Wednesday, 1 October 2008

a run on the bank

In a week of financial turmoil, here's a reminder of what happened last time - a clip from my series "American Voices", describing a run on a bank in small town America, in the aftermath of the Crash of 1929...

The words of Raymond Tarver used in the clip come from the files of the Federal Writers' Project, an oral history project funded by the US Government in the mid to late 1930s. You can access the full transcript on the American Life Histories pages of the Library of Congress.
"There were thousands who went down during the panic - lost fortunes, homes, business. Some have survived; many never will. A great many were too old to begin building up again."
Tarver was a bank clerk who lost everything - his job, his savings. He got a job at an ice plant, then quit when he realised they were keeping him on out of charity. He only survived because his wife grew cabbages. Scary stuff.

Eventually he got a job in Washington, working for the Treasury. That's where the Federal Writers' Project caught up with him, in 1940 - by which time the Depression was all but over. Tarver recorded his debt of gratitude to FDR:
"I think our present administration the finest and most far reaching we have ever had. A tremendous lot has been done to help the country recover from the depression, and here in Washington we feel very keenly any harsh criticism of those in power."
What we've witnessed in the past couple of days - the Democrats in Congress throwing out Bush's bailout plan - is a strange reversal of the history of the New Deal years. Back then it was the Republicans who sniped at Roosevelt for his profligate abuse of taxpayers' money, buying his way out of the Depression by establishing work programmes like the Federal Writers' Project. Now, it's the Democrats defending the taxpayer - and another Depression looms. Tarver would be turning in his grave.

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