Tough Times, these are. Tougher in some ways than those of the past. Yes, the thirties were awful, and in a pure economic sense, I cannot compare my situation to those my grandparents faced. I, for instance, have a stable job - as does my wife. But I am also aware, due to my personal contacts, that there are MANY people who are lacking. Lacking less in strict material terms, but far more spiritually.
Back then, there was at least hope - the prospect that some day, the factory would reopen, the smoke would start pouring out of the smokestacks, and they would be back to work. Here in 2010, only the most ignorant or naive think that that will ever ever happen. This time, the fires were doused - permanently. To be replaced by new fires far over the sea. When things (or IF things) get rolling economically, it will be the Chinese smokestacks that will again be showing the telltale smoke of economic prosperity. Here in the USA we will remain (barring unforseen circumstances) in the backwater of economic activity. A once proud nation of honest, hard working people trying to create an economy by doing each others' laundry. You don't need a PhD in Economics to see that that simply will not work. That PhD may in fact preclude you from seeing that simple reality. The whole gospel of the "modern, service-based" economy is now and in fact always was an illusion - pure bulls**t is more like it. Someone, somewhere ultimately has to produce a good of some kind or the whole system grinds to a halt.
In the world of physics -You CAN"T use an electric generator to run an electric motor which turns the axle of the generator. You need to have an outside power source somewhere to get the whole thing started and to keep it moving.
That power source in economic terms is PRODUCTION. Even in, as in an agricultural society, the product is just food and related products, there is still something being produced which was not there before. And ultimately, the producer of that product is the one who generates the economic (directly of indirectly) need for every other good or service. We are no longer a purely agricultural economy - we are an industrial one. An that is where the smokestacks come in to play. The smokestack is the classic symbol of economic production. That smoke means that someone inside is producing something. Which means that you can start to run an economy. Smoke = Work, No Smoke = No Work .. for ANYBODY!
Which leads to a (true) story I heard once of a family during the darkest depths of the depression. The father had made a good living for his family running an upscale clothing store in New York City in the 1920's, selling suits to the "investor class". When the crash of '29 more or less eliminated his customer base, he sold all of his assets, and he and his family boarded a steamer to Florida. Disembarking, he bought an old car, packed the family in, and began to work their way throughout the southeast - on the road, looking for work, like east coast "okies". For months they moved from city to city, looking for any place wit any sort of promise - to no avail. Then one afternoon, they saw the city of Winston Salem, NC - home of the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company - far off in the distance. And there was SMOKE coming out of the smokestacks. Seeing this, he turned to his wife and children and said "see that smoke!?! there's work here". A few weeks later, he had opened a small store, selling work clothes to the factory workers. And that is where they remained.
So bring on the Smokestacks, because I - we all - need what they meant then, and still mean today - there's WORK here.