History Rhymes

panic-of-1873Mark Davis’ piece in U.S. News today suggests that the proper historical precedent for today’s crisis may not be the Great Depression of our parents’ and grandparents’ time, but the Long Depression that began with the Panic of 1873 and continued through the remainder of the 19th century.

It’s not a heartening comparison, as that time “saw the rise of explicit socialism and radical populism as mass movements in American politics” – what might be compared to a political pandemic virus that has never left our body politic and seems to be flaring up once again.

On the plus side, it was also a period of incredible technological and business invention. “During the Long Depression, we saw the first practical internal combustion engines, Rockefeller launching the oil age, and Edison inventing his light bulb and phonograph. The telephone went from curiosity to business utility. During these years, electrical and gas utilities lit cities and brought light and reading to the home. The technological evolution that would produce the automobile, the airplane, and the motion picture of the early 20th century were already well underway.”

Rich Karlgaard has pointed out in his Digital Rules blog that a lot of exciting things were happening even in the awful 1970s, when Apple, Microsoft, Oracle and Genentech first started up.

So there’s a lot of hope out there, if the socialist virus doesn’t get too virulent and wipe it out.

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