10 Quotes From the Past That Will Make You Feel Better About the Future

"Sally Cameron thought she had done everything right," wrote Kevin Carey last week, retelling a story he read in the Washington Post. "But when she hit the job market, her Ivy League management degree didn't seem to matter. The worst recession in decades had pushed the unemployment rate to nearly 10 percent and good jobs were scarce. Sally paid the rent by tending bar and filled her time with volunteer work."

You hear stories like this repeatedly these days. The job market is broken. People's career dreams might be permanently shattered. The economy's in uncharted territory.

Or is it?

"Sally Cameron earned her master's degree from Yale in 1980. The Washington Post story that described her struggles was published in 1982," Carey writes. Today she has a successful career as a senior manager for a consulting company. Whatever she went through in the early '80s didn't last long. Soon after her future looked hopeless came the longest economic boom in modern history.

It's easy to read today's headlines and assume what we're going through is unprecedented. Some of it is, of course. But dig through the stacks of history and you'll find that much of what worries us today was not only experienced, but overcome, in the past. Here are 10 quotes to prove it.

Worried the national debt will bankrupt the country? That was so 1950s.

"Reviewing the astronomical figures of our national debt and deficit financing, Mr. Lintz pointed out the crucial situation which foreshadows national bankruptcy. 'We have come to the end of the road,' he warned, 'and must go back to the philosophy of our founding fathers. We must quit asking the government for handouts, cease non-essential spending, and pare down Federal expenditures.'"
Owosso Argus Press, Jan. 16, 1951

Or scared that the national debt can't be paid off? Been there, too.

"'There is little likelihood that the national debt will be reduced substantially during the next generation,' Simeon E. Leland, chairman of the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, told the Chicago Association of Commerce. 'This means,' Mr. Leland said, 'that debt management rather than debt reduction is the important problem before the Treasury in the coming years.'"
Wall Street Journal, May 10, 1945

But it's different today! We've hit the debt ceiling!

"The US Treasury faces a debt crisis from today because the Senate is bogged down in a controversy over a balanced budget amendment to a bill raising the national ceiling to permit more borrowing. The Treasury Secretary, Mr. James Baker, said the Government would run out of cash and borrowing authority today unless Congress passed a bill to raise the limit on outstanding debt."
The Sydney Morning Herald, Oct. 8, 1985

But so much damage has been done that we can't possibly recover.

"Unless this nation's fiscal policy is brought under control and some sense of balance is maintained, we are truly headed not only for a short period of recovery from recession, but the very real danger of almost permanent recession gripping this nation."
Kentucky New Era, March 2, 1983

But even if we pull through, everyone knows China owns the 21st century, right?

"Nearly half the Japanese questioned in a poll released Monday believe Japan will overtake the United States as the most dominant economic power of the 21st century."
The Rock Hill Herald, July 18, 1989

At any rate, our best days are surely behind us.

"The average American is likely to see his standard of living drastically reduced ... unless productivity growth is accelerated, the Joint Economic Committee of Congress warned ... Fundamental weaknesses in the economy would emerge even in the absence of oil price problems, the report stated, because growth in productivity is lagging behind growth rates in all the major trading nations."
The Miami News, Aug. 13, 1979

Still, our leaders have no idea what they're doing!

"[This is not] an economic recovery, no matter what the president says. And after 20 months of Reaganomics -- 20 months during which Congress has gone along with almost every facet of the president's economic plan -- it's about time for some results. Americans need jobs, and if the Reaganomics prescription won't provide them, it's time to change the medicine."
Boca Raton News, Oct. 1, 1982

But yesterday's jobs are gone for good!

"More than 2 million of the unemployed had been without jobs for more than six months. And many of them, perhaps hundreds of thousands, face the prospect of never being recalled because their jobs had been eliminated."
Williamson Daily News, Dec. 19, 1982

But globalization! Technology! It means our jobs are gone and never coming back!

"As a matter of hard fact, automation and improved technological processes have permanently eliminated tens of thousands of jobs ... and will continue to eliminate more in the future ... plagued by foreign competition."
Lakeland Ledger, Feb. 2, 1961

But what little our country does produce today is all fads and gimmicks!

"'[The Internet is] the equivalent of a fad business right now,' said Kenneth F. Abelson, senior executive vice president of the Gumley-Haft brokerage in Manhattan... 'The reason everyone's doing it is not for now,' he said, 'but everybody believes that in three years everyone in America is going to have their own personal computer and be surfing the Web.'"
New York Times, Aug. 20, 1995

Any of these quotes, slightly altered, could appear in today's media and fit right in. All seemed terrifying, stupefying, or insurmountable at the time. Yet all were eventually overcome. There's little reason to think our future will be any different. Problems correct. Markets work.

Check back every Tuesday and Friday for Morgan Housel's columns on finance and economics.

Fool contributor Morgan Housel doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article. Follow him on Twitter @TMFHousel. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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  • Report this Comment On June 17, 2011, at 3:59 PM, stichmo wrote:

    You are correct that times have looked bleak before and we have bounced back. But two of your quotes struck me:

    "The average American is likely to see his standard of living drastically reduced ..."

    The Miami News, Aug. 13, 1979

    and

    "More than 2 million of the unemployed had been without jobs for more than six months. And many of them, perhaps hundreds of thousands, face the prospect of never being recalled because their jobs had been eliminated."

    Williamson Daily News, Dec. 19, 1982

    Regarding that second quote, many of the two million unemployed for more than six months in 1982 never were recalled to their old jobs. Yes they found new jobs, but the prediction was accurate then and is similarly accurate now. Many of the old jobs will never return.

    Regarding the first quote, the real median wage of the full time white male worker has been basically stagnant since 1973. Increases in family income occured because more women are working--and to a lesser extent because of a reduction in discrimination in the workplace. When family income stopped increasing, many people used their home equity or credit cards as an ATM to raise their consumption beyond their income. Things may not have gotten worse for Joe Six Pack in the last 40 years, but they haven't gotten better either. Few economists, let alone politicians, recognize this problem of stagnant incomes for almost 40 years.

  • Report this Comment On June 17, 2011, at 4:31 PM, warrenzevon wrote:

    yeah, ok, we've seen economic hard times, but I don't see anything here to dispel the grave fears of scientists about the state of earth with regard to fresh water, the health of the oceans, peak oil, and climate change, all of which seem to be living up to the worst fears of predictions years ago. And we're facing these challenges with the most ineffectual govt. of the 20th century and a populace more ignorant and unable to consider the big issues than at any time in memory.

  • Report this Comment On June 17, 2011, at 4:41 PM, TMFHousel wrote:

    warrenzevon,

    Here's a 1975 article from Newsweek on global cooling:

    http://www.denisdutton.com/cooling_world.htm

    And here's a good one on peak oil from Sep. 14 1923:

    "The peak of production in oil fields has passed and the decline already has set in, with a probability market price of high gravity oil will increase."

  • Report this Comment On June 17, 2011, at 5:19 PM, TMFBlacknGold wrote:

    That quote about peak oil was probably aimed at US production. It turned out to be false, but so have most other peak oil predictions.

    Great article!

  • Report this Comment On June 17, 2011, at 5:21 PM, TheDumbMoney wrote:

    +100

  • Report this Comment On June 17, 2011, at 5:29 PM, warrenzevon wrote:

    the peak oil predictions for the US in the 70s have turned out to be true, and I'd say the erosion/disappearance of several major glaciers around the world, in addition to the dramatic decline in sea ice around the n. pole pretty much supports global warming, whatever the quibbling around the margins around causation and severity. I imagine we totally lacked the computing power necessary in the 70s to model climate change with any accuracy.

  • Report this Comment On June 17, 2011, at 5:59 PM, TheDumbMoney wrote:

    warren,

    Global warming has generally been happening for 10,000-15,000 years. Here is a nice picture of the Vostok ice core, actually posted by a guy who is sympathetic to the idea of anthropogenic global warming (as am I):

    http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=vostok+ice+core&view...

    The idea of "supports global warming" is silly, because the term as posed is silly. The fact is, we have been in a warm interglacial for the last 10,000 years, but basically the earth has been warming for the last 15,000 years, which is why there are no longer glaciers in Berlin or Copenhagen anymore, Warren. (The fact that we are in this high, stable, interglacial period is one of the things that prompted the 1977 freakout about global cooling.)

    Now I actually am worred about ANTHROPOGENIC global warming, because we are already at a CYCLICAL high in whereby "global warming" has been going on for at least 10,000 years. The idea that we might be contributing to pushign temps up higher than they have been in 400,000 is troubling, must more troubling than the pathetic 100-year and 1000-year data I often see cited.

    But in the end, any major climate researcher, including many of those cited in the AR4 IPCC report, will tell you that in the end, we don't know why glacial cycles on earth begin and end. We don't know. We have no clue, none. The only real consenses is that human activities are warming the earth more than it otherwise would warm, and even that is a weak consensus.

    However, the fact that we do not know why these major glacial cycles occur in the first place should (but likely won't) engender a modicum of humility in both the "global warming" and "climate denialist" camps.

    Anyway, do please teach others to speak about these issues with some passing level of complexity. Starting with most major news organizations would be nice, let's work on them. Thanks.

    In the meantime, those who care about the environment should do all they can to be conservationist in all aspects of their lives anyway, from recycling, to oil use, to meat consumption to eating shark fins, to buying three cars and living in pointlessly large houses, to buying furniture made out of Indonesian rubber wood plantation wood, for which millions of animals lost their habitats.

    The issue of "global warming" issue is only really meaningful insofar as humans are otherwise too indipidly selfish and human-focused to already be worried about all of the many other ways in which we are destroying our earth and obliterating plants and animals and basically anything other than ourselves.

    My fear is that l that long after we have "solved" "global warming" all the faux environmentalists will go back to their state of willful ignorance, and more species of plants and animals will die. Belief in "global warming" does not change this mindset, since it is so human-danger-focused.

    Okay, end of rant.

  • Report this Comment On June 17, 2011, at 6:01 PM, Dannys33 wrote:

    I love how the article ends with "markets work". Obviously the author fails to realize that the market is not being allowed to work today. Qe1, qe2, and coming soon qe3 will all make the inevitable correction that much harder. He's free to quote me but I'm just Dan six-pack. What do I know?

  • Report this Comment On June 17, 2011, at 6:05 PM, TMFHousel wrote:

    ^ We've had hard corrections in the past.

  • Report this Comment On June 17, 2011, at 6:06 PM, TimothyVR wrote:

    Here is Kierkegaard on the media:

    "On the whole the evil in the daily press consists in its being calculated to make, if possible, the passing moment a thousand or ten thousand times more inflated and important than it really is. But all moral elevation consists first and foremost in being weaned from the momentary."

  • Report this Comment On June 17, 2011, at 6:27 PM, xetn wrote:

    How about this one from FDR's Treasury Sec:

    http://blog.heritage.org/2009/01/14/were-spending-more-than-...

    Sounds kind of familiar doesn't it? But you won't hear if for Timmy G., but you should.

  • Report this Comment On June 18, 2011, at 5:38 AM, ShaunConnell wrote:

    Uhm. Half of those quotes were completely legit and true. Go back to your job as a columnist.

  • Report this Comment On June 18, 2011, at 10:25 AM, grantrobertb wrote:

    If the point of the article is to put us at ease, implying that we will get back to good times, I am not easily buying it. Certainly, I think that we can get back to better days, but not without some sacrifice and pain (and smart leadership). There are some societal changes that just won't go away, no matter how many times we close our eyes and click our heels. First, The population pyramid has changed. We no longer have a base of younger and younger workers supporting the older and elderly. This won't go away anytime soon. Secondly, the U.S. is no longer the world super-power. Yeah, we have a large military, but that does not equate to being a super-power (does it?). After WWII when the rest of the world was bombed out, we benefited from a wind-fall opportunity to dominate World markets. The rest of the World has caught up. We no longer have a competitive edge on anything -- perhaps agriculture? The situation could be so much worse. Fortunately the rest of the World has an interest in keeping the Dollar alive. We might be Too Big to Fail, and that may be our saving grace?

  • Report this Comment On June 18, 2011, at 10:35 AM, daveandrae wrote:

    The more things change, the more they remain the same. Through all of the vicissitudes of a gyrating market, Faith, Patience, and Discipline remain the key attributes that keep the long term investor sailing through each and every storm.

    Thus, the great secret is, there is no secret.

    Buy equities- HOLD equities.

    Everything else is commentary.

    Nuff said.

  • Report this Comment On June 18, 2011, at 11:57 AM, bbell46356 wrote:

    Great article, Morgan.

    You may be my favorite political editorialist despite the irony of working for an investment advisory organization.

    Any syndication deals in the works?

  • Report this Comment On June 18, 2011, at 12:30 PM, TMFHousel wrote:

    ^ Thank you, and no. Fool for life, my friend :)

  • Report this Comment On June 18, 2011, at 1:25 PM, BillFLA wrote:

    Interesting article in Fool. I've been hearing this for the last two years from my old advisor. I agree with grantrobertb's comment.

    Things could be just a replay of history, but I think at some point things actually do change. And, with our present congress, populace, and educational system, I am worried!

    Most of the countries in our world know how to deal with the US: hold their ground to get their way OR wait until we invade & start throwing money at them.

  • Report this Comment On June 18, 2011, at 1:30 PM, zymok wrote:

    Nicely done, Morgan.

  • Report this Comment On June 18, 2011, at 2:03 PM, TheMotleyTimbear wrote:

    Not sure if this makes me feel better or worse about the future...

  • Report this Comment On June 18, 2011, at 3:30 PM, PostScience wrote:

    Many of these gloomy predictions never came to pass because policy makers heeded the warning and took corrective action.

    Putting our head in the sand and saying "everything's is okay" will ensure that tomorrow's problems will be much worse.

  • Report this Comment On June 18, 2011, at 6:51 PM, lesailes wrote:

    The governments of most countries are second (or thrid rate) for most of the time. Check the USA in the 30s and in Australia for most of the last century.

    What seems to happen is that as things get worse either the ruling party or opposition gets the right ideas or right kinds of people (or both)and begin to fix the problems. Ideology and vested interest usually prevents this happening until things are quite bad.

    Some sountries do not have mechanisms that allow this to happen e.g. Syria and Cuba so the problems never get fixed.

    Some ideologies cast such a bad light on government that capable people will not serve until the situation is desperate.

    Change is the most difficult thing (as someone else said) because the people who have the most interest in the present system do not want it and the people who do are at best luke warm about it.

    The human condition remains, necesary changes are always resisted until the bitter end. Perhaps that is what our columnist was saying in a more entertaining way.

  • Report this Comment On June 18, 2011, at 8:32 PM, TimothyVR wrote:

    post science:

    "Many of these gloomy predictions never came to pass because policy makers heeded the warning and took corrective action.

    Putting our head in the sand and saying "everything's is okay" will ensure that tomorrow's problems will be much worse."

    -----------

    I am in full agreement. Looking at the doomsday scenarios from the past that did not come to pass does give encouragement towards change and correcting the stupid policies of the present.

    The problem with the 'sky is falling' hysterics of those news items is that they make change seem hopeless and doom inevitable.

  • Report this Comment On June 19, 2011, at 6:58 AM, skypilot2005 wrote:

    Morgan wrote:

    "All seemed terrifying, stupefying, or insurmountable at the time. Yet all were eventually overcome. There's little reason to think our future will be any different. Problems correct. Markets work."

    I enjoyed the article.

    Thanks, for putting it together.

    Sky Pilot

  • Report this Comment On June 19, 2011, at 3:29 PM, hbofbyu wrote:

    All the success of the past and Rome still fell.

    Millions of dollars are lost in the market every day by people thinking they can predict the future by looking at the past. These quotes should only be used to demonstrate that "We don't know" not that "All will be well".

    The American people need to more afraid than they are and start electing competent politicians who won't, in effect, buy the votes of their constituents and sell our future. Economic viability is the only thing that keeps a house, a business, a charity, a government, a nation standing. If you elect your leaders based on trivial issues such as abortion, gay marriage, gun control, capital punishment, religious persuasion, you are naive. Of course these issues are not trivial on a personal level - but for a national debate they are meaningless against the backdrop of poverty, homelessness, unemployment and desperation.

  • Report this Comment On June 19, 2011, at 6:45 PM, WalterMatthews wrote:

    I couldn't agree with you more daveandrae. In addition, we need new leadership. I'm sitting here still waiting on all this change.

  • Report this Comment On June 20, 2011, at 12:20 AM, SvjatojDurak wrote:

    Of course, at some point the barbarians did sack Rome...

  • Report this Comment On June 20, 2011, at 9:41 AM, mhendley100 wrote:

    It might be good to acknowledge that DECLINE is, by definiton, a gradual process.....that in some caes, particularly with countries, takes place over decades. As someone said in an earlier comment, Rome eventually failed....if we don 't think that can happen to us, we aren't very smart. In fact it is happening to us....as we speak....

  • Report this Comment On June 21, 2011, at 10:40 AM, teaka wrote:

    I think the MF needs a constant message. Yesterday I read an article on how we have not had a raise in 10 years due to high inflation on medical costs.

    Now I read this!

    "The average American is likely to see his standard of living drastically reduced ... unless productivity growth is accelerated, the Joint Economic Committee of Congress warned ... Fundamental weaknesses in the economy would emerge even in the absence of oil price problems, the report stated, because growth in productivity is lagging behind growth rates in all the major trading nations."

    The Miami News, Aug. 13, 1979

    I can attest to the fact even though I have had raises of 3 percent it has not kept up with medical and local taxes.

    Our kids will not have it better than we did unless major changes are made in Washington.

    Also your article starts out with a young person. Try getting over this recession at 60 years old!

  • Report this Comment On June 21, 2011, at 3:38 PM, TimothyVR wrote:

    svaotojdurak

    "Of course, at some point the barbarians did sack Rome..."

    ---------------

    True. We don't need the Goths. We will sack ourselves.

    Of course, taking the illustration further, savvy investors might have lit a candle with Augustine and then turned to Byzantium - and done very well indeed for another millenium.

  • Report this Comment On June 24, 2011, at 2:06 PM, CJFarrell1 wrote:

    Hmm .. This article from the Wall Street Journal .. in 1945 ....

    "'There is little likelihood that the national debt will be reduced substantially during the next generation,' Simeon E. Leland, chairman of the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, told the Chicago Association of Commerce. 'This means,' Mr. Leland said, 'that debt management rather than debt reduction is the important problem before the Treasury in the coming years.'"

    Has this not proven itself to be True?

    The National Debt has not been reduced but has increased dramatically! Not for the next generation nor for the 2? 3? since. Oh, and Yes .. Debt Management has been an extremely important problem for the Treasury!

    I'm just not convinced that future generations will will enjoy similar livelihoods as we have. All built on debt. Just a humble opinion ...

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