Although history without fail repeats itself, society is so numbed by its latest traumas and disposable news cycles that we often miss its return. But when you silence the din and focus, today's economic problems--though distinctively severe-- sound all too familiar.
Things were not progressing swimmingly for America's economy in 1982. Unemployment was approaching 11 percent, a 30-year mortgage north of 15 percent was a bargain and the annual inflation rate was greater than 6 percent, though far tamer than the annual 13 percent rate a year earlier. Those numbers today would grind a decidedly sharper edge to Occupy Wall Street protesters' message.
It should have come as no surprise 29 years ago for this mini-drama to play out. A fellow named Joe, who ran a publishing company, picked up his phone on a Friday morning and said, "Hey kid, how are things in New York?" The kid, his employee reporting in, was about to answer but heard Joe suddenly exclaim, "No, not my chair. Hey, don't take my desk. What are you doing? Not my phone!" Then the phone line went radio silent.
The kid figured out years later why he liked Joe. Like the kid's dad, Joe was born in Brooklyn in July of 1918. Each had attended NYU. For all he knew they had shared an adult beverage or two.
The kid learned quickly enough that Joe was out of business. The repo men had come. This presented a problem. The kid and his wife had a week earlier bought their first home UpIsland with five percent down for all they were worth. He was desperate.
Somehow the kid discovered who scooped up the failed company's assets. That Monday he charged into Manhattan, met a different Joe -- a faster talking, quieter talking version of the other Joe. This Joe must have been incredulous over what happened next.
Inspired by the Oscar-winning film "Kramer Versus Kramer," the kid channeled the scene where Dustin Hoffman begs an indifferent potential employer for a job to retain custody of his son. Had the existed then, this film would have made the cut. So there the kid was, dropped to his knees in the new Joe's office, groveling for work. He kept his job.
A year later and a mile east, The Brundtland Commission convened at the UN to voice concern about global human and environmental deterioration. To ensure economic sustainability, the world's nations needed a plan, one more complex than pondering if we need more guns or more butter. Could a more austere, conservation-minded approach then as now be the answer? Depression-era matriachs still alive forecast our latest economic storm too shall pass, muttering "You'll get through this. We did. Just add more water to the soup."
The kid is rooting for this --or any-- plan to work. Until history returns for this mess to happen yet again.