The Great Depression Online

Great Depression Online Archive Issue:

The Beginning of the End

Great Depression Online
Long Beach, CA
August 07, 2009

Inside This Issue You Will Discover…

*** Controlling the Uncontrollable
*** A Prophecy of the Apocalypse
*** The Beginning of the End
*** And More

“Not less conspicuous is the preponderance of nature over will in all practical life.”  -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Controlling the Uncontrollable

Man, by nature, is inherently conflicted…for he attempts to control the uncontrollable.  The weather, seasonal flu viruses, mortality, the business cycle.  We find comfort in the illusion that these have been mastered – or that they can be predicted with certainty.

But the weather man is often wrong.  The flu shot ends up getting you sick.  A nonsmoking vegetarian bites into a carrot stick and has a heart attack.  And a fund manager that consistently beats the market is as rare as an honest used car salesman.  Yet we still try with futility.  Buy low; sell high.  It sounds so easy.

And each individual must deal with these unsettling uncertainties in their own way. 

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Some run for public office to correct perceived inequities.  They enact laws for wealth redistribution or universal healthcare and concoct well intentioned social engineering schemes – the unintended consequences often make things worse.  Others turn to science for answers to the universe.  The sinister become central bankers.  A humble man, recognizing his limits, puts his faith in God to reconcile life’s mysteries.

A Prophecy of the Apocalypse

In 1696, William Whiston wrote a book.  It was called “A New Theory of the Earth from its Original to the Consummation of all Things.”  In it he proclaimed that the global flood of Noah had been caused by a comet.  Mr. Whiston took his book very serious.  And the good people of London did too.  The only problem was that Whiston was a mountebank and a lunatic.

Then in 1736 Whiston had a stunning revelation.  One gloomy fall day, gazing deep into the fog of the English Channel, he saw the future.  And what he saw scared him mad.  He barked…and ranted…and foamed at the mouth to anyone who would listen.  It wasn’t long before he’d stirred up his neighbors.

He prophesized the world would be destroyed on October 13th of that year when a comet would collide with the earth.  In fact, Jonathan Swift, who memorialized the episode in his work, “A True and Faithful Narrative of What Passed in London on a Rumour of the Day of Judgment,” quoted William Whiston:

“Friends and fellow-citizens, all speculative science is at an end: the period of all things is at hand; on Friday next this world shall be no more.  Put not your confidence in me, brethren; for tomorrow morning, five minutes after five, the truth will be evident; in that instant the comet shall appear, of which I have heretofore warned you.  As ye have heard, believe.  Go hence, and prepare your wives, your families, and friends, for the universal change.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, William Wake, officially deny this prediction to calm the hubbub it created.  But it did little good; for the believers were plentiful.

The Beginning of the End

Crowds gathered at Islington, Hampstead, and the surrounding fields, to witness the destruction of London, which was deemed the “beginning of the end.”  But when the moment came for the great obliteration something remarkable and entirely unexpected took place…the beginning of the end never came.

We recount the little tale of William Whiston, and his prediction of the end of the world, for entertainment and perspective.

Last week, for example, President Obama told an audience in North Carolina, and consequently the rest of the country, that the U.S. “may be seeing the beginning of the end of the recession.”

To this we disagree.  Rather than the beginning of the end, we believe it’s just the end of the beginning.  In other words, there’s no recovery just beyond the horizon.  Of course, we don’t know this for fact.  And there have been some apparent improvements as of late.

The stock market’s run up over 41 percent in recent months and second quarter GDP contracted just 1 percent per year…a notable improvement from the 6.4 percent annual rate of decline reported for the first quarter.  On surface, it certainly seems recovery is in the cards.

Yet if you scratch a little below the surface a different picture emerges.  The Federal Reserve has more than doubled its balance sheet; nonetheless, bank credit exposure is still contracting.  This means a sustaining economic recovery would have to occur while credit is being withdrawn from the financial system…something that has never happened during a Post World War II economic expansion.

Perhaps this could be the first.  But we wouldn’t count on it.


M.N. Gordon
Great Depression Online

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