we've found a witch may we burn her?
Sadly, Americans don't seem to have as big a role in agricultural income shocks as Tanzanian rural residents do. But the idea that economic downturns produces a higher order of witch hunts is by itself interesting to examine. It may even be possible to tie this to the variety of stories run in the past weeks on rising crime rates in general during economic recessionary periods.
It's not merely the rise in idle people, but rather the likelihood in ascribing external forces as the cause of that idleness and the subsequent need to strike out at those external aggressors, violently if necessary. When the economy is good, and people can't find a job, that's easier to attribute to some personal deficiency (excepting things like racism or local economic conditions, like industrial plant closings). "The economy" as some mysterious figure can't be lashed out at. But the agents who continue to prosper in spite of some personal sufferings on our part can be. It might even be presumed that they are prospering because we are suffering (much as the witch theory would run) and thus deserve our vengeance in no small measure. While this makes for great fun watching crime rates and people running about bolting doors, it really doesn't absolve the people involved from working to find solutions to their (shared) dilemmas. In Tanzania, the problem could be building irrigation or rotating crops. Instead, the problem becomes: where can we find more witches! We've killed all the old women in our village. In America, it would appear the problem becomes: where can we find more booze/crack and whose house do I have to vandalize to get more of it? This is considered civilized progress I guess.