We're now 18 months into the current economic recession: That's a year and half of steady economic decline. More and more people are losing their jobs and collecting unemployment every month. State and local governments are slashing budgets for public services. Shelters and soup kitchens in many major cities are stretched to capacity.
In an interview we published a few weeks back with Alice O'Connor, O'Connor talked about some of the parallels, on a national scale, between the current economic decline and the Great Depression. Prof. James Gregory, a history professor specializing in state labor and civil rights history at the University of Washington, sees parallels on a more local scale.
In December 2008, Gregory published an op-ed piece in the Seattle Times warning that, in their dogged commitment to balancing the State Budget, Gov. Chris Gregoire and the Legislature were "on track to repeat the mistakes [of the Washington legislature] of 1931." Last month, the State Legislature approved nearly $4 billion in cuts for public programs, with education and health care taking the biggest hits, in an attempt to balance the budget.
Recently, Prof. Gregory began a new project looking at the history of the Great Depression on the local level. I spoke with him about the project andwhat the Democrats in Olympia today, as well as the citizens of the Evergreen State, could learn from the Depression of the 1930s to prevent us from sinking further into economic quicksand.
Could you describe what happened in Washington during the Depression? How does this compare to today?
The Obama administration is doing as much as it can to do the opposite of what the Herbert Hoover administration did in 1931, when Hoover thought he had to balance the budget and tighten up on the money supply by cutting jobs right when the government needed to produce them. But the Gregoire administration has just repeated the mistakes of 1931, when Gov. Roland Hartley figured he had to make an all-cuts budget and succeeded in damaging employment and the economy more than it needed to be.
In 1931, our State Legislature met about 18 months into the serious recession and knew what they had to do