Talk at Whitman College takes long view on economic woes

A former Treasury official delved into the current recession to what he sees as its 19th-century roots.

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As students and faculty found their seats in a packed Olin Hall auditorium Thursday night, the spare change that jingled in their purses and wallets likely felt a little more valuable than usual,

A former deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury and professor of economics at the University of California at Berkeley, J. Bradford DeLong, reminded them the U.S. is still in its worst financial state since the 1930s.

During his presentation, DeLong even apologized to the college students in the crowd for showing an unemployment graph that he called, "the most depressing thing that I could show a group of young adults about to enter the work force."

"We have the worst macro economy since the Great Depression, with 9.7 percent unemployment," De Long explained, "I'm trying to raise consciousness so we can understand why we're in such a bad place and if we're still confused, at least our confusion is at a more sophisticated and well-informed place."

However, despite the somber tone, DeLong -- who maintains a "content-rich," blog at delong.typepad.com -- was in good humor as addressed the audience at Whitman College for the school's 2010 Genevieve Perry Lecture in Economics, inviting students to step into the "Wayback Machine" from Rocky & Bullwinkle to look at how similar the economic situation was in London during the early 1800s.

However, while DeLong enthusiastically shared with the audience how some current controversial economic and political trends, such as the government bailout of banks and the manipulation of investment assets, originated in 19th century Britain, the recently published author explained the important difference.

"Today, we're not transporting 400,000 British pounds in horse-drawn carriages through London in the early dawn hours; we're flipping switches and typing $800 billion into computers and bank databases."

"I want to wake up and find out that it's all been a bad dream like that episode of Dallas," he continued, "but I'm still here. It's a process that's been going on since 1825, a process that we thought we knew how to avoid, yet we're still here."

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