I'm in the midst of reading a book about the depression. It seemed appropriate, given the recent financial turmoil. It is The Day the Bubble Burst by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts, written in 1979. Here's a quote:
“The circle between Madison Avenue and Wall Street was complete; they were inexorably linked, in a relationship developed in ten short years, during which the ad men had created an ambience invaluable to the continuing popularity of stock speculation. The limitless, desirable, and expensive goods coming onto the market – often products of companies quoted on the stock exchange – could only be sold by determined advertising campaigns. If those campaigns failed, the market would slump.
To maintain his place in consumer society, a man was told he needed a car, radio, icebox, and refrigerator; his wife required a washing machine, automatic furnace, and one of the modish pastel-hued toilets. To complete their domestic bliss they would have the latest in bathrooms: a shrine of stunning magnificence, containing, among other items, ‘a dental lavatory of vitreous china, twice fired’. To buy it would cost the average American six months’ salary. But paying was no problem; there were the installment plans. It was also part of the advertising philosophy that it was no longer enough to buy a car, radio, or refrigerator. People must have the latest model – junking the old one, even though it was still useful. Failure to do so would cause factories to close from the Atlantic to the Pacific, ending what some newspapers called ‘the golden era’. To protect it, they told their readers, was the patriotic duty of every American; one way to express that was, ‘to buy until it hurts’. "
Even then it was a house of cards, far too dependent on consumer credit and consumption. Will we ever learn?