The Great Depression, The Great Gatsby and The Green Light
The Great Depression caused rather a lot of problems. In America millions of unemployed labourers were impoverished. Farmers lost their land and ended up in the cities. Wages went through the floor. In Germany, the country stuck with the bill for World War I, The Great Depression gave rise to nationalism and gave Hitler an excuse to start World War II. It made Japan hungry for new territories and convinced the emperor that it would be a good idea to go hunting for oil in southeast Asia whether the local residents liked it or not.
It left 29% of the Australian workforce unemployed, halved demand for British exports around the world and doubled UK unemployment figures. World War II caused rather a lot more problems, but it did at least it create enough manufacturing demand to end The Great Depression.
Naturally, when World War II ended, the American Government was deeply concerned that the millions of servicemen returning from war would end up jobless, war industries would stop employing people, and the country would have another economic crisis on their hands. Their answer was to enact a piece of legislation called the Servicemens Readjustment Act of 1944, which came into effect 65 years ago to this day. As far as economic solutions go, it was the best thing since a ban on sliced bread.
The G.I. Bill, as it was known, created unemployment benefits for veterans, gave them access to low-interest home loans and perhaps most importantly, gave them an education. It encouraged returned servicemen to learn new skills and as a result, new jobs were created. The effects spread around the world. New industries developed and factories that once made war planes started making passenger cars. Farm production was modernised.
The G.I. Bills cheap home loans created demand for housing in America and created an idealistic suburban utopia synonymous with the 1950s. The ideal spread to Australia, the UK, Canada, and the rest of the western world. A generation of babies that had never known war rations was born and consumption went through the roof. Corporations stopped thinking of people as individuals and started thinking of them as consumers.
Credit Cards were invented.
Television was invented.
Mass-marketing was invented.
The entire world of marketing as we know it, the corporation to consumer via mass-media model weve had since the 1950s, can be traced directly back to The G.I. Bill. But 65 years on, things really are starting to change. In fact, youd be forgiven for thinking that were heading full speed ahead in reverse gear.
The generation born of The Great Depression is starting to die out. World War II veterans are getting old and their children, the baby boomers are starting to retire. Easy credit, and unrelenting consumer demand, has created a global economic crisis. Housing demand has fallen to the point where the American Government is bulldozing entire suburbs in order for the economy to survive. People cant get home loans. The world is at war. Mass-entertainment mediums like TV and radio are losing ratings as user-generated content takes over the internet. Mass marketing is dying.
I think were on the cusp of something new here. Something big. I think we are borne back ceaselessly into the past. Back to the days where you relied on the opinions of people you trusted to choose the products you were going to buy. Back to the days before America was a manufacturing powerhouse. When writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald created heroes like Jay Gatsby. When peoples lives centered around their social networks. When media was something you enjoyed, rather than tried to ignore.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded him then, but today we have the ability run faster and stretch out our arms farther. We, not the media, not the corporations, not the government, are in control.
Keep your eye on the green light. It’s getting closer.