When a John McCain campaign official referred to the U.S. as a "nation of whiners" because of the current economy, it reminded me a bit of the infamous "Great Malaise" speech delivered to the nation by President Jimmy Carter (in 1979). If you are too young to remember this speech, it was delivered on national TV by President Carter at the height of the energy crisis of the 1970's. Not only had gasoline and oil prices skyrocketed due to America's dependence on foreign oil and the Iran-Iraq War, but there was rationing and long lines at the fuel pumps. On the one hand, President Carter did call for less dependence on foreign oil (and you know how that turned out). However, he also basically said Americans were a "nation of whiners".

Those weren't his exact words, of course. What he actually said was: "Our people are losing ...faith, not only in government itself but in the ability as citizens to serve as the ultimate rulers and shapers of our democracy. As a people we know our past and we are proud of it. Our progress has been part of the living history of America, even the world. We always believed that we were part of a great movement of humanity itself called democracy, involved in the search for freedom, and that belief has always strengthened us in our purpose. But just as we are losing our confidence in the future, we are also beginning to close the door on our past."

I am old enough to remember this speech, and what life was like around 1979. Gas prices skyrocketed. Food prices skyrocketed. My father would come home from the grocery store complaining that the food budget was buying less and less food. We started eating a lot more hamburger, ring bologna and things that my dad shot when he went hunting. We also had our own Recession Victory Garden in the back yard. There was no money for anything but the basics. Unemployment was high, stock prices were stagnant and the U.S. dollar didn't have the same buying power it once had.

Oil prices during this time period set an all-time high...until this year. Adjusted for inflation, prices have never been as high as they were just a couple of months ago. You know what that means. Gas prices are up. Food prices are up. People are starting to grow their own food. They don't have money for anything but the basics.

Some say that "history repeats itself". The U.S. apparently got itself out of a tight spot following the energy crisis of 1979. What can we learn from that today?

Well, the good news is things aren't quite as bad now as they were during the oil crises of 1973 and 1979. The bad news is some economists say we are at the 1972 stage of things...before things really got bad. Unemployment now isn't nearly as bad as it was during those time periods, and there is no gas rationing or fuel lines.

One thing that the U.S. is experiencing now that we didn't have in the 1970s is the current mortgage crisis. People who once were able to use their home's equity to get them out of a tight spot are no longer able to do so.

In the 1970s, it was drastic government action which finally snapped the rising tide of inflation. Interest rates were jacked up to 20 percent, making it much more difficult for people to buy much of anything, but it did stem the flow of rising inflation. The U.S. also did take steps to pump more of its own oil, resulting in booming economies for oil-producing states.

Drastic government action will also be needed now. Something will have to be done about all of the foreclosures and bad mortgages which are currently weighing down the U.S. economy. Something will have to be done to address the problem of energy demand outweighing energy production. Until this is done, expect things to get worse before they get better.

There is a bright spot in all of this doom-and-gloom comparison between 2008 and 1979. Things eventually DID get better. When they did, it led to the huge economic expansion of the 1980s, when a lot of savvy investors made a lot of money. Those who invest wisely now may be in for some great returns down the road. The question is: when are we going to hit bottom, and when will the recovery begin?


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