Churchill is reputed to have quipped that, “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. The quote is trotted out whenever something bad happens in the present day that seems similar to something bad having happened previously. Most of the time, however, the quote is used after the current situation goes sideways. One possible corollary might be that if enough people can be taught about the mistakes of generations past, then perhaps a similar fate can be averted in the here and now.
Most people died from the Spanish Flu immediately after WW I than in the war itself, yet you’d never know it by listening to historians. These days, many people go so far as to say they knew almost nothing about it and were shocked by the “unprecedented” (not really) harm done by COVID-19. Speaking of WWI, do you recall that it was referred to as “The Great War” for the generation after it ended – only to be re-branded as WWI when another even bigger war came around. It was almost as if the people who had just been through a really big war couldn’t even fathom another war being bigger – or even as big.
It is with those vignettes in mind that I point out another hubristic term that society has been casually using for as long as I can remember – “The Great Depression”. Really? Isn’t it uncanny how “The Great Depression” sounds an awful lot like “The Great War”? The latter has since been re-branded, but not the former. Not yet, at least.
I have a question for you: Do you honestly believe that a depression of comparable or even greater magnitude to what was experienced in the 1930s is possible in the future?
Irrespective of your answer, do you see that society’s terminology implies that such a cataclysm is impossible? If you honestly believed another major depression was at least possible, the only rational term for “The Great Depression” is “World Depression I”. Optimism Bias is insidious. It slowly creeps into our thinking and causes us to dismiss the very real possibility that history might repeat itself. It isn’t pleasant, but that’s the point. Why wait until after things get ugly to re-characterize the problem?
If you could know in advance that something bad was going to happen, you might take steps to mitigate the damage that might be caused. Thinking of the current pandemic, perhaps you would have started wearing masks sooner or maintaining social distance sooner. Anyway, I’m just one person. My message in all this is that, with great respect, I see absolutely no reason why another global depression couldn’t come about. From this day forward, I will not remain complicit in denying that possibility. As of today, I will refer to the global event that dominated the 1930s as “World Depression I”. Forewarned is forearmed.