Economy Reminiscent Of Great Depression

Today's tough economy reminds NPR's Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr of what it was like during the Great Depression. He remembers it all, and sings a famous Depression-era song.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen. The U.S. economy continues to spiral downward. This past week Chrysler announced it would close a plant and Starbucks said it plans to shut down about 600 stores. The nation lost jobs for the sixth month in a row in June. All of it brings back memories for NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr.

DANIEL SCHORR: Hard times may not be the most obvious topic for a joyous Independence Day Weekend. But with payrolls down another 62,000 in June and President Bush going to Japan to brood about economic conditions with others of the G-8 industrial powers, I have found myself reflecting on the recession - no, Depression, that I experienced in my youth.

There was, first of all, the stock market crash in 1929 when the bubble of high stock prices burst in an enormous sell off. It was when brokers, I can't remember how many, would throw themselves out of windows. That contributed to a decline in production and employment and then starting in 1930, panic in the banks. I remember in 1931, the collapse of the Vienna Creditanstalt, the biggest bank in Austria, and that set off a chain reaction of failing banks all over Europe and soon in the United States. By 1933, a fifth of our banks had failed.

And finally in 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt closed all the banks in what was called a "bank holiday." I remember being shut off of my 50-dollar savings account. The banks eventually reopened after being checked by inspectors for their solvency. What had began in 1929 as a recession developed into a full-scale Depression. Production and prices fell. The wholesale price index declined 33 percent. The Depression persisted through the 1930s, and if memory serves, President Roosevelt hoped to end it with his New Deal, setting up a National Recovery Administration to pump money into the economy. What I remember, too, is that I benefited from the New Deal.

One of the New Deal agencies, the National Youth Administration, paid me 50 cents an hour to sort file cards in my college library. I don't mean to suggest that 2008 will be anything like 1933, but somehow, the downturn, not officially called a recession, brought all this back to me. This is Daniel Schorr.

HANSEN: Dan, if you don't mind, I'm going to keep you in the studio just for a second.

SCHORR: Oh?

HANSEN: Because you knew the Depression, you were there.

SCHORR: Yes.

HANSEN: And there was so much music that came out of that time.

SCHORR: You said it.

HANSEN: Now, were you hearing it? Were you hearing the songs?

SCHORR: There's one song over this three-quarters of a century that I can still remember from memory.

HANSEN: Really?

SCHORR: Yeah.

HANSEN: Which one?

SCHORR: (Singing) Once I built a railroad, made it run, made it race against time. Once I built a railroad, now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime? Once I built a tower to the sun, brick and water and lime. Once I built a tower, now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime? Once in khaki suits, gee, you look swell filled with that Yankee Doodleyum(ph). Half a million boots went sluggin' through hell. And I was the kid with a drum. Say, don't you remember? They called me Al, it was Al all the time. Say, don't you remember, I'm your pal. Brother, can you spare a dime?

That was Depression.

HANSEN: NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr, with a song from the Great Depression. Dan, thank you, and have a very healthy and Happy Independence Day Weekend.

SCHORR: Yes, ma'am.

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