The great depression of 2010

It’s the end of the world. At least it feels that way.

Back in September I noted that 2010 was shaping up as the worst year ever. My marriage fell apart and a lot of terrible stuff happened to people close to me. For instance:

  • A close friend who happens to be one of the brightest guys I know got fired from his job last year. He recently hit the one-year-on-the-beach mark without anything that looks like a realistic prospect. He has a special-needs child and you can imagine the financial and insurance implications associated with that here in the Land of Plenty®. If this guy is having trouble finding a gig, I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it is on the 99% of unemployed Americans who aren’t as talented as he is.
  • Another good friend has been out of work for awhile, too. Completely different field, but he’s hard-working and off-the-charts smart. Literally. Oh, yeah – he’s recently been battling a worsening case of diabetes.
  • A woman I know has, after too many years of simply not being happy, finally left her marriage. Her family, unfortunately, has been unsupportive to the point of hostility, making you wonder how they got to be so passionately invested in the continued misery of their loved one.
  • A guy I’ve known since the LBJ administration has recently discovered that his wife has been having an affair. For several years. He’s as good-hearted a guy as you’re likely to meet and this is brutally hard on him.
  • Someone very close to me has recently had the wheels fall off. Much of it is self-inflicted, I suppose, but she comes from a family with a strong history of alcoholism on both sides of the tree. Her marriage (with kids) is now in jeopardy and as I type she’s in a rehab facility trying desperately to get control of her demons.
  • Not long ago I had a friend in the throes of severe personal crisis explain the previous weekend, spent with a revolver against her head trying to decide whether to pull the trigger.
  • Some others in my general circle are confronting mental illness and significant family problems. Career issues and financial crises are the rule, not the exception.

Since then things have deteriorated. Wildly. Some of these situations have gotten worse, believe it or not, and new bad things have happened to people who didn’t make the original list. I won’t go into details because, frankly, I just don’t have the energy.

Then today my company decided that they were going to handle marketing differently from here on out. A key piece of “differently” involved me not working there anymore. This marks the second time in my life an employer has turned me out just before the holiday season, and it sucks even worse the second time around.

I have seen economic analyses that indicate that the recession is over. I have seen others suggesting that, on the contrary, we have been in, and remain in, a full-on depression. I’m not an economist, but I can say this with some certainty: if all the evidence you had to study was my life and the lives of my family, friends and colleagues, you’d have no choice but to conclude that we’re in the pit of something we haven’t seen since the 1930s. I get that my life isn’t a large enough sample to generalize from, but the problem is that what I’m describing isn’t just me – I’m talking about everybody I know.

Or … maybe not everybody. As one would expect in dark economic times, a lot of the misery revolves around money. Or, more specifically, the lack thereof. And often crises that aren’t financial on the surface of things have been aggravated by the stress that goes with dire money concerns.

I don’t want to make too much of this, but I’m going to say it and let you evaluate it in the context of your own experience: a great deal of the damage being inflicted in my world, and perhaps in yours, stems in part from very rich people acting with a pointed disregard for the well-being of those who are not rich. In some cases the issues are macro – housing bubbles and banking failures and Wall Street bailouts. In other cases, the problems are micro and very, very personal.

In all cases, though, each day seems to dawn a little less brightly than the one before. Too many of our personal lives are being lived on terms that are not sustainable. And our society at large? Some days I’m not honestly sure how we haven’t seen a complete economic and social collapse already. Today is one of those days.

Despair looms for too many Americans. We want to hope, we need to hope, we try desperately to hope, but blind faith that things are bound to get better only carry you so far. At some point you have to admit that actual, tangible sources of hope are hard to find. I can’t wait for this godforsaken year to be over, but in truth, I felt that way about 2009 and have precisely zero evidence indicating that 2011 is going to be better.

I have great colleagues and tremendous friends, and I’m grateful for that. I hope you can say the same. But at some point we may have to face some dire truths about where we are and how we got here and, not too put too fine a point on it, who got us here.

I wish everyone the happiest Thanksgiving possible. I’m going to bed now, because I have to get serious about finding work first thing in the morning, and I’m going to need all my strength.


  • Well, I hope 2011 is better for you personally. I like to think these things go in cycles, and you’re due. So here’s hoping.

    In the broader scheme of things, though, 2011 looks set to be a very bad year. We might even see the government get out down once or twice. People will still be hurting, and there will be less inclination in Washington and elsewhere to help them. The Rest of the World is starting to figure out how genuinely loopy the Republicans are, and will start ignoring the US and just move on ahead. That’s what Turkey has done in dealing with Iran, and it irritated the State Department mightily, but at some point the world is going to get tired of the US being the major impediment to peace in the mideast–it already is, in fact. Obama may be able to stay above it, but probably not. And then in the US, we’ll probably see some large bank failures–how does Bank of America sound? The entire mortgage bubble was based on fraud, and it’s starting to catch up. And no government bailout this time–and the carnage will be bad. Sell your house now while you still can. So the economy will tank again, just when a bunch of lunatics who claim to be worrying about the deficit get to be in charge.

    Well, I hope you find a job quick, because it’s gonna be a wild ride. We will definitely need each other, though.

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  • Or … maybe not everybody. As one would expect in dark economic times, a lot of the misery revolves around money. Or, more specifically, the lack thereof.

    Of all the difficult situations I’ve had to surmount in life, nothing remotely compares to the episodic and prolonged periods of unemployment I’ve experienced.

    a great deal of the damage being inflicted in my world, and perhaps in yours, stems in part from very rich people acting with a pointed disregard for the well-being of those who are not rich

    They’re both uninterested in and incapable of imagining the degree of turmoil and grief that about 65% of American households are experiencing due to reduced cirumstances at the present.

  • We want to hope, we need to hope, we try desperately to hope, but blind faith that things are bound to get better only carry you so far. At some point you have to admit that actual, tangible sources of hope are hard to find.

    You’re alive, you’re not starving, your brain works, you have people who care about you. Pretty tangible.

    I guess I don’t think of “hope” as blind faith in any form. Blind faith is stupid and lazy. Hope is cautious and hard to maintain. Hope requires effort; in fact, the times when I’m most hopeful are the times when I’m working hardest to make things better… things right now and things in the future. Maybe. I don’t know, I don’t expect, I can’t predict. Things could get worse. They often do. But to ignore the possibility that they could also get better, to despair; well, that would be just about as lazy as trusting to blind faith and the essential fairness of the universe.

    So sometimes I drive around thinking about bridges and freefall and impact velocity. More often than not now, I don’t. That’s hope, my style.

  • Very elequently put. I hope you, and all people in the same boat, nothing but the best in the coming year. I too have been very concerned with the course of this country and humanity as a whole for that fact. After spending a great deal of time unemployed after the housing bubble lead to the destruction of the once successful business I spent five years of my life practically killing myself to develop and watching a loved one slowly die from cancer (which I largely attribute to environmental and not genetic causes) in the last year or two, I realized that I knew no one I would consider happy. In fact, even the luckiest of people I know were still barely making ends meat and had largely sacrificed happiness for the opportunity to not go hungry. I deeply questioned the societal constructs that influenced my life and the purpose for who they function in society and came to the conclusion that our society, and we as individuals need to “face some dire truths about where we are and how we got here and…who got us here” as you put it. The extent to which our lives, health, and happiness is controlled by outside forces in this country is far greater a price than I am willing to pay any longer. I feel as if our lives are leased from dirty politicians ane faceless multinational corporations. My family and I have vowed to stop buying as much as humanly possible. Those things we must buy, we are extremely conscious of where our dollars are going, even if it means we sometimes go without. In our small way it is our attempt to stop funding those whod just as soon sell us cancer or sell my job to someone in a foreign country and starve my family if they can increase their own profit. We frequently spend a great deal of effort to only eat from local small unsibsidized farms. I ride 10 miles each way by bicycle (even in the rain) to get to and from work as I was recently fortunate to find a job. This is of course is a slow process and not not perfect, but at least we are doing something. I don’t mention this to brag about how we live, I am writing this to encourage everyone to consider doing the same. This new lifestyle has in fact saved my life after plucking me from depression over the last year. It, in a small way, has brought some hope and peace to my own mind. We have managed to almost scrape together enough money to by some acreage outright to live off of by simply living simply as we lost our home when my business faultered. We are happier and on on the road to recovery in very bleak times from so many.

    I know your situation is somewhat unique as is everyones….I wish you the best of luck in your job search. I also hope you do not forget what you have recently realized. My small form of protest is all I could figure to try and make a difference but is largely ineffective without others doing the same. If this country had a reset button, I’d agree it is long overdue someone pressed it. Unfortunately the social constructs that keep people in misery are the same constructs that keep people tricked into thinking its for their own benefit. People tend to live with blinders on to everyone elses misery and realizing the correlation to their own unhappiness. In reality being responsible for your own wellbeing in life is not easy but well within reach and extremely satisifying.

  • Always darkest before the dawn… or at least what I keep telling myself.

  • There’s really no choice folks. We have to divorce ourselves from the corporate world and our pathetic dependence on their grudging “trickle down.” It’s no longer a good thing for any of us to “pursue a career” which these days means selling one’s soul to America’s corporate enemies.

    First, learn to think of the corporations as your enemies. Then, order your life to be as independent of corporate control as possible. Believe me, this can be done easily without retreating into the wilderness. Freedom is quite pleasant.

    Imagine if everyone divorced themselves from corporate control as much as they can. Then the corporations would have no power over us.

    The time to start fighting back is right now. Change your life and destroy our parasitic enemies.

  • That’s a very sobering post. I will keep you in my thoughts. You and some of the responders here have touched on something, a sense or grasp, a phrase I actually named my website I played with a year and a half ago: “even worse than you think.” When the media and its pundits declare a recovery underway you have to wonder what planet they’re on. That 9.6 figure is probably double if you factor in people who have stopped filing and the underemployed: working full or part-time but not earning a livable wage. Employers in all sectors are moving towards that. I call it Poverty Engineering whose objective is the eradication of the middle class. It also calls to mind the fictional President in “Independence Day,” realizing the hostile aliens’ intent: ‘We’re being exterminated.”

    Recovery? It’s like reading Orwell as chocolate rations are reported up when they are really down.

    Our culture by all measures is in decline. The socioeconomic landscape is undergoing fundamental change. What do we do? Morris Berman in The Twilight of America speaks of a “monastic option.” Carve out a little niche and survive and pass on and maybe contribute something to make a difference. It’s all we have. It’s not unlike at the end of Fahrenheit 451, where a community of “book people” gathers to memorize books which are outlawed.

    I tell people I’m glad I was not born any later. We haven’t seen anything, yet folks. My son turns 29 this Sunday. I fear the world that will be left for him.

  • I’ve been thinking for years that what we’re seeing on the large scale is exactly what I used to teach students about in classes on how to assess and manipulate audiences for advertising and PR purposes – tell people that the classical liberal ideas (and ideals) still hold true – that they are in control and that they have the power to decide what’s best for them and act in their own best self-interest. (You may notice that this nonsense is the motto of America’s most powerful “news” network. We live in a mediated culture – a culture in which those with hegemony over messages control us despite our best efforts to resist….)

    I used to counter that false positioning of the populace by AD/PR for students by pointing out that even then (late 80’s-early 90’s) 70+% of the population got 100% of their news and information from TV. And so people were easily manipulated if you took control of the messages they got. I may go to hell for this – I am not sure….

    Yes, we now have the Internet – notice anything about it? Like that it’s about “browsing” (1.0) and “socializing” (2.0)? Both of these are nice, but they suggest the experience of being in a Borders or B&N: wandering around, stopping to read a bit of something if attracted by it, running into people one hasn’t seen lately – but not becoming an informed citizen. We remain what we’ve been manipulated into being since the turn of the last century – consumers baited by traps set by keen, vicious minds with their own aims and goals.

    Of course, any grassroots effort to counter this manipulation – the rise of the blogosphere, for instance – is dismissed as “blather” and its adherents tarred with the brushes of fanaticism or ignorance – or both. And for the mass of people who have now likely moved on to social networking rather than using the vast resources of the web to make themselves better informed (thereby acting in their own best self-interest), it is far easier/less painful to spend time chatting with friends than dealing with the actualities of a country gone mad from the maniacal pursuit of power of any sort at any cost….

    Yes, there are options – the Thoreau option proposed by Dan Van Riper or the monastic option cited by Joseph Domino. Those in charge of the messages have been equally dismissive of these as – well, see the smears leveled at bloggers above.

    So what does one do? I can’t say for certain.

    But I think I’ll go watch Kurosawa’s IKURU again. It always gives me ideas….

    • I’ve been a little surprised at the response to this post, honestly. Some very smart, good faith comments on this thread, as well as at places like Current, where I submitted it the other day. They’re not ALL that way, to be sure, but I seem to have said a couple of things that resonate with people. It’s not as simple as it perhaps seems sometimes – when we’re in pain, often we emotionally develop very straightforward responses that perhaps don’t make for workable policy. I get that. But the fact is that America has plenty of horsepower in both the rational and creative sides of its brain. There’s no reason why reason and compassion can’t work together in balance toward something better for all of us.

      We can save the have-nots from the haves, and we can save the haves from themselves.

      With Thanksgiving upon us, I’d like say that I’m grateful for the fact that not all of America’s haves are bent on exploitation. Let’s all call on them to lead. From those to whom much is given, much is expected, yes?

  • @jmartian I can assure you are not alone!

    Peace to all

  • Hi! My names Lis I just happened on your post at reddit. I hate to suggest this, but have you considered emigrating? Perhaps your skill set would be more valuable in a slightly saner country. Its glaringly obvious by now that certain factions are intent on bringing American wages in line with the rest of the world. $3.00 an hour here we come, and gravity is on their side. Thus my suggestion. My prayers are with you and all the people you know struggling with despair. We may all end up camped on the mall in Washington by the millions. It wouldn’t be the first time. Good Luck!

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  • It’s something to consider. We came to Canada from the US in 2004. It was a good choice.

  • I too have been unemployed for the past six months with no prospects on the forseeable horizon. I have returned to school for yet another career. I already have my Masters. While looking for work and sitting at the workforce center and at a networking event, I sat next to two different unemployed attorneys. I know people with PhD.s out of work. We cling to hope, but it is withering day by day by day.

    I am saddened by the state our country is in and fear for the future of my 20 year old son. I watch as the country has its hooks in denial about the economy. We have turned away while lessons and policies of the 1930’s, such as the Glass-Steagull Act, were hacked away at during the 80’s, and completely gutted during the last few years. We seemingly have not been outraged at the dwindling environmental policies, and the outrageous bonuses given to CEO’s of companies. Why should a CEO of a health insurance company make 124 million dollars per year? These same people raise insurance rates, and deny coverage to their members.

    Our country is under attack by people within. I have read that some of us want to see the president fail. Meanwhile, as the president fails, so do our fellow citizens. Is this the type of democracy so many have fought and died for?

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