Nov. 6, 1987: Wall St. Town Hall

Is it possible for the richest nation on earth to relive the depression?
6:18 | 11/04/11

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Transcript for Nov. 6, 1987: Wall St. Town Hall
They looked a lot -- black Monday eighteen days ago -- like Tuesday 58 years ago. Bedlam on the trading the panic sale of stocks the headlines the next day. Today the question is being asked over and over is this another 1929. Nineteen Friday night found the following morning -- -- the New York Stock Exchange and the -- it was wrong. But the question really -- -- that 1929. It's about what came after the United States tumbled down into a bottomless abyss of depression. Is it even conceivable that the wealthiest nation on earth could re live the Great Depression. Two American under fifty the whole thing must -- a nightmare fantasy. Unemployment that went from little more than 3% in 1929. To 25%. By 19331. In four out of work. A bank failure so severe that 44%. Of America's commercial banks collapsed. Gross national product that fell by more than a third in just four years. And an army of the homeless hundreds of thousands of them some who lived in the parks of our great cities. In one sense it is a fantasy and 1930s style depression can't happen again there were too many checks to many safety features built into war economy. For people to be pitching tents here in New York's Central Park. But -- those mechanisms protect us from the possibility of hard economic times that is a very different question. The fear of another 1929. Stems in part from the startlingly similar pattern of the stock market leading up to the two crashes. When you look at what happened on Wall Street after black Tuesday at 29. A recovery followed by a long steep slide it's no wonder some fear that the depression may be and our future. But listen to the experts and you find a festival of disagreement. This is not the disaster. The 1930s it's a good imitation of course there are some striking similarities between now and 1929 the economy is fundamentally sound he would talk about recession and people mentioned the perhaps a recession but not a depression depression. How then to measure the parallels and differences between then and now. Start with the nation's banking structure. It collapsed after 1929 under the weight of huge stock market losses leaving millions with their savings wiped out it's much more secure today. You know he's look at old pictures of new York and other places and influencing people running of the thanks. You don't see that relative to get didn't cash -- This time around with deposit insurance with the fact that banks aren't allowed in the stock market the extent that they were last time we're not going to get that wave of failures. The average citizen is much more protected today from disaster unlike the thirties a so called safety net protects most of us from complete -- nation. There's Social Security for the elderly unemployment insurance for the jobless Medicare and Medicaid for health costs. Feel better. Will listen to a man whose names symbolizes wealth and privilege talk about our nation's leaders. Well I hope that they will look back at what happened and -- nine where there was a similar drop and then a similar recovery. And then the wrong measures were taken and we got into the deepest impression we've ever had. And I think that there could be that kind of risky if we don't do the right thing. David Rockefeller is -- -- among other things about deficits federal budget deficits that have added more than a trillion dollars to the national debt in the last six years. Deficits that have sent White House and congress into a budget summit to try and cut next year's reading. But half. Passage of -- -- revenue legislation the culmination of which -- the reductions. -- unquestionably and beyond all manner of doubt. It planned to the world of balancing of the federal budget. Most historians say to president Herbert -- call for balanced budgets and -- tax hike made things much worse by taking money out of consumers' pockets. But if the government today runs annual budget deficits of between 150 and 200 billion dollars. That leads to a problem that Herbert Hoover never had to things. A huge dependence on foreign funds to finance our annual budget deficit. It's. We have suddenly as the country becomes sole vulnerable and so dependent on the inflow of finances from other countries. And we really can't sustain our economy anymore. Under the present economic policies and -- we can continues to attract about a 150 billion dollars a year from abroad. You don't like to be in that position. It's dilemmas like these that have led one effort economist southern Methodist university's Robbie Bach truck. To write a best selling book that forecasts a Great Depression starting in 1990. So depressed farm sector are depressed and then dissect. Rising bank failure is. Stock market Balmuth merger mania. -- extreme concentration of growth these -- all the negative factors off any economy. And we -- as the eighties and the point is of concern in these suspects. On top of these we have additional negatives like he'd trade deficit the budget deficit and America being -- for the -- of of. While most economists disagree with doctor they do point to one dark cloud in the near future. Consumer confidence. It's -- consumers shell shocked people are. Cutting back on their purchases even now they're not buying luxury items they're thinking twice before buying a vacation home. Or major home furnishing or opponents. If you're looking for a hard facts rather than guesses about where the economy is going look here to the retail stores and our big cities in the shopping malls and suburbs and towns. This Christmas sales -- -- that will be strong evidence that consumers are afraid of what's coming. And that a crisis in the stock market may have turned in what prices for the whole economy. This is Jeff Greenfield for Nightline in New York.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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