PBS IS PROVIDING the perfect cautionary introduction to Louis Rukeyser's special tonight celebrating the 20th anniversary of "Wall Street Week" -- the hour before will be devoted to a documentary on "The Crash of 1929."
An American Experience production that will be on Maryland Public Television, channels 22 and 67, at 9 o'clock, this hour doesn't just give a dramatic rendition of the market's fall, but explains what fueled the stock market boom and how that led to its explosive finish.
It was the first time Americans had seen people get rich by pushing around pieces of paper, instead of by manufacturing, mining or some other hard and productive activity. Money made in the market, with the right tip from your broker or astrologer, seemed like it came for free, always a heady brew. But when it disappeared, the hangover lasted a decade.
Using contemporary newsreels, interviews with historians and those who remember, as well as descendants of prominent players, "The Crash of 1929" obviously tries to show the parallels between the 1920s and the 1980s -- there were U.S. troops in Nicaragua, trouble in the Mideast -- but it doesn't have to work too hard to accomplish that.
Indeed, when you listen to the brokers and analysts reveling the boom market of the 1980s on the "Wall Street Week" special that follows at 10 o'clock, you realize that the same get-rich-quick fever that infected the '20s also infected the '80s. And, indeed, that the resultant crash has already occurred.
This time it wasn't the stock market, which was regulated as a result of the '29 crash to insure against that. This time it happened in the relatively unregulated margins that attracted many of the same type of speculators that were active in the market in the '20s -- in the arenas of junk bonds and real estate, whose collapses led to the savings and loan debacle and its astronomical price tag.
The difference is that the society that caused the '29 crash paid for it with the Great Depression, while the country that let the '80s collapse happen has decided to let its children and grandchildren pay for it.