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Hard Times: What Is That All About?

The economy is in the dumps. People are getting laid off. The housing market tanked years ago. By all appearances, things keep getting worse.

On top of all that economic stuff, we still have soldiers fighting and dying in faraway countries, where they’ve been fighting and dying for years. Hurricane Katrina deluged one of our historic cities a few years ago; just months before that, a massive tsunami devastated Indian Ocean coasts.

Before all that happened, we invaded two countries, at least one of them because of four hijacked planes that wreaked destruction, terror and grief within our borders in 2001. And before all that, in an event that perhaps heralded all the bad news to come, we had the hanging chad thing – you know, that disputed presidential election in 2000.

It’s been a rough decade.

To those of you older than, say, 40, that might not come as a surprise. You’ve lived through rough decades before. The economy (as far as I can tell) wasn’t all that great in the ’70s. As for the ’60s – well, baby boomers love to recall the turbulent decade that was the ’60s. War in the ’40s, Depression in the ’30s – huh. If you look back far enough, the rough decades seem to outnumber the not-so-rough decades.

Anyway, to those of us younger than, say, 40, the recent hard times have come as a bit of a surprise. I grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, a time of – for Americans, at least – relative peace and prosperity. The Soviet Union didn’t scare me the way it scared my parents. It crumbled when I was in my early teens. (When I first became aware of the “Evil Empire,” it wasn’t even an evil empire anymore. Reagan and Gorbachev were shaking hands. Russia was our buddy.) America was top dog, the undisputed No. 1. Nothing could touch us.

Oh, sure, we fought some skirmishes in those years, but (according to the TV) the countries we fought were almost happy to let us win. And yes, there were some brief rough patches in the economy here and there, but those went right over my head. I was too busy watching “Star Wars” and playing with Legos.

The point is, my “generation” has never lived through a time like this, a time of sustained doom and gloom on a national scale. It’s a bit disconcerting. Nobody really prepared us for it.

But those of you who’ve been around long enough to remember previous rough times know it’s best to be prepared for them. Right?

You are prepared, aren’t you? Because, well, you remember all that optimism about the farm sector’s financial situation last fall? Even after the rest of the economy turned turtle? Turns out that positive outlook might have been a little premature. Read Assistant Editor Dick Lehnert’s story, "Growers Should Prepare for a Credit Crunch," to find out more.

Still, I suppose things could be a lot worse. We’ve pulled out of rough decades before; we’ll pull out of this one ... right?

Originally posted Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009