The fashion for calling our current economic climate a “second Great Depression” or the second Great Depression or, following the DotComish naming of community organizer/grizzly bear wrestler John Robb, D2, is more evidence of the fundamental lameness of American LegacyThink™.
The vacuum of imagination revealed in American naming of current events is staggering. Take the initial name of this crisis: “global financial crisis”. That name is little more than lexicographic inertia left over from the “global” naming fad of the 1990s: “globalization”, “global war on terror”, “global climate change”, “global village”, and other such rubbish. Compare this to the vivid nineteenth century genius for retrospective naming of historical episodes revealed in names like the “Hundred Years War“, “Pilgrimage of Grace“, or “Rough Wooing“.
Even the most commonly advanced alternative to “global financial crisis” is lame: “great recession”. Recession is a gray word; it’s more accounting identity than description. It’s no more exciting than its gray dawn. Imagine: somewhere deep in the bowels of the sinister National Bureau of Economic Research, an econometrician checks off a few boxes in a spreadsheet and finds with barely concealed glee that gross domestic product has declined for two consecutive quarters.
This glee is why econometricians have been a barely tolerated and often persecuted minority of the population throughout history.
If we insist on retelling history as a series of sequels, and that is the habit of this decadent age, then we are currently living through the third Great Depression. The first episode of economic contraction called the Great Depression by its contemporaries was the period of economic contraction from the Panic of 1873 to c.1896. Some historians, if they believe in it, now call this period the “Long Depression” to distance it from its more vivid sequels. This follows the logic used to name Batman Returns, Batman Begins, and The Dark Knight. However, the Long Depression is too vague. We should call this period Great Depression I or D1.
D2 is easy: Great Depression II was the definitive macroeconomic collapse, lasting from 1929 to c. 1944. This would leave the current economic unravelling we’re living through Great Depression III or D3.
History without hip catchy abbreviations may be cursed to decay into a dreary march of endless retreads. Unconscious human masochism may have made us like D2 so much that we decided to make a sequel. Human experience may be cursed to occur first as tragedy, second as farce, and third as a whimper.