For Goodness Sake, Read History (Part 2)
A few days ago I received an interesting phone call from some lady wanting to share a few Bible verses with me. She started out by quoting Jeremiah 29:11-12, then began talking about having peace during these troubled times. Especially with this pandemic – the worst that’s ever been!
Reader of history that I am, I reminded her of the Black Death. In the 1300’s the Bubonic Plague was brought back to Italy by sailors returning from the orient; it subsequently swept through Europe in several waves and wiped out about a third of the population of the western world. A person could argue that Covid-19 could have been as bad; however, we’ve taken extreme precautions and also have access to an infinitely better health care system.
Plus, our lot is easier because we have less corruption. I read once that in some Italian cities men were hired to go house to house and bring out any that were diseased. These toughs were given free rein to “diagnose” and haul away anyone they didn’t like or demand payment – in whatever form – from the home’s occupants. Occupants unwilling to pay risked being tossed on the cart with those already infected and/or dying.
Pardon me, but the only reason anyone can say this is the worst pandemic in history is because they don’t know history. Even the Spanish ‘flu was worse, as health care was limited and whole families sometimes died. People may be pretty panicked now, but there’s nothing like the superstition of the Middle Ages. No one has resorted to self-flagellation as some did during the Bubonic plague, going from town to town whipping and slashing themselves to gain the sympathy of the gods in hopes of averting the plague.
Climatic Disaster and Famine
Last night in Bible Study we were going over Joseph being sold into slavery in Egypt and Pharoah’s dream, which Joseph interpreted. (Genesis Ch.41) Joseph predicted seven years of plenty, followed by seven lean years. According to the Bible account, this was a widespread catastrophe. It dawned on me that the drought and famine in Egypt would have been a lot like our “Dirty thirties” years.
People in the Thirties may have said, “This is the worst climatic disaster in history,” but I suspect there have been various climatic disasters before that one. Most of us have never heard about them. In most cases records weren’t kept; the accounts became simple folklore.
Thankfully, the Great Plains people learned a lot from those dry years; farming practices have changed drastically since the drought and soil moisture conservation has become a priority.
As to the Middle East famine, Joseph was able to guide Egypt through those years and preserve his own family as well. But over all, the land that was once a breadbasket is now desert sand.
Buying, Selling, and Lessons Learned
One good thing is that Egypt didn’t have a stock market to crash like ours did in 1929. In that sense the Thirties delivered a double-whammy here in North America. Then with a war looming — things must have looked pretty bleak indeed to our grandparents.
In the 1920s the sale of stocks was booming, investors were making piles, and bankers came under pressure to make collateral-free loans to wannabe stock-buyers. All these new players drove the price of stocks up, but seasoned traders were keeping a nervous eye on the trading, knowing stock prices had to level off and maybe even drop.
On “Black Tuesday” Oct 29, 1929 someone(s) got so nervous he/they dumped thousands of stocks on the market. Others investors saw this and figured, “Ah! Someone knows something. Prices are going to drop. We’re selling, too!” Sixteen million shares were thrown on the market that day and more during the rest of the week. By Friday the market was flooded with shares no one wanted to buy. The rest is history.
In the 1990’s the US government, under pressure from builders, increased the sale of new houses by urging bankers to give collateral-free loans with very low interest rates. Mortgages were contracted right and left; new home buyers gave the housing market the shot in the arm builders were hoping for. But when those mortgages came up for renewal at the regular interest rate… The rest is history.
The housing market crash and ensuing depression didn’t hit us as hard here in Canada because a) Canadian bankers are far too cautious to make collateral-free loans and b) you can’t legally walk away from a mortgage you’ve contracted here in Canada. If the mortgage holder defaults, the bank may repossess and sell the house but the holder is legally liable to pay whatever is still owing.
Fifty years from now will someone again come up with some new purchase people must make and urge bankers to make low-interest, collateral-free loans so people can have this new necessity? And it will lead to another depression? Or will our descendants read these histories and learn that this hasn’t worked well in the past?