13 Unusual Facts About the Saddest Photo in the Great Depression

Migrant Mother Photograph by Dorothea Lange

Last night I was on CNBC’s Fast Money. Everyone seems to want to talk about the impending Great Depression: Europe fails, contagion spreads it to here, all of our banks fail, everyone loses their jobs, blah, blah, blah. The world feels like it’s ending.

But it’s not. I listed my reasons why. I won’t list them again here. It’s not important. Innovation is happening. The economy is growing. And Europe is not going to disappear.

Look at the above photograph. That’s when the world was ending. But it wasn’t ending even then.

Realist photography is an interesting art form as it doesn’t seek to “create” but rather to document intensity exactly as it is, without embellishment. Dorothea Lange took the above photograph called, “Migrant Mother” which became one of the most iconic photographs documenting the dustbowl era during the Great Depression. Lange’s life underlines several themes that I try to cover throughout this blog:

A) you don’t need a formal education to become a huge success at a field you are passionate about. Lange didn’t go to college (as was more common then) and trained herself in her style of  photography

B) you don’t need anyone’s approval to fail or to succeed. her mother wanted her to be a teacher. When Lange tried to teach, all of the fifth graders climbed out the window and went to play in the yard. So Lange quit and became a photographer.

C) it takes suffering to recognize suffering. Lange had polio and her father deserted her at an early age.

D) Realism is often more powerful than imagination: On Lange’s photography studio at the time was tacked the note: ““The contemplation of things as they are / Without error or confusion / Without substitution or imposture / Is in itself a nobler thing / Than a whole harvest of invention.”

More facts about this amazing photograph:

  1. The year was 1936. Unemployment was at 18%. The Dow Jones went UP 24% that year. Misery and stocks are not often correlated. Too often the headlines in the newspaper today try to link the two but it’s simply not true. Clearly there was much misery in the country. But Wall Street was trying to bounce back.
  2. Dorothy Lange took six pictures of this woman, who is named Florence Owens Thompson. Here’s the five other pictures she took. Note, this woman has seven children but Lange never took a picture with all seven because she thought that would actually reduce sympathy people would have for Florence. I guess she thought people would think, well of course this woman is stressed, she has SEVEN KIDS, rather than stressed because she was a migrant worker in the worst Depression ever.

Facts About The Great Depression

3. The identiy of the woman wasn’t known for 40 years. Her daughter later stated that the fame of the photo was so embarrassing to them that they were determined to never be poor again. Here’s a later photo, from 1979, with Florence in the middle and her children by her side:

Florence With Her Children

4. Florence Thompson was 32 years old when the photo was taken and was raising seven children. I don’t mean to intrude on her story but I’m so terrified of getting low on money – Thompson in this photo looks like she’s 50 and scared. It’s that fear that I never want to feel. When I was a venture capitalist I could smell that fear on everyone who came to pitch their business. It was 2001 in the middle of the dot-com bust and I know these people can’t be compared with being pea-pickers (which is what Florence was) I just knew then how easy stress and depression and Depression can etch themselves across your face and body.

5. Dorothy Lange claimed that Thompson had just sold her tires to pay for food. Thompson’s son claims that this was not true but that Lange must’ve confused Florence with someone else. This is not widely reported when people quote Dorothy’s summary of the event, which is:

“I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was 32. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food.”

That said, just like the media today, I think people exaggerate suffering in order to generate a response (selling newspapers, winning a political battle, etc). It shows that an event is never really defined by the facts but by all the angles that are examining it. People need to reflect for themselves what an event means and not on the myriad analysis of it. Clearly there is pain here, we can see it on Owens’ face. We also know it from the time. And there would be another nine years of suffering as the country went from Depression to War.

Right now, I feel really bad for the people who are protesting at Occupy Wall Street. They are clearly upset. But they aren’t picking peas and raising seven children. We are living in different times.

In 1936, 20% of the children in America couldn’t buy clothes. Malnutrition was an epidemic. Unemployment (not shadow statistics compiled by a website but real unemployment) was at 19%.

6. A retouched image of the Lange photograph, plus her notes, were sold at Sotheby’s in 1998 for $244,000. I don’t know this for sure but I’m assuming Owen’s family didn’t get any of that. I don’t begrudge anyone that. That’s how art works. But it’s ironic to me that the subject communicated so much suffering she became an icon of the Great Depression. The  lines in her face is pure art by itself, yet she was not able to benefit from it.

Deep credit though, to Lange, for recognizing the art in those lines and using it to convey an image that many Americans did not see.

7. In 1978 Thompson wrote a letter to the Modesto Bee saying, “I wish she [Lange] hadn’t taken my picture. I can’t get a penny out of it. She didn’t ask my name. She said she wouldn’t sell the pictures. She said she’d send me a copy. She never did.” Although to be fair it was probably hard to find Owens, who was moving along with other migrant workers. And Owens did give her permission to be photographed. She probably didn’t realize how famous the photo would become when it was taken.

8. Kids want love more than anything. Owen’s Daughter Katherine says: “She loved music and she loved to dance. When I look at that photo of mother, it saddens me. That’s not how I like to remember her.” She also states that those times, though the toughest, were also the most fun.”

9. Lange went on to take many photographs related to the internment of Japanese Americans, an event that is horrific and seldom taught in the failing American school system. Teachers will teach about birds but not about when America began going down the road towards potential facism.

I Am An American

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  • The extent of life behind this photograph is remarkable! If pictures or characters in pictures could talk would they tell a different story to what the eye can see? Are we missing a story everytime we capture an image?

  • Midianite Manna

    I don’t think you got that quite right:
    “Realist photography is an interesting art form as it doesn’t seek to
    “create” but rather to document intensity exactly as it is, without

    In fact, as you yourself pointed out, photography necessarily creates by establishing the boundaries of the frame. Lange excluded some of the children. She also directed the pose, telling the children to look away from the camera, so the focus is on the mother. The credit for the photo goes, rightly, to Lange, rather than to the woman at its center, because this is art, not a candid snapshot.

    • Yes, ultimately no matter how “real” we try to get, we view things from the perspectives created by our own suffering. These photographs become from like sculptures carved out of our hands rather than the purest forms of realism.

      • Midianite Manna

        Have you seen the other WPA photos from the Depression? It became a whole genre of this type of magnificent, posed “reality” shots. For example: http://newdeal.feri.org/library/7_31_59.htm

        The fact that Lange was able to become a famous photographer at this time had a lot to do with structural support for the arts, and for documenting social conditions, by the gov’t. Art follows the desires of its patrons, and they wanted gritty realism.

  • Heyitsminic

    I am currently living that fear in her eyes. I remain hopeful though.

    • Jquick99

      I have 2 nieces in Alaska.  They say you could get a job tomorrow.  I know there are jobs in N Dakota.  There are jobs in New Orleans.  And now i’ve read about tons of jobs in Enid, OK.  Go to where the jobs are.

  • In the Great Depression the sense was “That’s when the world was ending. But it wasn’t ending even then”

    Was that a continuation of Asimov’s theme from “The Last Question”?

    Even those living in the bowels of the greatest despair see a better future, just as they lived a better past.

    Those fortunate enough to climb out of personal or societal despair usually have incentive to put the  past behind them and work feverishly toward the goal of a better life

    Many of those taking part in Occupy Wall Street actions may not see a future that will burn as brightly as their parents’ generation enjoyed, but as Asimov pointed out, the light gets rekindled and ingenuity finds new sources to fuel that light “forever”.

    The protestors just need to realize that they have to be part of that equation. Want to make things better? Buy American made products. That’s the only trickle down economics that really works.

    Sorry to mix metaphors and blog posts.

    By the way, your piece on CNBC on Tuesday had that brief line about Microsoft. That’s one of my favorite stocks, because it is so out of favor that it rarely moves out of a tight range. Predictable enough that you can turn it into a 2.5%/month annuity based on dividend and options premiums (off topic, sorry). While I was climbing mountains in Sedona a couple of weeks ago, my son wrote about the congruence of Occupy Wall Street and Microsoft

    • Anonymous

      I usually enjoy reading your AcsMan posts and blog and did enjoy the Lysol Kills 99% blog, but really, Microsoft?

      • Thanks, but that’s TheAcsMan. The Lysol post was written by my oldest son who is a natural born contrarian, or as we used to call him “oppositional”.

        Turns out, that’s not always a bad thing. Would’ve saved me lots of gray hairs had I realized that sooner.

        Reading his writing makes me realize that I don’t need to shell out for an expensive home DNA test. I now just assume that his 6’6″ frame was a mutation.

  • Bare with me as I ask a question: Why does Occupy Wall Street bother so many people? 

    I don’t understand the blanket judgements, stereotyping and what appears to be dismissing of other people’s ideas and concerns.  Are their concerns not valid?  Do they have their facts wrong?

    Obviously anyone is within their rights to disagree, but to me it appears it’s more mocking then actually debating the movement based any particular issue(s) with facts. 

    Freedom of assembly, sometimes used interchangeably with the freedom
    of association, is the individual right to come together and
    collectively express, promote, pursue and defend common interests. The
    right to freedom of association is recognized as a human right, a
    political freedom and a civil liberty.

    Please give me some insight, because I don’t get it.
    And of coarse I am the 99%

    • Jillian

      I would like to add something. When it comes to the Occupy Wall-street movement and similar movements around the world, many people have a negative reaction towards them. We tell them that their anger wont change anything. We tell them to stop being angry and to get more proactive. We tell them that its their own fault they don’t have a job. Many self help teachers even say that they should focus on their individual success to help “raise the worlds condition”.

      But what they are angry about is the fact that “they” have made it difficult for the majority to become more successful.

      Would we tell the slaves of the past in America stop being angry? Would we tell them to stop protesting?

      the way the world is structured today is a sort of slavery. We may not have any physical chains, but through interest based loans, we have become slaves. We have dug ourselves into a hole that is hard to get out of. A college student begins their life severely in debt. That is not freedom….nor can we make free choices when we are in debt. Meanwhile the minimum wage is too low as well. 

      No one should have to get 2 jobs just to survive. That is slavery.

      And not everyone can have ideas to invent or to become an entrepreneur. Even though there are more opportunities than ever before thanks to technology and the Internet. 

      But not everyone is taught how to be an entrepreneur. I went to school and university. They never taught me how to make money> schools don’t teach entrepreneurship for the most part. They get you ready for a job.

      So we may not agree with the occupiers, but persistence dissatisfaction and action is what has always brought up about change. Its the same formula used to end slavery in the U.S. Its the same formula used to bring revolutions to countries like Egypt, and Tunisia and its the same formula on which the united states of america was founded on

      persistent dissatisfaction + positive actions = positive change

      • I 100% agree with this. But it still comes from the self. This is why I have posts about why we shouldnt buy homes now, or send our kids to college. This is the form of protest that I think is the best for changing the system.

        • People can work on themselves and also participate in OWS.

          I would guess many of the protestors are doing just that.

        • Todd Batt

          James, firstly your material is really fun and enlightening.

          This might sound a little vague, but I think a lot of the breakdown in communication of opinion manifests itself when people personify the “system” and “corporations”.

          We are thrown into a moving river (a capitalistic system) and we choose to participate or not and we succeed or not; each and every time individually.  Then after the fact, the result at any point in time is that there is a group that either tried to participate in maximizing their lot (and didn’t succeed) or didn’t participate with that goal and then their message (seems to be) the system is effectively chewing them up so the…. 1%.. system… corporate america… government… needs to extricate me from my situation and then what?….

          Move away from a capitalistic system?
          They’ll take another/better run at succeeding in a capitalistic approach?

          As a business owner (that mostly failed), I feel that the vast majority of folks don’t understand the risk and effort that is far upstream from jobs that they think are being hoarded by some entity.

          I wandered about there, but I’ll leave what I wrote.

      • caveman1

        My problem with OWS is that they are protesting REALITY. There is no such thing as equality of results with humans. There have always been winners and losers.  And more losers than winners is the norm and always has been! Not only that, this equality that they so indignantly want isn’t possible. Our species simply won’t allow it. So, unlike past movements and protests – civil rights, anti-Vietnam-war, etc. – the OWS movement wants something that can’t happen. In lieu of that, they’ll take the collapse of the ordered society, as if the cure won’t be  crushingly worse than the disease.

        Statements like – “nobody should have to work two jobs just to survive” and “interest-based loans make us slaves” reflect exactly what I’m talking about – a complete rejection of reality and a total lack of human perspective.

        For one thing, you can “survive” on a minimum wage job. And you’d be living better than most people on the planet. Please visit Africa or Central or South America. The youth of the west have no perspective on how hard life can really be. 

        What you’re REALLY saying is that no one should have to work two jobs to have a nice place to live, a TV, a cell phone, and all manner of food that can be obtained in minutes. Why the hell not? The history of humanity has been poverty, bondage, slavery, and tyranny.  So we should all be filled with gratitude that we were born into societies where we can work indoors in safe, clean places to earn what we need. And why, did you ever ask, is it that our kinds of societies exist?

        Part of it is interest-based loans. The multiplication of capital has largely created the prosperity that has so insulated the OWS movement that they completely miss the irony of tweeting your desire for the end of wall street on your smart phone.

        The bottom line is that yes, there are some major crooks on Wall Street. But that’s true in every human endeavor where you find a lot of money. Money attracts scoundrels. That’s reality. Deny it at your peril. And yes, times are tough right now, but the blame for that is not capitalism or Wall Street. It’s GOVERNMENT.

        Our tax code is the bogey man we should all be targeting. Loopholes, exemptions, tax shelters, etc. are all enjoyed by those with money – from rock stars and actors to CEOs and corporations themselves. Modifications to our tax code are what get bought and sold every day in Washington DC, and it’s the 99% who get screwed on almost every occasion. 

        And unlike protesting reality, protesting an oppressive tax code is something that has a real chance of improving the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

        OWS = advertising naivete, a waste of time, and denying reality.

        • I agree too.  The government is run like a corporation, and the taxpayers are all expendable and replacable contributors of tax dollars.   We keep giving birth to more taxpayers, more expendable and replacable sources of tax dollars.  It’s a never-ending cycle.   Tax reform is what would help future generations.

          • The Reporter

            Everyone just stop having children.   That’s the only way to stop feeding the system.

            That’s not a popular solution, to stop giving birth to future OWSers? 

        • How can we get the government change the tax code? 

          What would that process look like? 

          I ask because I have heard nothing but ideas, lip service and false promises about changing the tax code for as long as I can remember.-and that’s a lot of years.

          • Foljs

            Well, read some history. Of the US and of other peoples. TONS of stuff has changed because of popular action.

            How about civil rights? Remember when black people couldn’t sit where they wanted in buses, or stay in certain hotels? How you think that changed? How about Americans not being subject to Englad? How do you think that changed?

            If you keep hearing only “promises about changing the tax code for as long as I can remember.-and that’s a lot of years” then it is because nobody had done anything about it, ie there was not enough ORGANIZED public outrage.

            People saying “the tax code sucks” in private, don’t count.

          • The point I was making was poorly written in reply to Cavemen’s —-“Our tax code is the bogey man we should all be targeting. Loopholes,
            exemptions, tax shelters, etc. are all enjoyed by those with money –
            from rock stars and actors to CEOs and corporations themselves.” —

            I was trying to have someone who opposes OWS see that change comes through action…..and movements bring about change by growth and momentum…and that maybe we could all embrace OWS and get real change including tax reform,instead of having all this nit picking about how they don’t protest “correctly” or they use this symbol wrong or they can’t artuculate.

            I am beginning to see that my question was in vain.  No one wants to answer..they just want to “bitch” and nit pick.

            Sorry James.

          • caveman1

            OWS is simply a waste of effort. They have no realistic goals and will therefore accomplish nothing. 

            Throwing out the tax code means getting behind a politician who pushes for it. Of course, no Democrat will ever do that, so you’re left with Republicans, most of whom are standard fare for politicians – douchebags.

            My point is that I’d be all over an OWS-like movement that had one goal – abolishing the tax code. And a movement like OWS – happening all over the country – could really make a difference in galvanizing public support behind getting rid of the real bad guy that’s hurting all of us.

          • Anonymous

            The OWS movement is raising the level of discussion.  They are providing a solid, groundswell platform upon which specific issues CAN be discussed and dealt with.

            Learn from what the Internet brought us…  a social construct from which many things can sprout.  That’s the analog you should be using.

          • HARPOON F. FLYBY

            the tax code changes almost every year, what exactly are you talking about? Flat income tax? 

          • read response post to: folji

        • Foljs

          “””My problem with OWS is that they are protesting REALITY. There is no such thing as equality of results with humans. There have always been winners and losers.  “””

          No, a society is what we choose BUILD, it’s not a reality external to us, as you imply.

          Would you have told the slaves that the should not protest because “There is no such thing as equality of results with humans. There have always been winners and losers”?There had always been slaves too –but then, we stopped accepting that. There had always been no vote for women too, but then we changed that. There had always be kings and monarchs, but then we invented democracy.

          Your argument is ignorant. That we SHAPE the world we live in was one of the biggest lessons of the Athenian democracy –and of democracy in general.

          • caveman1

            You are clearly a holder of the “unconstrained vision” of humanity, which states that man is perfectible if only the institutions that surround him allow him to realize his potential. I hold the “constrained vision,” which states that man is deeply flawed, so any institutions/policies/rules/etc. must take into account human nature. 

            Part of that human nature is that some people will bust their asses to succeed, and some will do nothing. Some will play by the rules, and some will cheat. Those FACTS of our species preclude any equality of results. They do not, however, preclude the abolition of slavery or allowing women to vote.

            Perhaps the ignorance here is yours – not knowing enough about your own species and substituting what you wish for what is.

            Take a look at this book. Educate yourself…

          • Anonymous

            Caveman…  you live up to your handle. 

            Few, if any, Occupiers are arguing for Socialism or some far-flung egalitarian dream.  The problem lies in the Cheaters– those that manipulate the system to protect a proprietary view.  I’m confident most Occupiers, like myself, have a strong work ethic and are plenty happy to work their tails off to get ahead.  But Capitalism, which is inherently a good idea IMHO, has been hijacked.  Calling on government to legislate a corporations ability to compete, or be protected from failure is just wrong. 

            No one is complaining about a Zuckerberg or a Jobs getting incredibly wealthy by actually innovating…  making a product or service that stands the test of the market.  We take issue with massive government subsidies that perpetuate bad business models that wouldn’t survive in a free market… or products that are just plain bad for us as individuals, or us as a race living on this planet.  We object to Corporations massively influencing the political process.  We object to the Fed being run almost invisibly by a few who’s prime directive is to protect those bankers’ phony-baloney jobs, and line their pockets at the expense of the masses. 

            It’s incredible to me that someone who probably isn’t part of that 1% (you) stands openly defending these transgressions when they simply are *not* good for you, while those transgressors do their best to stay in the shadows and let folks like you fight their battles.  Wake up.

          • caveman1

            I can’t argue with anything you’ve said here cumulusguy. Not sure why you think I’m in favor of the bad actors in all of this. I acknowledge that there are people on Wall Street who are dirtbags out to cheat anyone they can. I’m just saying that the stated demands of OWS are absurd, and if enacted, would be far worse than the problems we have today. If OWS wants to get do something about the problems you’ve articulated, then the logical target is the tax code. Go after that and I’ll be right there with you.

          • Greg

            Most of this is reasonable…

            Not sure about the self serving “Student Loan Forgiveness”, but a lot of it makes sense.


          • HARPOON F. FLYBY

            self-serving isn’t totally accurate…  school can chose to raise tuition after you’ve already signed onto a student loan. 

            Imagine you bought a house and your principal kept increasing based on appreciated value (but not depreciation). That would be f’n ridiculous. But I guess students are naive, maybe they should just suffer.

    • Pmarchildon

      i’m one of the 1%, and although i sympathize with some of the Occupiers, most i talk to are simply on the bandwagon and do not know the facts.  I wish they would pick up a paper and get educated so that they can make a proper statement about the issues.  Instead they are costing us valuable tax dollars to manage them, and they are not achieving any significant progress on the issues.

      • Are you saying the OWS people you speak with are unable to articulate
        the facts? And that makes them less important to listen too? Or do mean
        that you believe in a different set of facts and the OWS people overall
        are wrong?

        I know that everyone isn’t on equal footing when it comes to
        intelligence, but if OWS people grasp the simple concept of inequities,
        isn’t that enough?  If they are unhappy about it isn’t t their right to
        express that to the best of their ability?

        In reality the OWS movement is in it’s very early stages.  It’s messaging and message is continually being refined.


        • If you read what he said, he said most “do not know the facts”. I think that’s an accurate statement. While I don’t have a real number to back this up, I would suggest that the majority of most protesters (of any protest) are there for the “event” rather than the “reason”. 

          Media interviews with the protesters have shown a desire of everything from more welfare to lower tuition to less taxes to more taxes for everyone else to better music for the masses (ok, I made that last one up). 

          What is the real issue? Fed up with Corruption? Then look no further than your congressman. Since lobbyists are everywhere and pay for their firms, and the government goes for it – THERE is the problem. 

          Hell, I would go so far as to close the stock market entirely. If you want to invest in a company, invest in it. Don’t be a pansy-ass and have someone else do it for you. Put your own sweat equity into supporting it. Better yet, support it with your wallet. That will clean up Wall Street.

          • @google-386d8c20b1b9136e7b32ef4efffac854:disqus

            I read all of what was written paraphrased “are simply on the bandwagon and do not know the facts.  I wish they would pick up a paper and get educated so that they can make a proper statement about the issues”

            I asked for clarification – no answer.

            As idealistic as it would be for everyone to know everything about every issue, I don’t think that has ever happen in any society or in any social movement.  I know for sure, I don’t know all the facts, maybe the commenter who wrote that comment does. 

            In any case, I have enjoyed the comments in response to my question. 

            Time will tell what actually comes from OWS – am guessing they will gain additional support when they mainstream their message and their method of delivery,

            The internet is very powerful as history has already proven.

            Thanks everyone.

        • Greg

          Seriously?  YES, uninformed people are less important to listen to. 

      • Anonymous

        What facts do you think they need to know but lack?

      • Anonymous

        Pmarchildon: agreed. The core issues should be prosecution of the bankers and removing the special case of student debt not discharging in bankruptcy and the rest should be lower priority. End the fed, gold standard, jobs etc. are too vague and not-workable immediate solutions.

    • Because their anger is misdirected. They should be Occupying Washington to demand accountability for OUR money they gave to big banks, corporations, and risky startups. Blaming the banks for receiving our money that Washington gave them is akin to blaming the welfare recipient for receiving benefits that we gave Washington.

      • Are you saying OWS should only protest against the government in DC? and drop the issues relating to the large financials, and large corporations?

        Or should they change their name? I mean it’s all tied together….kind of hard to separate at this point…..

        Thanks for answering

      • Foljs

        Yeah, because Washington gave the money to the bankers out of the kindness of the politicians hearts, not because the bankers run the show and have the politicians on their payroll…

        “””Blaming the banks for receiving our money that Washington gave them is akin to blaming the welfare recipient for receiving benefits that we gave Washington.”””

        No, it’s like blaming the guy who plotted and ordered the robbery and not just the lackeys that he used.

      • Anonymous

        Scott, have you ever seen a welfare recipient on the payroll of the government? I haven’t. But I have seen bankers on the payroll of the government. Thus these cases are nothing alike.

    • Diarmuid Ó Muirgheasa

      I keep hearing this “99%” figure (more of a slogan than an actual figure, I guess). Are you _seriously_ suggesting that 99% of the US are victims of a system keeping them down, yadda-yadda-all-that-other-stuff? Because I don’t see that. Sure, there are some people caught in bad situations, but to pretend that the Occupy movement represents 99% of people is bullshit. 

      I’m not saying things shouldn’t change, or that protesting is pointless, or anything like that, just that if there was really a 99% that was mobilising then there wouldn’t need to be a protest – they could just take control of congress, the senate and the presidency over the next few years, and pass whatever the hell laws they wanted. But it’s not 99%, is it? Of course it’s not. So how about you stop pretending like it is and accept that the so called “99%” is just another angry minority? 

      Regardless of what good points you might have, when you start spouting rubbish like that I assume that everything else you say is equally baseless. 

      • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ab6Ji-fSlTk&feature=share

        Watch the video and learn about the 99% number and what factors go into making that percentage. If you want.

        • Diarmuid Ó Muirgheasa

          Yeah, I know where the number comes from, but that’s not how it’s being used. And you’re ignoring my point anyway. From the front page of wearethe99percent.tumbler.com: 

          “We are the 99 percent. We are getting kicked out of our homes. We are forced to choose between groceries and rent. We are denied…[etc]…”

          And yet 99 percent of the population is not suffering these things, or the list of things that follow. I might as well say “100% of the population is human. I am white. I am the 100%”. It would be equally ludicrous.

          • The number come from the statistics. That’s how I use it.

            From what I read, your point seems to be that you believe OWS using the 99% label inaccurately….is that what really bothers you about OWS?

          • Diarmuid Ó Muirgheasa

            The number comes from one set of statistics, and you apply it to a vaguely related but ultimately separate situation. Yes, I believe they’re using it inaccurately (grossly, horrifyingly so), and no, it’s not the only thing that bothers me about the protests, but it is the biggest – people claiming legitimacy way beyond what they actually have, and using it as an excuse to cause major inconvenience to others, pisses me off no end. You have a right to protest (one I’ll defend aggressively, by the way) but you’re a minority and I’ll thank you to stop suggesting otherwise.

            Let me ask you again: do these people represent 99% of the population? Two choices, either  (1) they do, in which case they should stop protesting and just take over the house, senate and presidency over the next few years (they’re 99% of the population, shouldn’t be hard, should it??) or (2) they don’t, in which case they’re using a number which has a basis in a fact which doesn’t really apply to their situation (read: they’re making shit up, essentially, or at best twisting numbers out of all recognition to give themselves legitimacy they really don’t have).

            So which is it? Or are you still just gonna “use the number that comes from ‘the’ statistics”?

            ^^bit between asterisks being the question bit I’d like you to respond to.

            tl;dr – If you’re a majority, stop painting placards and take over the country in the polling booths. If not, by all means keep protesting, but stop pretending you represent everyone when you don’t.

          • I use the number based on statistics.  I am not an OWS protestor.  It is obvious that the total number of protestors is too low to equal 99% of the general population.

            However each individual can consider themselves in the 99% if they are not individually in the wealthiest 1%.

          • Diarmuid Ó Muirgheasa

            Ah, well that’s fine so. Because using blatantly irrelevant numbers to mislead is a perfectly acceptable thing to do. I don’t see why anyone would have a problem with that, do you? No. Good. Glad we got that sorted.

          • @  Diarmuid
            “Because using blatantly irrelevant numbers to mislead is a perfectly acceptable thing to do.”

            Wow, you just described how numbers, budgets, real costs, and financial indicators are used by corporations, politicians, CEO’s, advertisers, and by the U.S. government.

          • Diarmuid Ó Muirgheasa

            Ah, sorry, my mistake. It took me until now to realise you were trolling.

          • Greg

            The implication (the Lie actually), is that OWS represents and speaks for 99% of the country.  That for sure is delusional.

    • Greg

      I agree with them more than I don’t on the message, but my gripe with them is found in the their approach.

      Occupy Wall Street bothers me when they go beyond “Freedom of Assembly” which I interpret as a variation of Free Speech plus a way to facilitate coordinated political action. 

      It does NOT give random groups of citizens the right to seize public property for extended periods of time, disrupt and intentionally shut down businesses (like the ports in Oakland).  It does NOT give anyone the right to intentionally try to provoke incidents with the police in order to allow the “movement” to gain publicity and public sympathy (many videos of people screaming at the police, acting in threatening manners while technically not striking first).

      Remember the Tea Party?  I didn’t entirely agree with them either.  Remember how they shut down DC?  Remember how they refused to give ground when the police ordered them to move because they were disrupting other peoples live’s?  Remember the violent clashes between Tea Partiers and the police?  Neither do I.  But they got their point across and their agenda advanced 100x more effectively.


        interesting twist on words “seizing public property”. It’s public property, not private, so how can something that’s public be seized except by armed foreign invasion? The sole purpose of assembly is to do it in public centers, why would we assemble in the wilderness, would the forefathers sought to grant us such rights for any other purpose? Of course not, just look at the 18th and 19th centuries, look at France. What is happening is precisely what was sought in our founding documents.

  • Anonymous

    James– really well done and interesting piece. That said, you come across as being fine with how Wall Street behaves, and has behaved for some time. I don’t share your faith in that religion, which is what it’s become– blind faith in unquestionable dogma interpreted and enforced by a very few people who do not have our backs. “Capitalism” has been hijacked by the “banker class” and deformed into an a very effective compensation engine (for the banker class) and control mechanism (for everyone else). Contrary to what theyd have us think, bankers do NOT create jobs or innovate. Entrepreneurs do. Risk takers do, and we simply do not need bankers as much as they purport (and they know this, BTW). They have no risk. They’ve succeeded (along with other mega-industries) in legislating their profit and perpetuation. That is not capitalism, even if it is some distorted and malignant form of “innovation.” don’t feel sorry for the Occupiers. Feel sorry for the deluded foot soldiers of the cheater capitalists who have been duped into coming to to their aid while the cheaters hide in the shadows and do their best to redirect the conversation.

    • I don’t see how I could possibly come across that way.

      I’ll tell you my stance on teh occupiers. I lived on Wall Street (I’ve never worked there). The actual people who physically work on wall street have lost their homes, their pensions, their savings, their marriages and are desperately trying to find happiness like anyone else.

      I’ve written repeatedly two things:
      A) the Occupy Wall Street people are in the wrong place.
      B) Occupy Yourself first: http://www.jamesaltucher.com/2011/11/how-to-change-the-world-or-how-to-occupy-yourself/

      Where anyone gets the idea that I am even remotely pro wall street is beyond me. I am neither pro nor against it. I am against the vile behavior of some  people in 2008. But the roots of the damage are way deeper, which is why I keep the news off and focus on my own improvement.

      • Anonymous

        Ah, I misunderstood, James. Saw your piece thru Facebook out of context and interpreted your “feel sorry” as pity instead of empathy. Apologies.

      • Anonymous

        Why would you go on a show like Fast Money, which represents everything (well, not everything, but a lot) that is wrong with Wall Street?

        • I don’t think they represent Wall Street one way or the other. And why not go on a forum where one can present ideas and have them viewed. If you watch my video you can see a lot of dissent on the show. And, finally, why judge? Is anyone killing anyone on that show?

          • Anonymous

            We’re setting the bar at murder to judge the quality of a show?  You yourself have passed judgement – correctly – on the newscasters who try to scare us about Greece.  Fast Money is just another version of that.   Why not judge?

            What they represent is reflected in the very title of their show: Fast Money.  That is a big part of what is wrong with Wall Street – almost everyone there is looking for fast money, almost everyone there is trying to convince ordinary investors that they can make fast money – if only they will give a little bit first to Wall Street.  

            On this particular show they get a bunch of alleged investing experts to spout complete garbage as investment advice for the day trading suckers who are watching the show and think they can trade just like the pros.  Every day they pretend they have an explanation for why the market went up or down or up and down or up then down then up then down.  They’re a bunch of charlatans, and I am surprised (not outraged or indignant, just surprised) that you would want to associate with them, even as a voice of dissent.  Your appearance on the show is an implicit endorsement of it.

            I did not see you on the show, but I assume that you were a refreshing voice of reason who told them that they should calm down about the end of European banking system etc.  Did you make that case so that people would feel comfortable the market would move up tomorrow?  Probably not.  But that’s all that fast money cares about.  Sure, there’s lots of dissent on the show, but only within the bounds of how to make fast money.  The important dissent is that the entire premise of the show is junk.

          • I don’t watch the Jersey Shore either. But I think before I really judge any TV show I still want to make sure I’m fully satisfied with judging myself. When they ask me to go on I go on for several reasons:

            A) its usually my friends doing the asking or my friends are on the show or both.
            B) i get flattered (I can’t help it) to be asked.
            C) I like setting the record straight when so many are misinformed by the media in general (all the networks, all the papers) and I feel my opinion is better (well, at least, different)

            I don’t really judge past that. I also write for WSJ, huffpo, Nypost, techcrunch, and a billion other places. I dont judge but I stick to my message and never let it vary depending on the winds.

          • Years ago, my idealistic self learned a lesson. That was in order to change something, other than by revolutionary means, you have to do it from within.

            I mulled that advice and followed it and was able to effect change in my profession, albeit slowly.

            So appearing on the show could be an endorsement, or maybe it’s anything but. James tends to take a very different macro view when on Fast Money and is definitely not geared toward that specific investment philosophy (at least with regard to comments on the show)

            I don’t think James is going to change any of those hyper-inflated egos, it just may take a revolution for that, but his appearances are a great tonic.

            The reality is that anything said by the panelists on Fast Money is ethereal. Whatever they say has no relevance to even the very next day. By contrast, James gives big picture views. Right or wrong, only time will tell, but at least they’re thought provoling and memorable.

            Now, if he decides tpo someday sport a pony tail, then I’m outta here


    I just wanted to note that this photograph and one many years later on the cover of the National Geographic gave me the same feeling as to look and feel. Does everyone remember the picture of the young Afghani girl with the incredible penetrating gray eyes? National Geographic went back in a later article and found her years later. Just a comment on the “art” or “feel” of the photographs.

    As to the personal despair seen, and comments by people, I remember a story from Victor Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”. A lady in a concentration camp had a view of a flowering tree through her prison grate. She focused on that every day, and that helped her cope with the horrors that she faced. It’s an incredible book about creating meaning in your life even in the face of despair and terror.

    Also, Victor Frankl called his new approach “Logotherapy”, and to me it seems to be the forerunner of cognitive therapy today.

  • Roy

    For those interested in more info:


    • What I find fascinating is
      “Lange was funded by the federal government when she took the picture, so the image was in the public domain and Lange never directly received any royalties.”

      I wonder – did the sailer who kissed the girl in the war-time celebration get paid for it? (doubtful)

  • JH

    I believe her name was Florence…not Frances.

  • James, you took this article to a whole new level. Working on letter D, that one has profound teachings!

  • pjcpjc

    Wow  …. this is a great post.  

    This is classic Altucher – pointing out a unique angle that no-one else sees (Or even better, clarifying something of which everyone else is only vaguely aware. Posts like this scratch an itch a I didn’t even know I had).

    “Teachers will teach about birds but not about when America began going down the road towards potential facism.” 


    There are other absurd PC issues like this, where people ignore or misread history. Feel free to write about them, as you seem to do so better than almost anyone else.

  • it’s really too bad that whoever sold the photo didn’t have enough compassion to share some of the money with the family.  As a photographer, if any photo of mine with a model that I’ve hired becomes famous, they’ll get some of it.  Doesn’t sound like she even paid the women a model’s fee.

  • We have been carefully trained over the last forty-odd years by movies and pop-culture on how to protest.  What we see today at OWS are the fruits of that training. 

    While it may be fun and it may feel good, ultimately it is designed to fail.  What it is successful at doing is promoting the idea that change is needed.  And guess what…THAT change will be real (Patriot Act, TARP, wars) and it will not be what any OWS protestor had in mind. 

    That said, the OWS protestors have legitimate gripes.  Today the most important change they can make is in the minds of a future robber-baron.  They can do that by shaming those who are responsible for creating the investments-of-mass-destruction.  By occupying their front lawn.  And their neighbors. And their grand-daughters weddings.   By making their names public knowledge and making it terribly uncomfortable for them to be invited to dinners where they get to sit across the table from James.  

    Take away their status and you’ve got them by the jugular.  The possibility that it might happen in the future could potentially make people think twice. 

    I can almost hear the conversation between two GS managers standing at their respective urinals (sans James, of course) where one guy says, “I don’t know… Six months from now I don’t want those OWS protestors on my front lawn because of this deal…

    While there have been isolated incidence of this type of protest it has been sporadic and unfocused.  It needs to be massive and (most importantly) chaotic to be effective.  Chaos is the protestors greatest tool.  Up to now OWS has been following the script.   

  • It is pretty amazing how a single snapshot can distinguish itself.  I like the line about all the fifth graders in Lange’s class climbing out the window.  I can only imagine what a roomful of students would do if I were a teacher, lol, but I’m glad that helped direct her to a more productive and fulfilling life.

  • Johnwalles

    Very interesting on the picture and the real info behind it. Similar to OWS.

    I actually went to NYC and down to the park. It was after the bust up early Tuesday (11/15) so on Wednesday people were trying to get riled up to block the subways and the stock exchange but ended up walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. The pictures and news interviews are nothing like what is really there. Reminds me of HS when everybody is milling around waiting to see who’s parents aren’t going to be home to go have a party there.

    With that said, I actually agree that banks are getting free money from the Govt (0.25% from the Fed is free) and since the govt has taken over student loans, why don’t students get the same rate, the fed funds rate as banks get charged?

    John Walles. #johnwalles

  • HomerUSA

    Her husband had taken the car to get something fixed, if I recall.

  • Raj_against_the_machine

    I missed seeing you on Fast Money, is there a link?
    And the only thing I really want to know is, are MCC’s boobs as big in-person as they are on TV?

  • Andrea

    Thanks for posting this, very insightful. You say life isn’t as miserable as it was in the Great Depression. For many of us, including me, it definitely is not. I am living like a queen compared to my grandparents and great grandparents. However, for too many people in our nation, this is a time of dire need. Too many people are on the verge of homelessness or are already there. So many are unemployed and underemployed -I don’t believe the employment statistics are accurate because they only count those who are on unemployment. There are many more who have been unemployed so long they can no longer receive benefits. Many others are underemployed, working two or three part-time jobs to survive. And don’t get me started on people who have had the misfortune to get sick without insurance. For too many people, this IS the Great Depression. Their lives are as tenuous as Ms. Owens was back in the day. But, unfortunately, the greed is far worse, in my book. A CEO in the U.S. makes 436 times his average employees – in other countries it’s merely in the double digits. Wealth is flagrantly flaunted everywhere. 

    I agree with you, we are an ultra-abundant country, and as such, why do people lose homes because they’re sick, lose insurance and can no longer work? There but for the grace of God go I! Not everyone has the brains and energy, especially when diagnosed with cancer, to start their own business! Furthermore, so many people lost their retirements, thanks to Madoff recently and to Enron not too long ago – too old to make the money to build up their reserves again. So many people, working minimum wage jobs, cannot afford rent. Read Nickel & Dimed by Barb Ehrenreich, for instance.Oh, and if you’re over 50 (as many of my friends are) and lose a decent-paying job that allows you to cover your mortgage and enjoy a beer on Friday night, well, you are totally screwed. A few of them have lost their homes and depleted their 401Ks. Getting a well-paying job when you have wrinkles – but not a bachelor’s degree – is nearly impossible. Yet the “haves” dismiss the “have-nots.” And heaven forbid they should protest our government supporting corporations over people! What WERE those Occupiers thinking! Everything is FINE! This isn’t 1929! In sum, it’s too easy, when you are not in genuine dire straights as millions are in this nation, to condescend to them, to dismiss, to put down, to declare them “whiners” because “Things could be worse.” Not that I’m saying you are, but that tends to be a tone taken against the occupy movement.Back in 1929, there wasn’t the vast abundance that we have now, as you wisely pointed out. I just wish that abundance could be made more available to everyone in this country, in the form of accessible education, health care, and homes. Fewer and fewer people are getting more and more, at the expense of the rest of us who are not the 1 percent.

    • The last sentence sums up the fallacy of your logic nicely: “Fewer and fewer people are getting more and more, at the expense of the rest of us who are not the 1 percent.”

      Since when did America become a country that attacked success? Did Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Venus Williams, Michael Jordan, Tim Cruise, Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg etc. get rich at your expense? Or did they create value for others, businesses and jobs and they prosper as a result?

      How about the Korean immigrant who opens a store in a bad neighborhood and works long hours and eventually succeeds? Did he take something from you and the OWS crowd too?

      How about me when I spent nine years in university and got three degrees, worked 60+ hour weeks and gave up any semblance of a personal life for my career – what did I do to harm you and keep you down?

      My family came here with nothing. We were thrown out of our homes in Uganda, all of our property was confiscated; armed soldiers pointed a gun at my mom and threatened to shoot her because out dog barked at their jeep. Then when we came here, we didn’t whine or complain or expect handouts. We got to work and became successful. We lived in a small house and drove our cars until they rusted through. We didn’t take fancy vacations and until I was in my twenties I though the Ponderosa steakhouse was fine dining. My brother and I had paper routes when we were 9.

      I’ve travelled to 80 countries on 7 continents. I’ve seen real poverty in places like Brasil, Senegal and India. Those nations have real poverty – like the depression – because of kleptocratic governments and powerful people who do enrich themselves at the expense of their countrymen. America is far from perfect and I don’t like the slimy bailouts of the banks or car companies anymore than you do, but the assertion that 1% get rich at the expense of the 99% is pure nonsense.

      James’ article called Occupy Yourself is something the OWS crowd should read. Maybe you and thy  haven’t had all the breaks, but neither did I and millions of other people who made it in America.  We didn’t take anything from the 99%. I’d say we gave a lot in taxes as well as in creating businesses and the profits that make the economy go around and create wealth for others.

      • Great response Purvi!

        There are lots of corrupt business people but there are more honest workers and people who realize they need to WORK HARD to get ahead, rather than complain about corruption.

      • Anonymous

        Purvi, self-made is always possible, but it’s become much harder today compared to 30 years ago. It’s explained succinctly by Karl Denninger. at http://market-ticker.org/akcs-www?post=198335. Through ïllegal” credit expansion the banks + government have enabled a ponzi starting date 1980 which enabled the rich to get richer, and the poor to get poorer. Foodstamps are at an all-time high, and it’s gonna go higher. The OWS movement is protesting not self-made, but that self-made is made much harder compared to 30 years ago because of alot of factors which benefit only the super rich.

        • Jontrader – 

          I respectfully disagree. Perhaps its not entirely an even playing field, but it’s much much easier to succeed today than 30 years ago thanks to the Internet. The web makes it so cheap to start a business. I started my first business fresh out of grad school in 1993. It as like a Groupon for golf. But back then I had to do it all manually with paper, printing, etc. Very expensive.

          A commercial phone line cost a fortune.Today I can get a free Google voice account, a .com costs less than $10 to register and web hosting is $6.95 a month for unlimited domains. You can start a business for less than $20. I started a site in two hours one afternoon in May as an experiment. It generates around $10 a month in passive income – not much but proves the concept. 

          There’s never been a better time in human history to start a business and be successful. Check out the interviews on Mixergy.com or read this article about a 27 year maid who makes $150k a year: http://www.quicksprout.com/2011/10/13/the-juan-chaparro-story-how-a-23-year-old-went-from-being-a-maid-to-make-150000-a-year/One of the reasons I’m so drawn to James’ blog and The Daily Practice is that he really gets it with this new dawn of entrepreneurship. All we need is some imagination, determination and self-reliance. :)

          • Anonymous

            Purvi, anecdotes are great but trumped by statistics.
            The poorest lost 30% buying power over 30 years in real dollars.
            I can rebut your anecdotes with other anecdotes where a medical bankruptcy ruins a family. or where somebody has to work three jobs to make ends meet. If you have to put food on the table, you cannot experiment with affiliate marketing, besides, affiliate marketing is a pyramid shaped pie. The ones at the top take in proportionally more than the ones at the bottom. The pie for all newbies does not get bigger proportionally with people entering the affiliate marketing field, no matter how much enthusiasm you have. It’s a mathematical law.

          • Jontrader

            I looked at your graph. Being a bit of a numbers person, I can say it does not support what your premise. It shows significant growth in pretax income among the top 1% and the next 20%. That does not mean that the bottom is worse off. It mens the people at the top have created extraordinary wealth in recent years. 

            The whole idea of income equality make little sense. If you and I are a nation of two each earning $50k a year and I start a company and now make $500k a year exporting good to another country, how are you worse off?

            I make 10x what you made and instead of 50% of national income you know have 0.9%. Are you worse off? Should I be forced to give you a bunch of my money now so that we’re “equal”?

            Also, I was not talking about affiliate marketing so feel free to attack it all you want – it’s a distractiom. My point is that it’s cheap to get into business and create wealth and much easier than ever before.

            My family came here with nothing and many of my aunts and uncles had no education. Thy worked menial jobs or scrimped and saved and borrowed money to start business. Not fancy ones either but mostly small convenience stores. They worked crazy hours (7am to 10pm) every day, lived frugally and saved what they earned. They knew they had to work to make it in life and did not expect free handouts.

            There are plenty of stories like that. We can look at them and take inspiration or we can blame others and put out our hands, expecting them to just handover their hard earned wealth in the name of equality. 

            I’v been poor and I’ve been rich. When I was poor I didn’t tear down the rich but looked to them for inspiration and eventually earned my place in the ranks. I am dumbfounded and saddened by the jealousy and anger of the income redistribution movement.

          • Anonymous

            Purvi, are we both looking at the same chart? (the right one – the left one is not as clear)

            I disagree with the notion that it was the top 1% or so that expanded the pie. Nope, it was credit expansion that expanded the pie. And credit expansion unfavourably benefits the 1% versus the rest, because they have better access to inflation hedges. The worrisome thing is, the credit expansion is an exponential function, thus we will see a drop in not only actual credit growth but also in total outstanding credit – a precursor to a Great Depression. (in 2008 we had not even a drop in credit, just a stall in the growth). Here’s a visual – http://www.cehwiedel.com/blogs/traces-pix/2009/09/MarketTicker-AbsDebtToGDP.jpg
            – As you can see the income inequality rise is concurrent with the credit expansion rise. And, GDP lags the credit expansion by quite a margin, which doesn’t support the notion that productive investments have been made, as you propose the 1% did (expanding the pie), otherwise GDP would grow faster and more than credit.

            And you mistake me for being against income inequality. Nope, I’m not a communist. I don’t tear down the rich. But I do speak out when the rich with their influence on the government has proposed policies which benefitted them immensely. That is no capitalism. I’m a capitalist who sees that the “growing” income inequality is the problem, especially because it has been done with immoral methods like credit expansion, there was no genius or innovation or hard work involved, as you propose.

            Also, congrats to your family. That must have been hard. BTW, I was talking about affiliate marketing because the link leads to a report which asks for email, I recognize affiliate marketing when I see it. Plus the mention of some immigrant making $150k is a story a dozen in affiliate marketing. I was just saying it ‘s not realistic that everybody will make $150k just by hard work. That’s only gonna happen if the pie truly enlarges through productive means, something which hasn’t actually happened in the last 30 years.

          • Jontrader

            I looked at both charts. The one on the left is hard to read due to scale. That makes it hard to give much analytical value to the chart on the right as it uses percentages which can easy be used to distort meaning. I’ve crunched to many numbers to trust %s w/o knowing absolutes. :)

            I think we agree that the shenanigans with the banks and car companies and the bailout were stupid. Also, all the free Fed money for the banks is shameful.

            What I don’t buy is:
            – the 1%/99% dichotomy – it’s too simplistic. (look at your chart and the “next 20%” line).
            – that 1% gets rich at the expense of everyone else. I think a lot of people benefit.

            I hear you on credit expansion but also think that there have been tremendous increases in productivity as a result of technology. 

            Thanks for sharing your perspective and also the polite and fact-based way your presented it. Enjoy your day. I’m going to the gym now. :)

          • EliasRessegatti

            Purvi, the one problem is that if you make 10x as much as the other one, and resources for food, water, land, etc. are limited, the other ones money loses value. therefore the other person is worse off. simple.


          • MikeB

            Purvi — There’s no reasoning with some folks.  Many are looking to the government to make us all equally successful.  Unfortunately, they can see no other way. 

          • Nosouthwest

            Perhaps what is more correct to say is that there are new opportunities easier than ever before, even as the 1% have managed to find ways to further milk the traditional workers.

            OWS is right to be angry about the latter, even as we workers should do the former rather than just sit and complain.

          • Searx

            congratulations on your 130 + IQ. you worked hard & deserve the benefits that have accrued to you. the problem is how are ordinary Americans with ordinary IQs going to survive financially in this post financial collapse debacle which will probably get a lot worse before it ever gets better?

            if they lose all hope then 1930s type fascism will eventually encroach into your world.

          • I am an ordinary person. Plus I’m a female, a minority, have had serious health problems and couldn’t even speak English until I was five. My point is if I can make it, anyone can make. There’s nothing special about me. 

          • Searx

            BS–you are being humble & disingenuous. obviously everyone can’t make it in this economy. do you think 45 million people in the U.S. are all on food stamps by choice?

          • Wow. Your view of the world is like a regular Dickens novel isn’t it?

      • MikeB

        Great post Purvi.  Even on the most liberal of news channels, the OWS folks come across as the 1% on the fringe.  I suspect many use their parent’s money or trust funds to travel to any and all protests around the country from “save the whales” to “stop the nukes”.

      • Yes… and at the same time, what is the end game?  We are in a system that is concentrating wealth at an alarming rate.

        Why should you care?  As a student of history, you know that EVERY other time in the history of man that the gulf between the classes is too great, the poor rise up and take everything from the wealthy. 

        This is not sustainable equation – we, as a society, need to have systems in place that prevent the creation of oligopolies and fiefdoms. 

        We need to take joy in the fact that our heritage and culture has had these systems in place for 200 years.  That we are not a purely capitalistic society, but one that blends entrepreneurship with long term social balance.

        To do anything else dooms us as a nation.

        • Klint

          “EVERY other time in the history of man that the gulf between the classes is too great, the poor rise up and take everything from the wealthy”

          I don’t think that’s been the case.

      • Beautifully composed and like James’ writing, based on real experience.

        My own parents survived the Holocaust and somehow were able to escape though minefields seperating Communist Hungary from the freedom across the border in Austria. They did that with a crying 2 year old (me) in tow and a severely physically and emotionally disabled uncle.

        Coming to the United States, with absolutely nothing, not even a modicum of English, they still were able to make a great life for themselves and successive generations.

        They left behind corruption, xenophobia, religious intolerance and “no freedom” for these shores.

        The lesson? Never look back. Only look forward. There’s a better life ahead. You just have to be proactive and depend on your own drive to succeed.

  • is this really the “saddest” photo in the great depression?

    I cannot remember any photos from the great depression time, this one definitely leaves strong impression.

    We tend to exaggerate our own sufferings, don’t we?

    • Ed

      I said pretty much the same thing last time this photo was subject of a Altucher post and was flamed royally for lack of empathy trying to contrast modern day suffering vs. the level that is being reflected in this photo.

  • MikeB

    You say “real” unemployment was 18% or 19%  back then.  I wonder if that included folks who gave up looking for work, unlike today’s 9% unemployment statistic, which is “adjusted” and manipulated to mask the true number. 


    How very Reganesque. What about systemic great depressions? Like Haiti. Why don’t they pull themselves up by their bootstraps their? “The good fer’ nothin’s!” 

    Seems like certain segments of population can remain systematically depressed, even in the US, I mean the data is there. Just because you aren’t that datapoint doesn’t mean it’s not happening. The only alternative for the disaffected at the moment seems to be a revolution of sorts. Which would you rather have, cyclical worker revolts, or, happy, quiet, consuming middle class?

  • mike

    Its funny, so i received the book, i read the book, and i really enjoyed the book. I learned many things from the book, i enjoy his outlook on life, but i noticed something. I noticed many spelling errors in the book. Could this be? James would release a book with errors? If it was me i would not have released the book, it would have to be perfect and by then maybe the opportunity to sell it may be over, i learned a lesson from a great entrepreneur yesterday, the product does not always have to be perfect just get it out into the atmosphere, most of us have to release something perfect and we miss the opportunity. Im sure the errors would have drove me crazy but they are not slowing down sales obviously thanx for the lesson James!

  • Diogenes Brown

    Thank you for enlightening me regarding the background of this iconic photograph.  Not to mention your observation about our facist government.  Before you all go off half-cocked, I am a 68 year old, ex-Fortune 500 exec, started a tech company, took it public in the late 90s before the dot com mania, made enough money to live comfortably.  My experience with Wall Street was eye-opening and the 2008 collapse was no surprise, but rather inevitable.  I won’t get into my psychosocial beliefs regarding what drives these bankers because it transcends mere greed.  Suffice it to say it is primal, and has exacerbated the inevitable decline of our somewhat accidental (<1 century) empire.  Took Rome a few hundred years to get to the same place.  Make no mistake, the unholy alliance between business and government (principally Republicans, beginning in 1980, when "compromise" and "government" became dirty words), driven by this primal greed, is destroying this country.  I watched these 30-something bankers, whose ego and arrogance transcended that of any accomplished athlete, actually believe they not only made the difference, but were the force behind civilization's progress.  Hubris doesn't adequately describe their mentality.  Stronger words escape me.  Failure was not possible and if something went wrong, it happened to them, never because of them.  They poisoned Iceland, Ireland, Greece, Germany, and pretty much the rest of the world, which heretofore naively believed in the inherent goodness of America.  I sadly bequeath an America in steep decline to my children and grandchildren, and struggle to advise them (those who might even listen) how and where to survive if not thrive.  Surely not here and surely not as a member of either the 99% or the 1%.

    • Johnwalles

      D Brown, you happen to be the biggest whiney crybaby I have read in these posts. Did someone have a gun to your head to “accept” this wall street stuff. Why didn’t you run your company for the good of the “team”? You are the reason our country is fucked, not snotty 30 year olds on wall street. They showed you the pot of gold and you took it. Then you have the balls to blame them for the downfall of America. Own you shit dude. You sold out and now need to blame someone else for you actions. You are the reason you should be concerned for your children and grandchildren. Take a little of the money you made and set up trust funds for the psychiatric work your family will need from being around you.

      John walles

  • Teachers can’t possibly tell children about Japanese internment in the US while they are trying to show how noble we were for stopping Hitler. Children might start questioning things.

  • Ed

    I finally had a chance to watch your appearance on Fast Money today (dvr)…those guys were dicks to you for no reason. You are awesome, keep up the good work.

  • Ed

    It’s not the success that OWS has a problem with…it’s the power concentrated in the hands of a few (this of course is nothing new, we are just finally pulling our heads out of our asses)

  • Darren Leno


    • I am not denying them permission to protest. I’m just questioning their motives. It seems like an excuse for a lot of anti-semitism because I think they are not even clear on their motives. Confusion and disorganization spread from the top down.





  • Ealish

    You are correct that the family never received any money for the pictures. When Allstate used her likeness in a commercial my father (her grandson) received $100. Before it was all split up, the family was only paid $1000. Being one of her great granddaughters looking at these photos hurts still today. Lange promised they wouldn’t be published and then published them the next day with a false story that shamed my family. Although those the pictures brought food and doctors and shelter and jobs for the migrant workers my family never received those benefits because they had gotten their car fixed and moved on. I hope that people will find interest in her story and read articles like this that will show all sides of the story…the good and the bad.

  • paintcan

    The Dust Bowl was a man made phenomenon. Not nature having her way with us.

  • Beaner.gov

    the people who abuse and live off food stamps can suck it.

  • fallenangel

    I researched this picture as an example for outstanding photography and its political and psychoanlytical implications. Thanks for posting this, very insightful. However, when you say life isn’t as miserable as it was during the Great Depression, you fail to look to Europe, Ukraine and the Middle East, just to name a few. We are right in a similar depression, but they are few photographers to depict the misery. And if the do, the might get killed or not printed if it does not fit the msm narrative.I quoted, a few of your facts. http://wp.me/p2bcCT-2oH

  • Asia Owens

    This just got real

  • Sonia Garces

    Right James, I’m unemployed, but still want to work, no Eager is the right word to feed myself