My grandparents married during the Great Depression and began raising their young family during World War II.
My grandmother would tell me stories about those times with pride. She couldn’t buy a car or nylon stockings. But she did save every bit of aluminum for the war effort, mended socks, and planted a victory garden. Though they had very little, when they could save ten cents, she would get another stamp for her war bond book.
As tough as those times were, my grandmother felt that what she did every day mattered for the country and her children’s future. Families across the nation took these same actions, and, together, they did indeed make all the difference. The victory gardens, the recycling, the $185 billion in war bonds raised by 85 million cash-strapped Americans (nearly $2 trillion in today’s dollars), and the retooling of Detroit for tanks and planes provided our country with the resources and capacity for the war effort.
Taken together, these actions gave the economy a whole new set of priorities—moving from a failing consumer-based economy to an economy focused on providing for the country’s future.
As a nation, we are again at this kind of pivotal time. We can choose to reprioritize the economy. And we know how to do it — we did it during World War II.
The steps this time around will look familiar to those who experienced these days. We need to embrace thrift as a fundamental value, and collectively shift our economy from one depending on consumerism, debt, and speculation, to one that spends its precious resources on what sustains health and well-being for people and the planet.
Like the economy my grandmother experienced during World War II, the consumer sector can no longer be the economy’s driver. But instead of a war effort, the priority now needs be to on economic activity and jobs that bring about a sustainable future—from energy efficiency, mass transit, and sustainable agriculture to education, health, and building resilient communities, that make sure no one is left behind. Continue reading