The Greater Depression

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

The Greater Depression


Cognitive Dissonance



Once or twice a month Mrs. Cog and I pack up the car and head to Winston-Salem, North Carolina. For us poor mountain folk, that’s the big city and the best destination when our need for certain items calls for visiting particular stores.

Each trip down from the mountain elicits at least one observation about recent changes to the Matrix. For example, Mrs. Cog noticed the big box stores appear to be reducing their selection significantly. Once it was brought to my attention, it was suddenly obvious they were narrowing their inventory to those items with high margins and quick turnover. Essentially they are abandoning the rest of the low margin consumer market to the likes of, and so on.  

But what we stumbled upon as we hunted down a used book store near the heart of Winston-Salem was a bit surprising to say the least. It is common to find beggars and panhandlers working the stop light at busy intersections. Often they are soliciting the right hand turn lane or narrow island of grass separating the traffic flowing in opposite directions using the tool of their trade; a cardboard sign describing their particular plight in hand written black marker.

Two or three years ago the physical condition of the beggars clearly indicated distress, usually by way of their unkempt appearance and worldly possessions gathered on or around them as they solicited. These were ‘street’ people doing whatever they had to do in order to make it through another day. 

Sure, some were drug and alcohol dependent, others just trying to make a quick buck tugging on the heart strings of those passing by. And some were hard core street people making some money the only way they could considering they had no home, no transportation and no support system.

I’m not here to judge because at one point in my life I was that man on the corner begging for a meal and a night out of the cold. Long before finally turning my life around, I wallowed in the socioeconomic lowlands for a decade or more. I blame no one or thing but myself for my ordeal. But that doesn’t make my experience any more or less real. Nor does it invalidate what I am today, here and now. It is simply a part of the woven fabric that constitutes the whole me.

Over the last year or so the quality, if not also the quantity, of beggars has gone more upscale, with many of those on the side of the road appearing better dressed, washed and groomed. As well, their signage has morphed from a simple plea of “Please Help!” or “Homeless, Anything Will Help” to more involved explanations such as “Between Jobs, Need Some Help”, “Lost My Job, Then My Home” right down to the truly crestfallen “I Can’t Feed My Family. Please Help!”

In addition, the cast of characters has greatly expanded. It is somewhat common these days to find a man or woman holding a sign begging us to help their family. Off to their side on public display, usually ensconced under a shade tree or other such cover, is the actual family we presume needs our help.

That must have been one interesting family meeting.

While it’s one thing to scam the general public on your own, it’s another thing entirely to involve the spouse and children in the ruse in so obvious and blatant a manner. The ‘tell’ I look for to indicate sincerity is the level of obvious embarrassment etched on the faces of the children and spouse.

In fact, when I encountered one such situation a few months back, the look on the teen’s face instantly compelled me to roll down the window and pass out twenty bucks. She most definitely was not faking it and would rather have spent the day in hell than on that street corner. There was just no way she could hide her immense embarrassment and public humiliation.

Sadly what I saw was just another family on the express elevator down to poverty.

Mrs. Cog and I have assumed this change in the face of roadside solicitation was simply another indicator of the ongoing and escalating rape and pillage of the American middle class. Being the oldest of our union, I clearly remember a similar descent by members of society into monetary purgatory during the 70’s and early 80’s. Then again, the people motoring by back then were much more likely to help the fallen than people are today.

Our most recent encounter was simply more of the same. A Caucasian couple, presumably husband and wife, were working the side of the road. She was front and center while he was just off to the side in the shade looking forlorn and beaten. I don’t know which was more haunting, his face or hers. But I do remember seeing the same face staring back at me in black and white images from the Great Depression. The last Great Depression; not today’s Greater Depression.

You’ve seen those images. I know you have.


Face of the Fallen

Take a good look. Look at the eyes. See the body language. This is the face of the fallen.


She was clearly middle class, possibly even professional middle class, with freshly washed hair, presentable clean clothes and very light makeup. It was a breezy day and she was trying in vain to keep her long straight hair in place. Clearly her appearance mattered to her, her head held high as she unflinchingly faced the people she was soliciting. This wasn’t arrogance or false pride, but simple straight forward dignity on display.

Her sign said it all.

“We are both working, but not enough to pay bills. Please help.”

For just a moment, try putting yourself in their shoes. Can you imagine the conversation they must have had over dinner last night?


The wife, looking tired and depressed, to her husband. “Honey, we need to talk.”


“Honey, we need to talk…now.”

The husband, clearly irritated and angry, snaps back. “Yes, I know. What do you want to do?

Silence. Neither wants to be the first one to say it.

She finally tries the back way around. “Marcia at work says she knows a friend who did it last week and made more than a hundred dollars in a day.”

He shifts in his seat, but doesn’t respond. Encouraged, she pushes forward.

“She said be sure to bring food and plenty of water. And your dignity because it’s not your fault. (Pause) We’re good people, we’re working but we just don’t make enough money to pay all the bills.”

His head jerks up; he looks like he’s ready to cry. “I don’t want to do this. Isn’t there some other way we can try?


She fights back her tears, then bites her lip until she can regain her composure. Why does she always have to be the strong one?

Reaching across the table to hold his hand, almost in a whisper she pleads, “I don’t know what else to do. We’re gonna lose the apartment if we don’t pay them some of the back rent. I need your help with this honey. I can’t do it alone.”

His shoulders drop, and with them all resistance. “OK. When!

Wasting no time, she lays out her plan. “We’re both off tomorrow. The weather is supposed to be ok. Marcia said that stop light near the book store is a good place to try. It’s nearby, so we can walk.”


“Tomorrow’s Friday…payday. People will have money. (Pause) It’ll be OK.”


“Come on, help me make the sign.”


Sister daughter wife

This is my sister, my daughter, my wife, my 'self'.


This is the face of the fallen, of perfectly capable and productive people slowly squeezed out of the middle class through little to no fault of their own. While I don’t know the specific situation of our Jane and Joe, the trend is unmistakable. We’ve seen it germinate, then accelerate over the last few years.

What compels an entire family to stake out a busy street corner and beg strangers for help? Or induces a man and wife to take turns holding a cardboard sign by the side of the road, soliciting help from passersby? This isn’t exactly easy ‘work’ after all. Like I said, I’ve been there and know exactly what they are going through.

Many people avert their eyes and attempt not to see what is clearly evident to any who acknowledge the suffering on display. Some make a disapproving face, disgusted by what they see. A surprisingly large number flip them the bird or make some other obscene gesture. And a few will roll down the passenger side window and shout some degrading comment at the solicitor.

But every now and then someone stops and thrusts bills out the window, no time to talk or exchange much more than “God Bless You” because the light is now green and those waiting behind want to move along. Charity waits for no traffic light.

Then there are the very young children strapped into the back seat of passing cars and SUV’s. They don’t often see people standing on a street corner, at least not in places designed strictly for vehicle traffic with pedestrian traffic shunned and displaced.

These young children, innocent toddlers really, have no understanding what is unfolding before their eyes. Their life experience is narrow and mostly pleasant. In supermarkets and department stores, those who pass them smile or stop and engage in animated baby talk while conversing with the rents. So, unsurprisingly, several smile, giggle and wave at the human debris perched by the side of the road.

If witnessed as a third party disinterested observer, one can quickly surmise how far they have psychologically fallen by their reaction to these most basic displays of innocent humanity and abject cruelty. Those freshly minted to roadside petitioning will return the smile and even manage a small wave, their dignity and sense of self worth still mostly intact.

But the knife that cuts the deepest are the children just a few years older, after they have begun their social indoctrination and imperial conditioning via boob tube, video game, play ground and parental teachings. You know…the do as I say, not as I do parental teachings. Some of those kids can be downright nasty when they think the rents up front aren’t looking. Other kids don’t really care if they are.

The obscene and angry displays are at first shocking and humiliating, but then mostly ignored with stone faced resolve and resignation. Those further down the rabbit hole of despair and hopelessness have fully evolved their defensive shields and show little to no emotion regardless of what they see, hear or feel. It’s simply too exhausting to do otherwise.

Having been on both sides of the curb, when time permits I try to be observant of the scene in its entirety, of both the actors on stage and the actors in the audience. This is real life drama playing out on your street corner, regardless whether you are cognizant of it or not. One measure of a society is how well, or poorly, it treats its weakest members. It doesn’t get any more real than this.

In the most general of ways I fully understand the anger on both sides of the political aisle. I was born poor and, through drug and alcohol addiction, plumbed the depths of poverty and despair as a young adult. I pulled myself out of the abyss by my bootstraps, by sheer will and determination…or to be more accurate and honest, desperation. While I presently have little in the way of wealth and material goods compared to many in America, I regained my dignity and self-worth through hard work and perseverance.

So I fully understand how one quickly disappears into the shadows when one is poor in America, detritus quickly discarded and forgotten. I get it. But America is no longer that land of opportunity so widely advertised via various glowing screens, for we now have a permanent underclass deeply embedded within the socioeconomic system.

And their numbers are rapidly increasing.

The Rich

Not everyone suffered during the Great(er) Depression.


The rich keep on getting richer while the poor remain poor. Since the (global) financial apparatus is now maintained via various emergency life support measures, meaning those nearest the cash register gain the most, the financial looting will continue until morale improves or the body politic collapses. Or at least until the wide swath of middle class is finished being strip mined and enslaved.

Can you say ‘disappearing pension’ and ‘bailed in’?

What we are witnessing is better described as a crumble than a collapse. Only now they aren’t even bothering to dig out the bodies before bulldozing over the entire bloody mess. Those still breathing, walking wounded really, are the ones found panhandling on the side of the road, plumb out of luck and with rapidly dwindling options.

Mrs. Cog once observed while surveying the human wreckage that it’s a recession when it happens to someone else, a depression when it crashes into you or me. If I have no eyes to see and no compassion to feel, does that middle class panhandler camped on the corner really exist? The Matrix would have you believe not.

The cognitive conundrum is simple; the official numbers tell us one thing while our lying eyes another. Those running the show helpfully inform us all is well, the recovery nearly complete and consumer nirvana just around the corner. Just a few more Federal Reserve cash machine refills and flushes and all will be as right as rain.

Here’s an ugly truth, one that has ALWAYS been self evident for all to view with the courage to see. The intent of government statistics is not to tell you or me the truth, but to allow us to remain comfortable with the public lie. And while liberal and conservative alike bemoan the state of the state, hypocrisy reigns; don’t you dare touch my piece of the public pie.

Just because one slice comes from gainful employment via defense contracts or Wall Street alchemy while another is served a la mode via various liberal educational institutions or Silicon Valley magic means nothing. The real world definition of public hypocrisy is complaining about the quantity and quality while still firmly attached to the rapidly diminishing teat. Or in this case, Uncle Sam’s wealth redistribution and Ponzi enabling purse strings.

Make mine to go and hurry it up.

Anyone who sincerely thinks the root cause of all our problems lay way over there, on the other side of the divide, really should consider cutting back on the ideological bong hits. I strongly suggest it’s time to just say no, then attempt to clear our severely befuddled heads.

Whatever our globally heralded ‘constitutional’ political system might once have been, it clearly no longer is. It’s regressed to the point where it’s every man, woman and child for themselves. Confirmation of our decline springs from study after global study showing America’s solid hold on the lower middle of world rankings…and sinking fast.

Which is precisely why the USS Titanic, just like all Titanic’s in the past, will continue sailing straight forward until it wrecks on the rocks in plain sight. We all know the only class with reserved lifeboats is first class and above.

Anyone who still thinks a corrupt and hopelessly dysfunctional political system can be ‘fixed’ by changing a few figure heads at the top desperately wants, no needs, to believe this public fiction above all else. Thus the canned statistics continue to be pumped out.

“See, if we just tweak a little here and remove that over there, things are sure to get better.”

Mother and Child

Don't avert your eyes. This is the face of exhaustion and hopelessness.


The fiat spice flow is all that counts. And everyone at every level, including those dwelling at the bottom, intuitively knows this. If a dysfunctional system remains severely dysfunctional even though everyone claims they prefer otherwise, someone is lying somewhere. What is actually going on is everyone is lying, to themselves and to each other. And deep down everyone knows it.

This is the big lie.

Those who wish to manage us know one amazingly simple fact. If everyone is lying and no one wishes the lie to be exposed for fear they will miss out when the truth is told, then perpetuating, twisting and manipulating the lie is the path to total control. Massage the narrative and you control those enthralled and dependent upon the narrative.

The key to a really good lie is to mix in some truth. When we speak ‘truth’ to others, especially unspoken ‘truth’, it helps smooth over the lingering lies that remain tightly bound to what we identify as our ‘self’. This is how we intellectually support our own glaring hypocrisy.

Ramp up the moral certainty and righteous indignation and we’re off to the races, all doubt and introspection abandoned on the side of the beggar’s road in our quest to save the world from ourselves. Of course, since we are righteous and morally correct, we can never admit this to our self, let alone to anyone else. This deeply embedded and desperately hidden cognitive dissonance is the root of all the suffering we create and the source of our everlasting insanity.

Despite what liberals, conservatives, libertarians, socialists and communists say, this isn’t about saving the world. On a personal level, the only level that counts, this is about personal redemption from our big lie. And by hook or by crock we shall be redeemed.

Unfortunately there is no redemption, only absolution. And the absolution must come from within, from our own hand and only after a brutally honest self examination, then an inner cleansing is complete. Since this is precisely the route we do not wish to pursue, the inner tension continues to increase exponentially.

Once we crest the peak and start our descent, we cannot hold on tight enough nor do we have the courage to let go and change course. Therefore we drive our own ship of state directly onto the rocky shoals. The nation simply follows the individual in the same manner the body follows the direction of the head.

Try walking in a straight line while your head is turned all the way to one side or the other. It simply can’t be done. Inevitably you change course. On the flip side, try walking to the left or right while keeping your head fixed on a point on the horizon.

Neither you nor I can personally save those people begging on the side of the road. The socioeconomic system is failing because we are failing morally, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, as individuals, as a community and as a nation.

I needed to hit rock bottom before I became willing to do what really needed to be done, to look directly in the mirror and conduct a fearless moral inventory. Only then could I start to change everything connected to my own big lie so the healing could begin. We as individuals and as a nation need to follow the same prescription.

But ‘We the Nation’ are not willing to do this just yet. This is because we as individuals must take the first step forward, to admit we have no choice but to stand on the busy street corner and beg complete strangers for help. A little humble pie does wonders for a tormented soul.

I’ve been there before and I stand ready, willing and able to be there again.

What about you?



Cognitive Dissonance


The American Way is now, at best, mediocre.

American Way

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TeethVillage88s's picture

I always miss part of the background in our history. Maybe Recessions are not the most important, but I still find new insights and periods of recessions. (1873, 65 months long)

- Depression of 1807–1810, trade war with Briton, smuggling allowed
- Depression 1815–1821, financial panic
- Long Depression or Longest Depression 1873-1879, (65 Months)
- Depression Jan 1920 – July 1921
- Great Depression 1929-1939 (9 x 12 = 108 months (1929 stock crash, 1930 Severe drought, Dust Bowl, food riots)
- 2008-2017 Depression, (10 X 12 = 120 Months) (100 Million not participating in US workforce)
- 2007 only $30.9 Billion spent on Food Stamps in USA, today no recovery from $68 Billion USD spent
- 2017 total 42.7 Million US People on Food stamps (maybe shifting jobs is better term, job churn, compensation & benefits lost, savings, nest egg, wealth lost)(Spying Economy & Investment strong)(MIC Spending strong) (Not in workforce, working aged persons)

Government social benefits: To persons: Federal: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (TRP6001A027NBEA)
2015: 68.7 Billions of Dollars, Not Seasonally Adjusted Updated: Aug 5, 2016 (43 Million US People on Food Stamps FY2017)

Manipuflation's picture

"instantly compelled me to roll down the window and pass out twenty bucks."

You stopped me there CD.  I have done that numerous times.  It's not because you feel guilty but because you have empathy.  I understand because what if that was one of us?  Would anyone help me?  I really is refreshing to see something like that.  Money is not everything.  Some people might call us liberals but they would be incorrect.  You did it yourself and you didn't require government to do it.  You did it because sometimes you have to pick up your fellow man.  No questions or paperwork. 

D-Fens's picture

I'm a physician and for the past 8 years I've stayed on/off with my parents.  Not ideal but life is full of these choices.

That is correct - as a regular physician I cannot afford rent/mortgage.  Before you judge, let me clarify what I mean.  And no, it doesn't have to do with student loans, that's another issue.

If I actually pay rent or get a mortgage at a level that I find reasonable, I would be in a ghetto risking getting mugged or shot, and every day going to work would be an exercise in futility.  Yes, we all know it's that bad.

If I pay rent or get a mortgage in an area of town where I don't risk getting mugged or shot and things actually function - I would have no money left over for anything else.

But, but---everything is just fine, right?

TeethVillage88s's picture

Rents & Mortgages would have come down, I feel, if the Federal Reserve wasn't holding on to the biggest part of Mortgages and wasn't funding hedge funds and big 'rent seekers' investing in housing.

Well... and if we didn't have a system dependent on inflation of all asset classes... and no room for deflation or destruction of capital.

Well and we destroy the US Dollar and are poor stewards of the World Reserve Currency.

Well and we have few areas where we define 'public utilities' and regulate the profits of utilities... when health care could be treated and regulated as a utility... when banking could be treated and regulated as a utility where money & credit serves all people without usury to the sky.

What is capitalism? What kinds of capitalism do we have? What is predatory capitalism or vulture capitalism? what is State Capitalism, crony capitalism, inverted totalitarianism?

Martin Shrekli, hedge fund manager and bio-drug company owner... took drug price from $12.50 a pill to over $500 a pill. Is this 'bad capitalism'?

What about the cost of living in New York City? is that bad capitalism??

D-Fens's picture

Things are breaking down asymmetrically.

Where I'm at (DFW metro) I don't see any homeless.  Not one.  Of course, they may be in other parts, or perhaps ordinances have forced them out.

I know that Austin has many.

KansasCrude's picture

Seriously?  Try getting off the 35 at Inwood or around that area south to I-20.  Unless they have been forced to abandon their posts in the last 4-6 months there are plenty around there.  They hit you up at stop lights (close to liquor stores), gas stations if you stop for gas or even going into restaurants.   I don't even live in DFW and I see them when I visit.  That said haven't been in that part of town since very early this year and its possible they have run them out.  Don't notice them as frequently in Fort Worth but not there as often anymore. 

anticultist's picture


what I am sick of is there is never an historical explanation of the actual real causes, always the symptom,

pretty much how they run the disease care industry, never a cause just symptoms.


the cause is communism, was the purpose of the civil war to lend to both sides if the banking sides were divided by

rothchild and rockefeller I know the sentiment was formed in the british press fake news of the day, as the american 

consitutional property rights prosperity would threaten the monarchy global one world order if allowed to conitinue. Thus the 14th 

amendment is the crown jewel of the fake news civil war, the rothchild/rockefeller debt owners shall not be questioned. They couldnt

get their 14th amendment without their fake news war occuring first.


secondly and consequentially it is the debauched currency, the federal monopoly clinton statute hyperinflation ponzies in housing, tuition, medical.

is the first tennant of the marx communist manifesto the state ownership of the education and by the way you can have one state revolving door

textbook company. As a side note in the earliest days I remember all old old frail recycled textbooks, it was the johnson years that they had to 

replace the federal textbook every year to waste the most tax. Who alive knows these historic facts, again the purpose of federal corporatoin 

monopoly acheive by the fake news civil war. So we cant say from the fake news civil war to federali textbook corporation monoply, the day that the model T replaced

the horse and buggy but we know that each communist encroachment could not procede without the previous operation, with time intervals for consequtive

generations not to remember what and when it happened. Well if the communist corporation won he so called civil war, the history, the textbooks were since

written by the victors.

So then opposite debauched fake debt currency is consitutional property rights. So then opposite kensian fake debt currency debauched labor hyperinflation is austrian


So then the real factual reality causes are usually one or two incipient real causes planted long ago, from which all symptoms propogate.


aloha_snakbar's picture

Natura vero nihil hominibus brevitate vitae praestitit melius


P'Od_Accountant's picture

This is no different than any depression.  It is though, IN YOUR FACE!  This economic system is broken and needs to be replaced.

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

It IS in the process of being replaced.

Odd, but I don't remember getting the notice of change in the mail.

Casey Stengel's picture

Cog, Mrs. Stengel and I have seen the same scene down in Winston Salem. When I think of all the corruption involved with the demise of the WS area I shudder. I saw similar scenes in Greece, while they deal with 25-29 % unemployment. It doesn't have to be this way.

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

Agreed. It doesn't have to be this way. And yet it is.

People seem to have abandoned their humanity.

Lumberjack's picture

Well done Cog and thanks for bringing the humanity side of this very awful and sad situation. Seeing too much if this shit now as we all are sliding into the same sad situation brought upon us by....

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

Quite frankly I am a bit tired of article after article of anger, venom, fear porn and finger pointing. This article is my contribution showing the human side of the coming Greater Depression.

Heroic Couplet's picture

What is Trump doing about it? one of the factories he made a speech from, boasting about bringing US jobs back, is now closing down.

truthalwayswinsout's picture

What you just read is not sad in the least part. What is sad is that to fix the issue and give everyone a very real safety net costs about 1/10th of what is being spent today.

The gate keepers on the big rip off are our politicians and their cronies. They cannot run any type of government program without skimming 50% off the top. By the time you get done with the crooks who are scamming the system because the people managing it don't care, you get 90 cents on every dollar being wasted with the other 10 cents not be delivered to people who need help.

It can be fixed literally overnight and implemented in 30-60 days but you first have to line up about 5000 of the political elite and shoot them.

CRM114's picture


Just vote them out.

The same people who won't vote them out are, by and large, the ones now working the stoplights for change.

Self-inflicted injury.

idontcare's picture

Vote them out and replace them with the other guy who is really the same guy with a different hair color?  Voting, most of the time, is pure BS.  Government needs to be culled on all levels once and for all, after which, people can start thriving again.

CRM114's picture

Well, that would be part of my point. You are quite right that picking the other party's politician makes no real difference. People have to be prepared to stand as, and vote for, independents.

Razor_Edge's picture

When people fear the Government, you have tyranny. When the Government fears the people, you have liberty. There's your answer.

factorypreset's picture

Who is going vote them out?  

CRM114's picture

Excellent piece Cog, and particularly well written.

Some rhetorical questions:

Who did these people on the streets vote for?

Who are many of them still voting for?

Are these the people who thought it was cool to skip math class, and go smoking instead of turning up for economics?


Because these are the people, in my experience, who have basically been bloody lazy for a very long time about politics, and economics and geopolitics, and the consequences of that are that the laziest, most corrupt charlatans are now in power. Worldwide.

Democracy is hard work. It is difficult work. My grandparents used to sit round the kitchen table arguing it, and p!ssing each other off, and then it cost them time in going to town halls, and writing letters.

In the 70's, I remember going on a University rent strike. The vast majority of us did. After 3 months of quite nasty behaviour, the Uni caved in because of cashflow problems, as we had calculated they would. I don't see that level of actions from millennials. A few go on violent protests, but I don't see concerted, well-considered, moral ACTION.

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

When ideological blindness combines with lack of critical thinking skills, this is what you get.

It is everywhere in society now, so why would the so-called 'protestors' be any different.

CRM114's picture

Thank you for the response.

I think it starts round the kitchen table. My grandparents weren't taught critical thinking. None of them went to University. They were taught the 3 R's and left school at 14 to start work. The same applies to most people's grandparents  (that generation). From what I've been told and remember, this meant that it did take them a long time to wrestle with any issue, and of course they had to wrestle with each other's ideological blindness too, and this used to cause a lot of friction sometimes, but they were prepared to do this, and still prepared to accept each other despite some big differences of opinion. My cousin and I still wrestle - he's a staunch socialist and I'm right of center, but we can still socialise at the end of a discussion, even though our views on some things are further apart than the groups in some of the recent left/right clashes. Eventually, I think ideological blindness gets broken down by persistant questioning, which is why the media avoid that now, generally. The politicians certainly don't want to be persistently questioned. Indeed, saying things which might annoy others is in some cases now literally becoming a crime.

ByTheCross's picture

500,000 BC Homo Sapiens arrives - hunts & gathers for a very, very long time, finding flint tools unsurpassable

10,000 BC Agriculture

100 AD Paper

1400 AD Printing

1800 AD Industrialisation

2000 AD Computers


There is a word for 'greater depression'. It is 'melancholia'.

Centerist's picture

"But ‘We the Nation’ are not willing to do this just yet. This is because we as individuals must take the first step forward, to admit we have no choice but to stand on the busy street corner and beg complete strangers for help. A little humble pie does wonders for a tormented soul."

As long as our current welfare system enables people to live with food, shelter, transportation and a smart phone with Internet access, they won't feel an urge to eat humble pie.  They'll just resent those who have more even if those others worked for the extra things that they have.  They'll chalk it up to every self-victimizing excuse that the dividers can feed them.

There is a difference between the slackers, alcoholics and potheads who populate the public spaces and those who suffer from mental problems or the unfortunates that the author writes about.

The unfortunates who the author writes about--these fallen middle-class people--have gone to street corners because they aren't looking to become permanent recipients of the dole.  They appear to view their circumstances as temporary challenges to be overcome with temporary measures.  And I'll bet that the cast majority of them pull through the rough patches, stronger for having endured them.  But this is because they had dignity and a sense of legitimate pride before they fell.  This is what makes them rise again.

For the rest of the lower end of the strata who live on the dole, they won't eat the humble pie.  They are too busy gorging themselves on the arrogant, resentful pie.  So long as that tastier dish is available, we as a nation won't make the changes needed to fix our situation.  The status quo, lamentable as it is, is too comfortable for too many.

Rene-Paul's picture

      Dorthea Lange shot most of the pictures that we were taught to be of the dust bowl years and the Great Depression. There was motive behind those pictures and yes many were scripted.

      We do need to put a more current face on Dorthea Lange type photos.

     Poverty will all ways exist but it seems to have a strange twist today. A lot of "family" decline.There are those who are truely down and out and those that are mentally challenged and abused along with those who have decided to live that way. Try and help those you can and accept that you will be ripped off some of the time.

    I used to give my bounty to the local food bank, 1 hour round trip, then they got snotty.

Thanks Mr. & Mrs. Cog.




Endgame Napoleon's picture

Amid an absolute ton of single adults panhandling, I have seen precisely one, or really two, families doing what the writer described. In the case of a family of 5, there was a teenage daughter with the same look of distress.

While I rarely see anyone giving even $1 to the single, childless adults, in both cases, people helped the families, even though families are eligible for layers of public assistance, whereas the single, childless people are eligible for almost zero public assistance.

Granted, when single-earner households with kids lose jobs, there is a lag time before their income registers as low enough to qualify for [hundreds] in free monthly food ($432/month for the 3 kids [alone] back during the Bush Administration when I worked at DHS), in addition to the housing assistance they qualify for after a 2-year waiting period.

Parents are required to submit 8 paychecks stubs, so if a parent in a single-earner household recently lost a job, s/he would have to wait a month. It could be a couple, as long as sex led to reproduction with only one working, ensuring they did not go over income limits. However, of they had no children, they would get the tiny amount in food assistance for only 3 months. Three years later, they could apply again for $144/month in food assistance only.

When working at the Department of Human Services, you hardly ever (never really) see couples. It is nearly all single moms and a few homeless people who are usually childless, single people.

The single applicants without children comprised a small minority of recipients and, in my state, got $144/month in free food [only] for 3 months every 3 years. Families often walked out of there with $600/month in [just] food stamps, not counting all the other layers of assistance for people with kids. The typical amount is about $450 in EBT [alone] for a mom with kids.

Congress recently kicked the homeless, single, childless people and the non-custodial parents off of food stamps, calling that welfare reform.

Low-income, custodial parents with children also get child tax credits between $3,337--$6,269. This is a form of lump-sum cash assistance since they do not pay income tax. Single, childless people with low incomes get tax returns of $300 or less.

Some single parents get monthly cash assistance in the same amount per child as the free food. A few get energy assistance. The income limits are slightly lower for the cash assistance, not much though, and the births must be timed right. They also ask them to reveal the father(s)' name(s) for that type of assistance so that DHS can chase down an often equally low-income man who qualifies for almost no welfare. This is done to compel him to repay the state for the welfare dollars given to the mother of his children.

Government officials say they give the money to the children, but children do not spend it, explaining some of the interesting places EBT funds have been traced to, like tattoo parlors and out-of-town hotels.

In the small period of time when I saw the family of 5 panhandling, an affluent, elderly woman walked up to them with several large bags of fast food, although the teenager did not appear relieved at all.

In another instance, someone helped a woman and her daughter who were frequently panhandling get housing assistance. In that case, I happen to know they were better off than most single, childless people in that situation, albeit temporarily without a home.

Although I, too, sympathized with the embarrassed teenager, since I worked at the Department of Human Services, I am very skeptical of claims that people with children are suffering so much.

There is an absolute avalanche of public assistance available to those who reproduce. Those with children are the only ones who qualify for anything but a negligible amount of welfare.

Welfare moms also have their wages and are only required to work 20 hours per week to receive the assistance, including for themselves, upping the amount. The much ballyhooed work requirement for welfare is, again, 20 hours per week.

This combination of a work requirement and welfare for those who reproduce drives wages down for adults who do not qualify for layers of welfare and taxfare.

It is a Bigly component of the crappy, part-time, low-wage economy that has developed since Bill Clinton "reformed" welfare.

Many employers prefer to hire moms part-time and at low wage levels, knowing they get enough public assistance to make up the difference between living expenses and low pay. This is why our biggest, big-box employer used to hold classes to teach single moms how to get welfare until they were challenged in court.

how_this_stuff_works's picture

"Dorthea Lange shot most of the pictures that we were taught to be of the dust bowl years and the Great Depression. There was motive behind those pictures and yes many were scripted."

My grandparents raised two daughters during the Great Depression. My mom related that they went to sleep and awoke the next morning to learn the bank doors had been padlocked, never to reopen. There simply was no work. As a high school graduate she walked nearly 5 miles every day to the nearest "city" to look for work. Every day. My grandfather could not find work and they lived off the chickens he raised and the canning my grandmother did from the garden. She sewed and remade clothes my great aunt sent from Pittsburgh, where she and her husband had "good" jobs. Of course, there were no social welfare systems back then. I remember my aunt telling me she believed her severe osteoporosis, which left her bent over at nearly a 90 degree angle, resulted from my grandparents being unable to afford milk during the girls' formative years.

You think another depression will be bad? No one has a clue. What will happen when those who are now in the "giving" category become panhandlers themselves?

VWAndy's picture

 Those gals in pict 3? Think any of them is any more connected to reality of the life most at that time lived? Oh hell no.

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

Money can't make you happy. But it can sure kill the pain.

Not that I would know about that. Even when I had some money, it wasn't much at all.

peippe's picture

the automatic gates are the litmus test around here.....

the service personnel come out every 5-7 weeks to true them up, 

making sure  they close & are squared to one another after every cycle.

  These gates are now being left propped open, service calls are $$$.

Happened about nine years ago, happening now too. Same for sale 

signs at the same semi-gated addresses. It approaches.

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

Mrs. Cog and I are seeing signs of decay everywhere. Little things here and there.

One of the reasons we went with a generator, solar and the Simple Pump (several layers of redundancy) is because we fully expect the utility company to cut way back on maintenance. Power outages will become more frequent.

SofaPapa's picture

Another good piece, CD.

There are both benign and less benign reasons for the state our society is in.  I'm fully aware of the less benign reasons (fraud, arrogance, sociopathy, etc), but for the moment, this piece brings to mind that we need to examine the benign reasons for our condition.

We are a species that so easily delude ourselves. Every day, each of us paints a picture of ourself that we want to believe rather than what is objectively true.  Most of the time, this goes unnoticed, unless the disconnect between the two is overly great, at which point a reckoning comes due.

As a society as well, we have a major and fundamental delusion to address, and most of us share this delusion.  One delusion shared by billions of people around the world. It may never be resolved.  But if not, I fear our species will end ourselves before seeing improvement.

We are deluded that large organizations - be those governments, corporations, or "charitable causes" - offer the solutions to our societal ills.  I notice this particularly strongly in politics.  When politicians talk about "creating jobs", they actually believe what they are saying.  And they usually make this kind of speech at a location like an Amazon distribution center or a car factory.  But the statistics are clear - and we all intuitively know - that real industry starts with individuals with an idea, an idea that then grows bigger.  If you throw money (=energy, labor, and attention) at an "idea" which matured years before, there is no more growth to be had.  The effort is wasted.  But we look at these big organizations, and because they represent "success", we are just sure that we should throw more resources at "successful ideas".

Until we reverse this simple misunderstanding (putting resources into large enterprise creates stagnation), even when people try to do "the right thing", we are doing it wrong.

Faith in individual industry, charity, generosity, and creativity.  Deep distrust of large bureaucratic systems (in all areas, private and public).  Until these values become the signature of our mental state, our species will continue to accelerate into the ditch we all so clearly see coming.

DjangoCat's picture

In my gut, I know you are right.  I have known this for years and translated that knowing into a libertarian/anarchist mindset.  The problem with this is the lack of empathy in the system, the singular selfishness involved.  We are a social species, family and tribally oriented.  Our BIG organisations are ruining the sense of togetherness we need to survive.

How we will come out of this, I do not know.  I sense that there will be a great culling.  I am getting old, but I have hope for my children, some of whom are very independent and resourceful.  This is what it will take, as well as a reintegration into much smaller communities. 

GreatUncle's picture

Good article ... sums up the world in so many ways.

Everybody wants to do better ...

Don't think that is possible now when a globalist / elite has control of the money supply and stands with a boot on your head.

They are the ones saying what money is in the economy for us lot to chase after.

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

I have great faith "We the People" will throw off our self imposed shackles.

Just not too sure it will be during my lifetime.

decentralisedscrutinizer's picture


Why waste time on this alligator when the swamp’s most critical economic and political problems revolve around the hegemony of a global corporate cartel, which is headquartered in the US because this is where their dominant military force resides. The US Constitution is therefore the “kingpin” of an all-inclusive global financial empire. These fictitious entities now own the USA and command its military infrastructure by virtue of the Federal Reserve Corporation, regulatory capture, MSM propaganda, and congressional lobbying.


The Founders had to fight a bloody Revolutionary War to win our right to incorporate as a nation – the USA. But then, for whatever reason, our Founders granted the greediest businessmen among them unrestricted corporate charters with enough potential capital & power to compete with the individual states, smaller sovereign nations, and eventually to buy out the USA itself. The only way The People can regain our sovereignty as a constitutional republic now is to severely curtail the privileges of any corporation doing business here. To remain sovereign we have to stop granting corporate charters to just any “suit” that comes along without fulfilling a defined social value in return. The "Divine Right Of Kings” should not apply to fictitious entities just because they are “Too Big To Fail”. We can't afford to privatize our Treasury to transnational banks anymore. Government must be held responsible only to the electorate, not fictitious entities; and banks must be held responsible to the government if we are ever to restore sanity, much less prosperity, to the world.


It was a loophole in our Constitution that allowed corporate charters to be so easily obtained that a swamp of corruption inevitably flooded our entire economic system. It is a swamp that can't be drained at this point because the Constitution doesn’t provide a drain. This 28th amendment is intended to install that drain so Congress can pull the plug ASAP. As a matter of political practicality we must rely on the Article 5 option to do this, for which the electorate will need overwhelming consensus beforehand. Seriously; an Article 5 Constitutional Convention is rapidly becoming our only sensible option.


This is what I think it will take to save the world; and nobody gets hurt:


28th Amendment:


Corporations are not persons in any sense of the word and shall be granted only those rights and privileges that Congress deems necessary for the well-being of the People. Congress shall provide legislation defining the terms and conditions of corporate charters according to their purpose; which shall include, but are not limited to:


1, prohibitions against any corporation; a, owning another corporation; b, becoming economically indispensable or monopolistic; or c, otherwise distorting the general economy;


2, prohibitions against any form of interference in the affairs of; a, government, b, education, c, news media; or d, healthcare, and


3, provisions for; a, the auditing of standardized, current, and transparent account books; b, the establishment of state and municipal banking; and c, civil and criminal penalties to be suffered by corporate executives for violation of the terms of a corporate charter.


PleasedToMeatYou's picture


Copies and pastes here at ZH the verbose rants that he writes to himself. 

...sorta like Bruce Wilds, but without his own blog.

RagaMuffin's picture

The pictures that Cog used are the classics. Therein lies the rub. Eventhough they were down and out at the time the photo was taken, they were not yet trapped by the impact of malnourishment.  The gaunt and haggared can be found from Raleigh, NC  to Springfield MO. The enduring picture of the USA, particularly since 07-08, that was etched in my mind were two panhandlers, squaring up for a fight over a spot at the intersection of rte 44 and Glenstone ave and then the light changed............

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

When I was panhandling I got throw off a particularly good street corner by two other bums. I was the newbie and that particular corner was reserved for the vets. They had been working it for years and even had certain regulars who gave them money at least once a week.

Even at the bottom there is a hierarchy to respect.

RagaMuffin's picture

A book that you might find interesting because it wanders across themes that you have mentioned and experienced, but in an entirely different context was "King Rat" by James Clavell . As to reaching bottom in order to rebuild. Martin Armstrong concluded( as I interpret it) that societies have to "crash and burn" in order to recognize/realize their failures in order to have a chance to rebuild more sustainably - just the nature of human nature. To punctuate that ask this question to any and all across the political spectrum. What national political evolution or development do you think was good? Then ask was it preceded by suffering hardship and violence. 

ebear's picture

A good article, but you missed a key point.  I can't speak for SC, but out here on the west coast a significant number of the homeless are suffering from mental illness of one form or another.  Some of it may be the end result of drug abuse, but most of it is not self-inflicted.  These are simply people who have nowhere to go for treatment because the state has cut back or entirely eliminated in-patient services.

I hung out with one of those guys back in the 70's when, as a young kid, I spent about a year on the road, hitchhiking around.  His name was Al.  He was in his late 40's and knew he was ill - had been for some time.  At one point he'd been married, had a family, a job, a life.  Then it all fell apart. 

He told me that when he felt he couldn't manage anymore he'd check himself in to the clinic.  The doctor would talk to him - give him some medication that probably helped, he'd be fed, cleaned up, and back on the street in a week or two, well rested and ready to face another round of whatever life sent his way - on that particular occasion, me.

He was a nice guy who never asked for anything but my company, and who taught me some valuable street skills.  Sunday rolled around and he wanted to go to church.  It wasn't my thing, but I went along because he was a friend.  I don't know to this day if it was a strategy or an actual need he felt, but on the way out after services, this elderly lady scurried up to me and put a 20 in my hand, then scurried off before I could even react.  Al didn't see that, but maybe he knew it might happen.  We both looked pretty bad, so perhaps it was inevitable?

Anyway, on the street you share, so we ate well that day and the next.  A 20 went much further back then.

All this is to say that there are decent people out there that, through no fault of their own, have fallen on hard times.  My sense of it is that today, a much larger percentage of that population are mentally ill and would definitely benefit from the kind of assistance that Al relied on to keep it together.

Having said all that, having tried to put a human face on the homeless and forgotten, I feel a caution is in order.  There's a lot of villians out there.  They are easy to spot if you live at their level, but to the average joe, not so much.  So, by all means offer help, but at the same time keep your guard up.  It's a rough world when you have nothing, and not everyone who's poverty stricken can retain their ethics and compassion the way Al could.

DjangoCat's picture

Depression is a big part of mental illness, and can be caused by hopelessness, loss of job, home and car.  The way we live is wholely dependent upon having the $$, so without them, what?

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

I agree the mentally ill encompass a great deal of the homeless. No disagreement here on that point.

The point of the article, however, was the appearance of the middle class begging in the streets.

ebear's picture

Well, as is customary on ZH I veered off-topic, but there's a further point here I'd like to raise.

How many of these people are truly middle class?  What IS the definition?   For example, I never regarded myself as middle class.  Up until I started trading I worked in the industrial world, either on ships or driving trucks, and yet I could still afford to buy a (reasonable) home, own a decent used car, and have something left over at the end of the month.  I never took on major debt, so if I lost a job, it wasn't the end of the road.  I always had enough to make it through a year without work, which is far more than I ever needed. 

Thing is, today's "middle class" seems to be doing it all on debt to the point where disaster looms the minute one loses one's job.   To me, that seems more characteristic of the working class trying to attain a certain lifestyle that doesn't match their marketable skills.  Some of the guys I worked with were perfect examples.  They had the monster truck, the boat, the camper, the motorcycle, basically everything but a happy marriage, and when that went south, they were working every minute they could just to make ends meet.

Without a true accounting of how far these people pushed their luck, it's hard to muster much sympathy.  Or conversely, maybe who you're calling "middle class" are really "working class" and you've just misidentified them?  I have more sympathy for those folks, providing they avoided the debt trap so many seem to fall into.  Middle class though?  Seems to me that definition should include enough resources to weather a heavy storm.  If not, then they're just working class living beyond their means.

FreedomWriter's picture

Thanks for sharing that. Only people have been there can truly understand how grinding and demoralizing it is to live on the edge.

It is very hard to believe that so many must do without in the richest country in the world. That might change when people get there priorities right. Which starts right at home.

It would help if we could stop making it so difficult for people to start a business, hire someone or make a living. When bureaucrats and other useless eaters have to panhandle for a while, they may understand why people hate them so much.

Maybe we could starting invest the nation's precious wealth into physical things that people actually need instead of paper riches, endless wars and virtual wet dreams? Can we even do that anymore? I sure hope so, for my kids sake if nothing else.

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

A primary symptom of late stage Empire is protecting those who brought you to the dance. Must keep the fiat train moving on down the line making payments along the way.

Thus the rich and powerful MUST be protected from the small business riff raff.

otschelnik's picture

The social symptoms are the same but the composition of the crowd is different in Portland Oregon.  There are masses of people sleeping in the parks and squares of central Portland.  Most of them are young men, able bodied, wrapped in dirty blankets sleeping on the park benches, or if awake extending their hand, panhandling.  Each has his own story I expect, though frankly never asked them. Are beyond redemption? 

We need is more jobs and economic protectionsim for the small stores and the auto mechanics, at least for a time until we stop the decay.