“O, woe is me, to have seen what I have seen, see what I see!” This quote from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet has particular relevance today as the prolonged uncertainty of the world’s financial markets has induced a kind of “end of the world” mentality. Many believe they are shouldering difficulties unprecedented in modern history. Yet, without discounting the anxiety generated by the Great Recession and the current Eurozone crisis, a look back on the 20th century puts these seemingly insurmountable current events in perspective.
Reflect on some of the experiences of our grandparents and parents. Nearly 100 years ago, Europe was embroiled in World War I and dealing with widespread rationing, labor shortages, and massive government borrowing. Just over a decade later, the Great Depression cut a swath through the global economy. Yet, these economic challeneges were overcome even though a century ago in the United States the average life expectancy for men was 47 years, only 8 percent of homes had a telephone, and there were only 8,000 cars and only 144 miles of paved roads.
Certainly, the current financial crisis tops off a decade of significant world tragedies — among them, the attacks of 9/11, the 2004 Asian tsunami, and the 2011 Japanese earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis. Yet, remember that during World War II, more than 50 million died, most of Europe’s infrastructure was destroyed, millions of people were homeless, and rationing was prevalent.
As the US and Europe continue to grapple with tough economic conditions, we need to keep in mind that much of the developing world is experiencing rising levels of education, health, and employment. All that — coupled with the fortitude and resourcefulness that enabled our ancestors to overcome economic difficulties — bodes well for a stronger global economy.