(Editor’s note: Journal columnist Howard Schonberger, a survivor of the Great Depression and a firm believer that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, wrote this column in response to the current economic crisis. The editor decided that the importance of this message warrants this space).
During the Great Depression, a number of agencies created by the New Deal assisted in the eventual return of normalcy.
The CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) and FERA (Federal Emergency Relief Association) were the first two planned by Roosevelt and his Brain Trust. “Social duty” was what FDR called many of his catchy acronyms.
However, between the landslide election of FDR in 1932 and his inauguration in March, practically nothing was done as the bitter fruit of the stock market crash brought 25 to 30 percent unemployment and devastating hardship. Hoover didn’t believe in government involvement with unemployment relief.
Then came the PWA (Public Works Administration), culminating in the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority), which built Norris Dam, named for Sen. George Norris (my boyhood hero from Nebraska). It was one of the greatest energy coups of our land to that date.
Things really started to whoop up when this led, on May 17, 1933, to the NIRA (National Industrial Recovery Act), the second part of which was the NRA (National Recovery Act). This got the government involved in every phase of the economy “to prevent unfair competition and disastrous overproduction,” said FDR.
Hugh S. Johnson was named NRA chief. A retired WWI general, he was a great promoter. He used the “Blue Eagle” as the trade- mark. Every store that followed the NRA code of fair trade practices and decent wages as supervised by the government flew “Blue Eagle” flags or had big posters in their storefront windows showing they were following the code.
Here is my proposal for San Juan County. Why wait for President Obama? Let’s get going on this recovery right here with the XRA (XMAS RECOVERY ACT). There’s an old saying about retailing, “Nothing happens until somebody buys something.” We don’t need the government to tell us what and when and where to buy. Under the XRA, we will all pledge to buy the things we need, if at all possible, right here on the islands — not from the Internet, not on sales off-island and not from the catalog junk mail that swells our mailboxes.
We can start by going to the Holiday Marketplace Friday and Saturday, put on by more than 60 artists and craftspeople at Friday Harbor Elementary School. They’ve got loads of new stuff, all locally made. And all the proceeds, including a percentage of sales, go to scholarships for high school graduates ($6,000 last year). It helps the artists and the community, and you get quality, judged arts and crafts screened by Island Artisans.
The same goes for all the stores and services on all the islands who put their good taste and money into full gear to buy the goods you need.
Let’s take a good look at what we can get locally before buying gifts elsewhere. Maybe we should have a “Blue Heron” poster and badges made, like in the 1930s, to show we believe that prosperity, as well as charity, starts at home.