Every American history student has heard the phrase: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” It is from FDR’s first inaugural address in 1933, near the depths of the Great Depression, and that phrase marks the full extent of knowledge most people have of that speech.
It’s time to change that. FDR’s speech is so fitting to today’s events that it borders on the spooky. Consider:
Values have shrunken to fantastic levels; taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income; the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade; the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for their produce; the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone.
Except, perhaps, for the ‘produce’ part (right now you could easily replace it with ‘livestock,’ though), the statement remains dead-on today.
Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply. Primarily this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.
True they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.
The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.
Now, that’s a little harsh, but many people would recognize a flicker of reality in the woes faced by banking and investment enterprises of all kinds today.
In our progress toward a resumption of work we require two safeguards against a return of the evils of the old order; there must be a strict supervision of all banking and credits and investments; there must be an end to speculation with other people’s money, and there must be provision for an adequate but sound currency.
Same problem, different day. We solved this problem once, at least for a few decades. Looks like it’s time to solve it again.