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The trouble is, unlike recessions, which are easy to define, there are no firm rules for what makes a depression. Everyone at least seems to agree there hasn't been one since the epic hardship of the 1930s.
But with each new hard-times headline, most recently an alarming economic contraction of 6.2 percent in the fourth quarter, it seems more likely that the next depression is on its way.
"We're probably in a depression now. But it's not going to be acknowledged until years go by. Because you have to see it behind you," said Peter Morici, a business professor at the University of Maryland.
The current downturn has many of the 1930s characteristics, including being primed by big stock market and real estate booms that turned to busts, said Allen Sinai, founder of Boston-area consulting firm Decision Economics.
Policymakers and economists note there are safeguards in place that weren't there in the 1930s: deposit insurance, unemployment insurance and an ability by the government to hurl trillions of dollars at the problem, even if it means printing money.
12. "There's an old saying in Tennessee -- I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee -- that says, fool me once, shame on --shame on you. Fool me -- you can't get fooled again." -Nashville, Tenn., Sept. 17, 2002