The Picture Show

October 11, 2008

Back in the 1930s we never checked to see what time the movie started at the local “picture show”. It didn’t really matter. The double feature, newsreel, Pete Smith Special, and “Looney Tune” ran continuously. It made little difference at what point one entered the process. You simply sat through the presentation until you came to the point at which you entered, said to your date; “this is where we came in”; got up, and left. We weren’t forced to leave. Sometimes, we would even sit through the whole process again. No one questioned the logic of such a system… it was just the way things worked. I even recall a girlfriend back then who followed the same system when I joined her once at a Catholic Mass. I was surprised as she got up in the middle of a ritual and said, “let’s go; this is where we came in”.

I was born a couple of years prior to the Great Depression. My family was fortunate in that my father was able to maintain his job through it all. He was in advertising and if any company of any size had hope of surviving in those times it was essential that they advertise their products. This good fortune was not the case for everyone in our extended family. I remember one of my mother’s favorite expressions; “charity begins at home”. There was always concern that my cousins would get outgrown clothes and the like. It was a universal attitude among everyone we knew. There were the persistent stories of men jumping to their death from high buildings as one by one various businesses failed. The whole debacle was precipitated by people who, in the 1920s, sought to “buy low and sell high”. Like most Ponzi schemes, it worked for a while. Folks would take their small savings, or borrow against their anticipated profits in order invest in stocks or real estate with the idea they would sell it in a short time, take the profit, and thereby build a great deal of wealth. If you got in early it worked quite well. But, like most things built out of thin air, it eventually had to collapse. I remember well such expressions as “castles in the air” and “house of cards”. The ripple effect was world wide. Germany was reeling under the oppression of reparations demanded of them following World War I. Many there were angry at the loss of large areas of their empire believing they were taken from them unfairly. A leader appeared on the scene promising to restore their nation to its former glory. The socialists and communists were attacking capitalism at every opportunity. The collapse of 1929 gave them extra fuel for the fires of collectivist concepts by promising the redistribution of the world’s wealth to the proletariat. Here in America this line of thinking was given a foothold as government programs kept workers busy building infrastructure; roads, bridges, parks, reforestation, etc. Negotiation with the new German leader proved fruitless. Problems in Asia escalated as the Land of the Rising Sun, in the throes of industrialization, sought more space and natural resources to feed their rapid growth. All the diplomatic theorist’s efforts failed to resolve the issues created by so many foreign groups hell-bent on having their own way in the world. One day in December of 1941 the whole process was transformed. The massive effort to defend against the complete loss of our democratic way of life and freedom became a top priority. It brought the struggles of the Great Depression to an end as our industrial engines fired up to produce the materials needed to win the Second World War.

What’s on the “big screen” today? The remnants of ancient Persia and Arabia smarting because they feel that important areas of their empire have been unfairly stripped from them through the exploitations of colonization or to provide the homeland for the world’s Jews. A dynamic leader is in place promising them a return to their former glory.  Another industrializing Asian giant is seeking, not land and natural resources this time, but rather capital and markets for their products. The collectivists—the Communists and Socialists—are still promising the proletariat the utopian dream of their fair share of the redistribution of the world’s wealth. We have been on a ten to fifteen year binge of escalating real estate and stock values bought with leveraged money which in order to succeed required the process to continue ad infinitum. The Ponzi scheme seems to be nearing the end if not already there. A so-called progressive Congress forced  financial institutions to change the rational rules for lending by banning “red lining” and insisting money be lent to people unlikely able to repay it. Adding insult to injury such transactions were dubbed NINJA loans; No Income, No Job, No Assets. There should have been enough folks old enough to remember the movie plot from 1929. Instead they now debate how to avoid the inevitable. Instead of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s we have large areas of the nation deluged with water. These are but a scant few of the highlights. But sufficient to anticipate the familiar closing scene.

I hear the “Looney Tune” theme music beginning; I think this is where I “came in”.

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