Looking Back To The 1930s: Lessons From The Great Depression

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Traders rush, 1929, October in Wall Street as New York Stock Exchange crashed sparking a run on banks that spread across the country. (Photo via Getty Images)
Traders rush, 1929, October in Wall Street as New York Stock Exchange crashed sparking a run on banks that spread across the country. (Photo via Getty Images)

Looking back to 1930, the year after the start of the Great Depression. What lessons did we learn about how best to move forward with a suffering economy? We look at our current crisis now through the lens of American history.


David Kennedy, professor emeritus of history at Stanford University. Founder and former director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West. Author of "Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945."

Jack Beatty, On Point news analyst. (@JackBeattyNPR)

From The Reading List

Futurity: "The Great Depression proved we need government in a crisis" — "As the world reckons with an economic crisis that the International Monetary Fund anticipates to be the worst recession since the Great Depression, what can we learn from history? How are these two events similar, and how are they different?"

NPR: "'A Lot To Be Hopeful For': Crisis Seen As Historic, Not Another Great Depression" — "With the U.S. economy in free-fall, a lot of forecasters have been digging deep into the history books, looking for a guideposts of what to expect. Often, they've turned to the chapter on the 1930s."

Bloomberg: "How Bad Might It Get? Think the Great Depression" — "As the economic carnage from the coronavirus pandemic continues, a long-forbidden word is starting to creep onto people’s lips: 'depression.'"

The New York Times: "The New Great Depression Is Coming. Will There Be a New New Deal?" — "Until very recently, Andrew Yang thought that the need for a universal basic income would be a big issue in the 2024 election, as 'many of the trends that I campaigned on were going to become completely clear to more and more Americans' over the next four years. He was arguing, for example, that between now and then, '30 percent of our stores and malls were going to close because of Amazon.' After more than a month of coronavirus lockdowns, Yang’s prediction looks quaintly optimistic."

Vox: "Will the worst downturn since the Great Depression last as long?" — "Weeks of record job losses have left the United States with an unemployment rate that’s widely estimated to be higher than at any time since the Great Depression. That shocking reality naturally invites analogies and raises what is perhaps the most important economic question of our time: How long will the bad times last?"

The Philadelphia Inquirer: "Mounting job losses. Fear of the unknown. We’ve seen this before during the Great Depression. Here are some lessons learned." — "The blunt headlines that appeared sporadically in The Inquirer throughout 1929 hinted at the dark menace of long-term unemployment, a condition that would worsen as the Great Depression unfurled over the next 12 years. 'Jobless man ends life.' 'Man, ill and jobless, is suicide.' 'Jobless Darby man a suicide.'"

CNN: "We've overcome hard times before: What Americans who beat the Great Depression can teach us today." — "A sudden crisis turns the world upside down. Millions are thrown out of work. People despair and dread the future. That was the grim scenario many Americans faced almost a century ago after the 1929 stock market crash triggered the Great Depression. And many people are experiencing it today as the coronavirus pandemic ravages the US and the rest of the world."

This program aired on July 3, 2020.


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Hilary McQuilkin is a producer for On Point.


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Meghna Chakrabarti Host, On Point
Meghna Chakrabarti is the host of On Point.



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