Globe writer tackles what a depression would look like in modern times. He's frighteningly close to today's reality without an official depression, which makes what he's saying both laughable fear-mongering as well as ironic.
With the diminishing price of televisions and the proliferation of channels, it's getting easier and easier to kill time alone, and free time is one thing a 21st-century depression would create in abundance. Instead of dusty farm families, the icon of a modern-day depression might be something as subtle as the flickering glow of millions of televisions glimpsed through living room windows, as the nation's unemployed sit at home filling their days with the cheapest form of distraction available. [How is this different from today?]
In general, novelty would lose some of its luster. It's not simply that we'd buy less, we'd look for different qualities in what we buy. New technology would grow less seductive, basic reliability more important. We'd see more products like Nextel phones and the Panasonic Toughbook laptop, which trade on their sturdiness, and fewer like the iPhone - beautiful, cleverly designed, but not known for durability. The neighborhood appliance shop could reappear in a new form - unlicensed, with hacked cellphones and rebuilt computers. [You mean, consumerism might start to fade in favor of practicality? Good!]
Health insurance premiums have risen to onerous levels in recent years, and in a long period of unemployment - or underemployment - they would quickly become unmanageable for many people. Dropping health insurance would be an immediate way for families to save hundreds of dollars per month. People without health insurance tend to skip routine dental and medical checkups, and instead deal with health problems only when they become acute - meaning they get their healthcare through hospital emergency rooms. That means even longer waits at ERs, which are even now overtaxed in many places, and a growing financial drain on hospitals that already struggle to pay for the care they give uninsured people. And if, as is likely, this coincided with cuts in money for hospitals coming from cash-strapped state and local governments, there's a very real possibility that many hospitals would have to close, only further increasing the burden on those that remain open. [This already happens and may induce a favorable result - getting the government out of health care again.]
Higher education, another big expense, would probably take a hit as well. Students unable to afford private universities would opt for public universities, students unable to afford four-year colleges would opt for community colleges, and students unable to afford community college wouldn't go at all. With fewer applicants, admissions standards would drop, with spots that once would have been filled by more qualified, poorer students going instead to wealthier applicants who before would not have made the cut. Some universities would simply shrink. [Good - less people overall going to college and crowding the system with idiocy would result in the ones who belong in college being able to flourish.]
More on the above points:
TV: People spend too much time in front of the TV already; time better suited for being outside and spending time with family (real time, not TV time). Who cares if some morons would decide to spend even more time in front of the TV than before? Are these people really all that productive when not in front of the TV as it is?
Health care: Health insurance used to be only for catastrophic instances. People didn't need health insurance for everyday visits before HMOs; they paid cash for routine medical visits because they were CHEAP, and even privately-funded hospitals (funded with donations or through other private means) would never turn away anyone at the ER. HMOs and the gov't becoming involved in health care is what's pushing costs up. if we're really that blind that we wouldn't pull gov't out of medicine during a depression, I suppose more people would go to the ER, but hopefully we'd change our health care system around to be like it was before HMOs, which was much better - and abandon any idea of socialized medicine, which our gov't wouldn't be able to afford (they actually can't anyway, but people are under the illusion they can). Look at our VA hospitals for the future of socialized medicine, or just go to Italy and wait in line with everyone else like a few people I know have done.
College admissions: Wealthy people already get in over qualified candidates because private universities play the politics/legacy game. Student loan programs have pushed tuition way too high, which already keeps out some qualified applicants as they don't want to go into insane amounts of debt. Less people in college would mean that the ones who are supposed to go would go, with the people who are just going because it's trendy might finally start figuring out other things to do. This might actually help revive the manufacturing sector. A depression would likely involve tariffs to ensure the remaining manufacturing jobs don't get sent away, to protect American industry and our GDP. We'd need people (hopefully legal citizens) to run the machines again, so maybe we'd start producing something in this country instead of borrowing and spending to feed a service-based economy that leads us nowhere.