Experts in science and journalism are comparing the Coronavirus pandemic to both the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918-19 and the Great Depression of the late 1920’s to mid-1930’s. Although the Coronavirus is an international health crisis, the similarities to the Great Depression might better serve history. Many journalists and historians have written articles describing the similarities of the Coronavirus and the Great Depression. From my lone vantage point our world was one of excesses and it was time to push the reset button to start over and change the world as we know it to a kinder, simpler, more humane world.
My parents were teenagers during the Great Depression, an era referred to as The Greatest Generation. They worked hard, lived in a communal environment with extended family members as neighbors; they diligently saved for a “rainy” day and bought nothing unless they could afford to pay for it with cash. The concept of debit and credit cards were unheard of at that time. Today we are a consumer-based economy. It is considered normal to indulge in a $4 Starbucks coffee every morning or to order a variety of consumer goods from online retailers. We want the latest technology at our hands and a closet full of clothes and shoes. In the end we have become overly concerned with personal material wealth and less concern for our fellow humans. To be fair, the cost of living today cannot be compared to that of 1918 or even 1930. Today we have a society that wants what they want when they want it. It is the norm to live outside our means, drive high end vehicles and live in costly apartments. We are not content with being part of a team or to earn promotions through the ranks with hard work – we want the top position with all the wealth, power, and little experience. We live in densely populated cities, travel in large crowded spaces and seldom pay attention to who is beside us. When an economic crisis strikes in conjunction with a health crisis the results are catastrophic.
There were five significant global events that defined the Great Depression. Below is a description of each and how they correlate to the current pandemic of 2020.
- The “Roaring 20’s”
In the 1920’s the stock market was well above par. Income inequality was increasing and 60% of the US citizens were living below the poverty line. 5% of the wealthiest received 33% of the nation’s income. The middle class reduced spending and profits fell – fueling a negative economic cycle.
A century later the stock market was at record high profits in the month prior to the pandemic. In 2019 the US Census Bureau estimated that 23.5% of US citizens live below the poverty level. Today, 20% of the population earns 52% of the income. The cost of living for general consumer goods such as food, clothing, housing and particularly education have burdened the middle class with staggering debt.
- Ensuing Global Crisis
The United States was a prime exporter supplying European countries whose governments could not repay American loans. Banks ceased giving loans setting the scene for an economic depression.
In 2020, the US Government has restructured various agreements with many countries over the past three years. The “America First” policies have largely left a void in alliances with foreign countries that were once dependent upon American leadership to forge the way out of a crisis.
- Stock Market Crash
US investments and bankers over invested. Investors saw a decline in stock prices, panic set in and everyone wanted cash in hand. Stock prices collapsed, banks closed, and 15 million people were unemployed. We see photos of people standing in long lines waiting for food at soup kitchens.
Today more than 35 million Americans are unemployed. The stock market lost 25% of the value shortly after the pandemic shutdown. Because 50% of the population has investments the stock market, the decline will not affect everyone the same way. We have seen cars lined up for miles waiting for food distribution. Churches, food banks and soup kitchens are at capacity.
- The Dust Bowl
Drought hit the US and Canada in the 1930’s. US farmers were forced to look other sources to supply food through dry land methods. The situation worsened and a large portion of the population on the Great Plains couldn’t pay taxes and the economy and people suffered. The drought came in three successive waves.
The Pandemic will be the “Dust Bowl” of the 2020’s. The deadlines for paying 2019 taxes has been moved from April 15th to July 15th. Health experts are warning there will be another wave of the Coronavirus if society does not heed their advice.
- Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act.
This law put special taxes on 20,000 types of US imported goods to allow the country to remain competitive to foreign markets. This maneuver backfired on the US. Companies stopped exporting to the US, workforce laid off and a failing economic crisis ensued.
The Trump Tariffs may result in the same backfired maneuver. China has ceased buying agricultural products causing farmers to suffer record economic losses. Automobile plants have closed throughout the country as management reconfigures product lines. Layoffs occurred prior to the pandemic.
By now you might be asking why I think we are at a point in our history that requires we hit the reset button.
- We have been living in a world where people walk shoulder to shoulder on densely crowded sidewalks – we have no idea who these people are or where they have been, if they are sick or well and the real tragedy is that we don’t care.
- We live in a mobile society where a person can be sitting at an outdoor cafe Italy on Sunday and gliding on a ski slope in Colorado with friends by Wednesday. They bring with them anything from the common cold to the Coronavirus and pass it on to the strangers standing in line waiting to get on a ski lift.
- The one sector of our society that is largely unphased by the pandemic is communication. Americans of all social classes can find all the information they want and need with a few taps on a cellphone or on cable news. Every news story can have varying twists and turns depending upon the reader’s perspective.
- We thirst for the truth but are skeptical of anything we hear or read. The negative communication has divided us as a people – the level of bias toward people who look different is alarming.
- People do not hesitate to bear arms against their neighbors – thou shall not kill has no meaning in 2020. Fewer people go to church and faith is left to oneself rather than a higher power.
- Families are strangers – parents go to work and bring their children to school, drop them off for sports or music lessons or play dates before reuniting as a family unit for a brief time each day. The stay-at-home orders were a rude awakening for parents and children alike who were forced to become acquainted with each other in a very personal way. Patience will be the word of the day.
- Teachers learned they had limited ability to discipline children and imparting education became vastly different and difficult when done on Zoom. Children whose parents did not participate in home school activities will find they have fallen behind their classmates.
- We have become a society of excess. The simple life is undesirable and left to those who are unable to participate in excess.
This is the time to reset the world, to bring full recognition to what occurs in a world that becomes trapped in excess and self. Unfortunately, the grim death toll from Covid-19 continues to mount as the world searches for a new normal. Until then we will wear masks and be aware of how close we are standing to the next person in the grocery line, we will not go out without a purpose. If we are determined to cry out for our personal freedoms as before we risk contracting the silent virus, or maybe we don’t care. We will resist government control over our lives. Perhaps the reset is necessary to bring back respect for each other’s diversities and peaceful co-existence as well as the health and economy of the world’s inhabitants.