When President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave his first inaugural speech in March 1933, the nation was mired in a period of economic despair unrivaled in its history. Unemployment was high, people were starving and there was little optimism that things would improve.
“First of all,” Roosevelt said just after taking office, “let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
These words are just as true in October 2011 as they were on that March afternoon on the steps of Capitol Hill in Washington.
This economic crisis is far different from the Great Depression, and one could argue that it might be worse. Far more Americans were out of work during the Great Depression than during this never-ending recession, but during the 1930s, America still had an industrial and manufacturing base. Today, most of those jobs no longer exist on our soil; instead, they’re in lands where labor is far cheaper—and companies are insured greater profits.
We may not have as many bread lines and soup kitchens as during the Great Depression, but there are far too many Americans who are forced to subside on unemployment insurance, food stamps and other means of public assistance.
The housing bubble burst, and its effect has been devastating to middle-class America. Housing values have plummeted, and many Americans are unable to sell their homes for at least what they paid for it. Moreover, this has affected consumerism in general: a 2007 study by the Congressional Budget Office found that people reduced spending by $20 to $70 a year for every $1,000 decline in the value of their homes.
Then there is government and its handling of the current economic crisis. While there were bold changes made during the Roosevelt administration, the current presidency and Congress are too busy scoring political points off each other to come together and come up with a constructive way to get this nation out of this economic crisis.
The people of this country outside of Washington are racked by fear—fear of losing their jobs, their homes, their life savings, their way of life. What’s more, they have also been consumed by pessimism and the belief that things will not get better any time soon—or at all.
We have a tendency in this country to point fingers, and today they are being pointed in all different directions. For years, we let problems persist and allowed a system that let the nation live beyond its means. But now we must take action to dispel the fear and resolve the problems that continue to hinder progress.
It will take solutions from every side and angle to accomplish the goal of bringing America back to economic prosperity. The longer we are afraid or unwilling to embrace different ideas, the longer this crisis will persist—and the greater our economic fears will become.
We must defeat fear—or it will defeat us.
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