A Historian on the Lessons of the Depression

Today's crisis isn't a repeat of the Depression. But we can still borrow lessons from the past

Walker Evans / Corbis

A Walker Evans portrait of Americans waiting in line for food in Forrest City, Ark., February 1937.

Are we witnessing the birth pangs of another Great Depression? Karl Marx once observed that history repeats itself, "first as tragedy, second as farce." But the record of the past emphatically suggests that we are not suffering through a play-by-play recapitulation of the catastrophe of the 1930s. To be sure, we may be brewing our very own 21st century economic calamity. But if so, it will be altogether different in its sources, scale, severity and duration from the last century's ghastly, decade-long, globe-girdling ordeal. It is only the consequences that may be similar.

Several chronic infirmities afflicted the international economic order...

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