Thursday, February 05, 2009

Remembering How To Cope:

Trudging around snowy London, it was impossible to escape another thought: Surely what's true of the weather is also true of other kinds of unexpected changes. For example, people who no longer remember slow economic growth might not cope at all well with a severe recession. In London, it hasn't snowed much for 18 years, so no one owns a shovel—and if they do, they don't know how to use it. In the United States, the economy hasn't really collapsed since 1929, so no one knows how to save string and tinfoil—and if they did, they wouldn't know what to do with them. A whole set of skills, from cooking with leftovers to recycling bottles (not because it's green, but because it's cheap), has been lost during two generations of prosperity, in much the same way as the British have forgotten how to drive their cars through patches of slush. The last time I went to have some shoes re-soled in Washington, the cobbler told me he wasn't going to be in business much longer, so low had the demand for his services shrunk. Does anyone know how to repair toasters anymore? What about TV sets?