Five Lessons from History

The most important lessons from history are the takeaways that are so broad they can apply to other fields, other eras, and other people. That’s where lessons have leverage and are most likely to apply to your own life.

But those things take some digging to find, often sitting layers below the main story.

The Great Depression began with a stock market crash. October 24th, 1929. That’s the story, at least.

It makes for a good story because it’s a specific event on a specific day. But if you were to go back to October 1929, during the crash, the average American might seem unfazed. Only 2.5% of Americans owned stocks in 1929.

The huge majority of Americans watched in amazement as the market collapsed, and perhaps lost a sense of hope that they, too, might someday cash in on Wall Street. But that was all they lost: a dream. They did not lose any money because they had no money invested.

The real pain came nearly two years later, when the banks started to fail.

Just over 500 U.S. banks failed in 1929. Twenty-three hundred failed in 1931.

When banks fail, people lose their savings. When they lose their savings they stop spending. When they stop spending businesses fail. When businesses fail, banks fail. When banks fail people lose their savings. And so on endlessly.

The stock market crash wasn’t a relevant lesson to the vast majority of Americans who didn’t own stocks in 1929 and likely never would. (Read more...)