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Page last updated at 09:30 GMT, Friday, 3 July 2009 10:30 UK

Adam Shaw

"Ducky Lucky the sky is falling in" was a refrain from my childhood which I haven't heard in a while. But there it was on the front page of the Telegraph this week, although phased in the more adult way of: "Economy shrinks at 1930s rates". The exact words may have changed but in essence, this was the same story read to me all those decades ago.

In the 1930s so many people were homeless that shanty towns were built in the US called Hoovervilles. People were so poor they couldn't afford to buy food. There was mass unemployment and poverty.

Despite the parallels being drawn between now and then, the truth is that we are over five times richer now than we were in the 1930s. That is according to research done in the US by Saint John's and Miami University. Their research claims that real per capita income in 1931 in the US was $5,960. By 2008 that figure had reached $38,262.

Hope above fear?

Franklin D Roosevelt
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself
Franklin D Roosevelt

Of course it is no comfort at all to someone who has lost their job to know that even in recession we are doing better than most people did in the times of previous booms. Our points of comparison are much closer than that.

We compare ourselves to those around us and what life was like last year, not 80 years ago.

There is a danger in telling anyone: "You never had it so good," as Harold Macmillan once told an unbelieving British public. But trying to get a proper historical perspective on how our troubles compare with those of our grandfathers, is worth a moment's reflection.

At the time of that 1930s recession and talking of the economic problems facing the country, Franklin D Roosevelt said: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

Perhaps he should have said: "The only thing we can hope for is hope itself."

But then, as now, it is fear and worry which is the dominating emotion. If similarities with the 1930s are being made, let us remember one other less quoted speech of the period.

John D Rockefeller said: "These are days when many are discouraged. In the 93 years of my life, depressions have come and gone. Prosperity has always returned and will again."




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