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The need to do more with less

Testing times: a food line pictured during the Great Depression

The scheduled article for today was superseded by the concerning survey results conducted by Narrative Research Bermuda online from 382 adults featured on August 18 in The Royal Gazette.

The report noted the following:

• 56 per cent are spending less, going without basics

• 54 per cent worry they will not have sufficient savings to retire

• 40 per cent buying locally

• 28 per cent buying in bulk

• 20 per cent growing their own food

• 18 per cent buying second hand or trading with

There is only so much one can do to economise when less cash enters a household while more cash goes out. Talk of budgeting and savings takes on an almost comedic tone-deaf ring.

There is no need to budget when there is no cash to manage.

And as contingency savings dwindle, while wages remain stagnant, job openings are non-existent, or the level of threshold experience is beyond individual job skills, or as the individuals are retired on fixed incomes, the ability to manage a basic standard of living diminishes.

Anything unnecessary in costs that can be put off, to the point where even choices in necessities become those of food or rent, medicine or food, etc. Health begins to erode, both mentally and physically.

Confidence in the future begins to diminish, affecting the psyche even further.

Our island community has been hit relentlessly by unanticipated inside and outside economic and health circumstances beyond any one’s financial planning.

We aren’t alone.

Daily reports are full of the inflationary impacts on neighbouring communities on the Great North Atlantic Pond. These countries are significantly larger, with far more natural and economic resources than our dot in the ocean.

Such comparisons don’t make the unending challenge of making ends meet on island any easier. In fact, there may be the opposite effect, one of frustration and despair that individual plans for a successful life were never in one’s control.

Thoughts of migration, seeking a better future elsewhere, begin to evolve into clarification.

This is nothing new either – from the first documented discoveries of human life, tribes, and communities moved on when sources of food and sustenance became scarce.

What was experienced in the past?

The Great Depression of 1930-1934 in the United States, the aftermath of the Second World War on the United Kingdom, for instance, are studied ad infinitum for lessons on regrowing economies.

The US depression was caused by a number of factors: the 1929 stock market crash led to a severe decline in spending, thereby creating less confidence in the economy overall; that then led to a decline in employment, money supplies reduced, banks failed, while the US Federal Reserve raised interest rates tightening money supply even further.

The uncontrolled climate risk then was as real as today, the massive Dust Bowl phenomenon caused by a severe drought, overcultivation of the land and accompanying dust storms macerated the Great Plains, the food basket of the United States. Millions of desperate people left for “greener pastures” in the West.

Further, the US economic situation impacted other economies. The UK and Australia were left vulnerable, relative to trade and international lending, as few countries operated in complete economic isolation.

US families during the depression reflected the phrase: “Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without.”

A new level of frugality emerged: kitchen gardens, potluck suppers in shared subsistence, food stretcher menus of casseroles, mac ‘n’ cheese, chilli, soup, and chipped beef on toast – all still familiar budget crunchers (except the beef, not seen so much these days).

Entertainment was contained at home: cards, board games, radio.

The family structure also experienced severe challenges. Women went to work; men were psychologically affected when unable to find jobs; marriages crumbled, but because divorce was unaffordable, lives together became a miserable experience.

These verbal snapshots, though, do not begin to express the full deprivation of millions of households, turned into migrant worker families forced to find work at any price, living in makeshift shelters, riding the rails, economically bereft in a quest to support their multiple children in extended families, all recorded for posterity by the US Farm Security Administration (FSA) in documentaries and more than 80,000 photos, such as the famous Dust Bowl Migrant Mother photograph.

In the UK, during the Second World War and its aftermath, along with severe food shortages, rationing, inability to replace shoes, clothing and the like, the commitment to “food security” in Dig for Victory home gardens in any space available was extraordinary. Growing one’s own food supplements for survival eventually encompassed more than 10,000 miles of land brought into production. A message from the Government noted that “overconsumption and waste were considered selfish and unpatriotic”, while rationing actually saw people’s health improve.

A 2001 production called the 1940s House, a British historical re-enactment reality TV series, acutely demonstrated the challenges of surviving through Second World War assaults, as the UK Hymers family volunteered to spend nine weeks experiencing 1940s wartime England, including building an air-raid shelter, blackouts, primitive plumbing, heating, and severe food rationing.

The entire series is available free on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PWZQKbHOuKk)

The fact is that economies throughout history have experienced the ebb and flow of economic successes, depressions and failures, some completely unanticipated such as natural disasters and war, others through human intervention and unintentional, deliberate, or misaligned management.

Regardless of the cause, governments and central banks the world over throughout modern history, are implicitly expected to get on with the management of the ebb and flow of community economics.

The great US Depression wound down when the Fed lowered the interest rate, flooded the market with cheap money, and the US Government launched massive reconstruction projects.

The UK Government launched similar programmes along with the first innovative National Health Plan.

So, what more can be done, locally?

Readers, I’m just a humble writer, not an economist. I can only offer thoughts and observations on lessons learnt, experiences evolved, and to offer my sincere sympathy for those whose financial lives are upended.


Britannica: The Great Depression, Sources of Recovery

Rapid Transition Alliance: When everything changed: the US & UK economies in World War II

The 1940s House: Wikipedia and YouTube

Martha Harris Myron is a native Bermuda islander with US connections, a former qualified international financial planner, and author of the Dawn of New Beginnings: Bermuda’s First Financial Literacy Primer, 298p, Amazon books. The Bermy Island Finance Blog launching soon – as technical glitches are sorted.

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Published August 20, 2022 at 7:51 am (Updated August 22, 2022 at 7:48 am)

The need to do more with less

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