Friday, January 30, 2009

Loan Me A Dime

"Loan Me A Dime" is a Fenton Robinson song appearing on Bozz Scaggs' second solo album (self-titled). It is noteworthy, among other reasons, because it features a well-known guitar solo by Duane Allman, and it appeared in the first Duane Allman anthology.

"Loan Me A Dime" also makes me think of the song "Brother Can You Spare A Dime", the marquee song of the Great Depression.

Just as the European and Asian war of 1914-1918 was known as "The Great War" until the conflagration of 1939-1945 demoted it to "World War I", I suppose we may have to think of the period of 1929 to 1940 as "World Depression I".

Because we may just be in "World Depression II".

Are we in an economic depression? A wise person might say "no". We do not have 25% unemployment. We do not have bread lines. We do not have Hoovervilles.[*]

I have been alive for five decades and change, and the economic downturn I am seeing now is harsher, and more rapid, than any other I have seen before. Perhaps we are not in a depression. And a year ago, none of us could have said we were in a recession.

I have been seeing things I've never seen before. The virtually unquestioned turning over of trillions of dollars to banks, investment firms, insurance companies, and auto companies, right after the bankrolling of two wars of aggression to the tune of trillions of dollars. At this point, I think it makes no more sense to tally a deficit than it does to count the stars. It is an academic exercise. We are in free fall.

I have seen a president sit idly, and apparently indifferent, as the economy collapsed on his watch. A president whose only response to the long and deepening recession was, in his last days in office, to turn the keys of our treasury over to the investing class. I have seen economic policy directed by the president-elect before he even took office.

I think we can throw out the playbook.

My parents lived through the Great Depression. They were children during World War I, refugees in the madness between Greece and Turkey in the 1920's, young adults during World War II, and newlyweds in the bloody civil war that followed. But of all these things, I think the Depression left the deepest imprint on them. The specter of privation was with us our entire lives, even when we had enough. And when my father lost his job and was jobless for six months, and our family's only income was from me and my brother, both still in high school, those were our very darkest times. The memory that left the deepest imprint on me was of our family gathered around the table, lights off, praying that my father would get a job.[**]

I think that in the coming years, we all will see things we have never seen. We will be tested in ways we never imagined. I think poverty will hit us hard. We will find that our undoing is not the work of some off-the-rails upstart Yemeni fundamentalist financier hiding in Afghanistan. He did his damage, opportunistic and limited as it was. Our undoing is of our own making.

Brother, can you spare a dime?

[*] Actually, we do. They're just kept out of sight. Recently, I started riding through the homeless encampment under the Alaska Way Viaduct, between Edgar Martinez and Royal Brougham. But yesterday, it was gone. And those of us who ride in from West Seattle cannot be oblivious to the homeless who live under the West Seattle Bridge.

[**] I humbly acknowledge that for many in America, and for most in the rest of the world, this temporary episode in my life is the every day reality.

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