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Posts Tagged ‘unemployment’

Blame Who or What

The sense of empowerment that is part of American individualism benefits Americans. People who feel empowered, able to shape the world, and responsible for themselves tend, social psychological research shows, to act more forcefully and succeed more often than people who feel themselves to be at the mercy of others or of larger forces. Confidence is often a positive self-fulfilling prophecy. But there is another side to such an empowered world view: self-blame.

To be sure, a healthy level of egoism – also part of the individualistic world-view – protects Americans from blaming themselves too much. Americans tend to take credit for their successes while sidestepping fault when things go wrong more often than other peoples do; Americans tend to be especially “self-enhancing” (see, e.g., here, here, and here). Nonetheless, the sense of personal responsibility can lead many Americans who face repeated difficulties to beat up on themselves.

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Missing Tramps

One image of the Great Depression was of the tramps, the hobos drifting from town to town. Folk singer Woody Guthrie sang many a lyric on the theme, such as “the highway that’s our home / It’s a never-ending highway / For a dust bowl refugee.” And: “Go to sleep you weary hobo / Let the towns drift slowly by / Can’t you hear the steel rails hummin’ / That’s the hobo’s lullaby.” Also: “By the relief office I seen my people / As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking / Is this land made for you and me?” Steinbeck’s classic Grapes of Wrath(1939; movie directed by John Ford, 1940) was, of course, about a hobo-ing family, the Joads.

Dorothea Lange 1936 LC-DIG-fsa-8b29930

But tramping was not unique to the Great Depression. It typically appeared during every major American depression and financial panic. Millions, mainly men, displaced from economically busted or drought-blasted farms, or laid off at the mills, mines, or major ports, hit the road and rails looking for work.

Now, here we are in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Where are the tramps of the Great Recession?

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