There's never a Great Depression around when you need one, apparently. Despite its misery, "the United States economy was quietly making enormous strides during the 1930s," argues David Leonhardt in the New York Times. Americans were getting a better education—high school, back then—while industrious entrepreneurs were inventing television, mass marketing refrigerators, and improving railroads. "It would clearly be nice if we could take some comfort from this bit of history," writes Leonhardt. "If anything, though, the lesson of the 1930s may be the opposite one."
Today, no major industries are arising to pull us out of this mess. And giant industries like finance, health care, and housing are spending big bucks on things that won't create jobs (Leonhardt cites "unnecessary back surgery and garden-variety arbitrage" as painful examples). Plus, the US isn't following other rich countries and increasing its share of people with 4-year degrees. "Maybe some American scientist in a laboratory somewhere is about to make a breakthrough," writes Leonhardt, but until then, we "may have entered a phase in which high unemployment is the norm." (Read more Great Depression stories.)