we should be grateful that they do…

…The economics profession has produced an enormous amount of extremely valuable work, characterized by a serious effort to provide genuine evidence. Yes, most economists fail to predict financial crises – just as doctors fail to predict disease. But, like doctors, they have made life manifestly better for everyone.

I wonder if Robert Shiller will turn this wee essay into a work of research and exposition. He is damned good at both. But, then, that’s part of the how and why he was awarded the Nobel Prize. The whole article is available if you click the link up above.

Poisonally, I agree with him. He is, after all, a fine modern economist. He’s not supposed to be a civil engineer.

General Bernanke took charge of 2008 War on Recession

Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

In December 2008, Ben S. Bernanke, the self-effacing chairman of the Federal Reserve, declared war against a cascading recession that the Fed was late to see coming and took charge as general.

Breaking with protocol as the Federal Open Market Committee convened on the afternoon of Dec. 15, Bernanke asked his colleagues’ “indulgence” to speak first. Faced with cutting the benchmark interest rate to zero to fight a worsening crisis, Bernanke said the FOMC was about to embark on new approaches that contained “deep and difficult issues.”

“We are at a historic juncture, both for the U.S. economy and for the Federal Reserve,” said Bernanke…“The financial and economic crisis is severe despite extraordinary efforts not only by the Federal Reserve but also by other policymakers here and around the world.”

The Fed yesterday published meeting transcripts that reveal new details about the closed-door deliberations among policy makers as the financial crisis unfolded during 2008….The transcripts show policy makers had missed many warning signs earlier in the year. By December, as they gathered in the Fed’s Board Room beneath a bowl-shaped chandelier dangling two stories above, they understood they were in an economic emergency that required innovative, aggressive action.

The tale of a solitary event that led to policies agreed to by Congress and the Party of No – so fearful were the consequences. Since then, as part of a global dialectic, the analysis and response that flowed from a scholar of the Great Depression has lifted our economy back to merely struggling – from the prospect of crashing and burning.

The article is worth a read. The transcripts will doubtless end up as the source of one more film about the events. Predictable fools will chatter in hindsight analysis. Most of our politicians won’t learn a damned thing.

Ron Paul’s money plan rooted in Fool’s Gold

Ron Paul-style themes have percolated through the conservative movement since Paul’s beat-the-spread 2008 presidential campaign. Of all those themes, the one that has achieved the widest audience is Paul’s call for a return to money based on precious metals such as gold and silver…

In 1929, the U.S. economy slumped into recession. Under the weight of a series of terrible decisions, that recession collapsed into the worldwide Great Depression.

But why did decision-makers make so many bad decisions? The short answer is that they were trapped. Almost all of the right decisions would have ballooned the U.S. federal budget deficit. As budget deficits expanded, investors would inevitably worry that their dollars might lose value in the future. They would demand to trade their dollars for gold at the fixed price of $20.67 to the ounce. Under the rules of the gold standard, the U.S. government would be obliged to sell.

As long as the deficits continued, the U.S. government would lose gold. Threatened with the exhaustion of its gold supply, the government felt it had no choice: It had to close the budget deficit. So, in the throes of a severe downturn, the U.S. government did exactly the opposite of what economists would otherwise advise: It cut spending and raised taxes — capsizing the economy even deeper into depression.

It’s very strange to hear gold standard advocates criticize President Hoover for imposing steep tax increases in 1932, the Depression’s worst year. Yet the gold standard they champion was the reason for the tax increases they deplore…

Every other gold-standard country faced similar challenges in the 1930s. Those countries that quit gold first, like Britain, suffered least. Those that hung onto gold longest — the United States and France — suffered most.

Continue reading

Google magazine archives bring history from LIFE – to life

Google is making more than 10 million photos from Life magazine’s archives available online. Here are a few of the never-before available photographs.

This image of Florence Thompson and her children, taken by Dorothea Lange, is from the same series of photos that produced Lange’s iconic image of Thompson, one that could be the most famous photograph from the Great Depression. This image is part of a newly released archive of Life photos that is being made available via Google Image Search. It was taken in 1936 in Nipomo, Calif.

Americans still don’t like to be reminded of poor people in their midst.

Spell bound

When the Great Depression left architect Alfred Butts out of work, he scrabbled around for something to do – and came up with a game whose ingenious mix of anagrams, crosswords, chance and skill is still a winner, 60 years on. And yet it nearly didn’t see the light of day…

The highest score that it is theoretically possible to achieve in a single turn in Scrabble is for the word “oxyphenbutazone”. Even at the top levels of tournament Scrabble, this has never actually happened: it would require the game to have unfolded in exactly the right way up to that point, leaving exactly the right open spaces, and the right combination of letters in the bag. But if it did, it would span three triple-word scores, creating seven other new words on the board, for a total of at least 1,778, depending on which official word list you used…

Hypothetically, there’s a chance that higher-scoring words have been played in amateur games, around tables strewn with the remains of lunch on slow Sunday afternoons, and never publicised. But it’s unlikely, and besides, we know what would happen: you’d play the word, then someone would dispute it, then you’d realise you’d never agreed which dictionary you were going to use, then you’d be able to find only a children’s dictionary with a couple of thousand words in it, then someone would knock over a glass of wine, and the cat would jump on the table, and if the game continued at all it would be with an undertone of resentment and edginess; the emotional temperature of the entire day would have changed. Scrabble does these things to people.

The official position is that Scrabble is 60 years old this year – though that’s slightly debatable and, believe me, Scrabble experts are the kind of people who like to debate it at length…

Read the whole article. A proper Scrabble fan would – even if it wasn’t about Scrabble.