It is not necessary to be an historian of plagues throughout history to understand that life rarely remains the same following one.  That is true on economic, political, and especially social levels.  A recent opinion piece in the New York Times by a distinguished professor of history, Walter Scheidel , documents the impact of the Black Plague in the 14th century in disrupting the Medieval systems of that era.

It is much too early to see the outcome of the Covid 19 virus on global societies, including in the United States.  But it is not too early to see the beginning of trends and patterns that could linger well beyond the suppression of the plague.

First and foremost is the issue of the role of government.  With one or two diehard exceptions, even small government Republicans are forced to join a consensus around massive federal interference in almost all layers of the economy.  Massive stimulus packages, including sweeping bailout of whole industries, direct payments to millions of unemployed workers, and fall back financing for millions of small businesses are rivaled only by New Deal interventions that created what came to be called a social safety net.

Few believe the economic damage done by this plague will disappear when (and if) the plague is conquered.  The disruption of markets, industries, and supply chains will reverberate for decades to come.  It will be decades before the leisure industries, hotels, restaurants, transportation, and much else come anywhere near the old normal, if ever.

The political administration of this New Era of Reconstruction would be problematic for even an administration of sound leadership and experience.  We do not have that kind of administration right now.  And we may or may not get one next November.

In the meantime, we must prepare for an era of corruption rivaled only once or twice in American history.  Already, lifesaving equipment is being distributed to White House favorites, meaning especially Republican candidates for the Senate and House this fall.  After cancelling an order for hundreds of ventilators by Colorado’s Governor, Trump sent a hundred of them to a Colorado Senator whose campaign is troubled.  This is what that Kushner meant when he said medical equipment “belongs to us” in the administration.

So, we are now in a campaign that is literally about life and death.  Trump better pray that his Party does not lose the Senate, or more directly, that he does not lose.  Either way, there will be corruption investigations regarding his administration of trillions of recovery dollars for decades to come.  Jail cells are waiting.

What a time for Joe Biden to become Franklin Roosevelt II.  Now is the time for a televised speech laying out a blueprint for wholesale recovery of the economy, support for workers and families, federal support for whole communities, revitalization of education, a new health care system with an option for Medicare, housing and relocation assistance, and, finally, the infrastructure rebuilding project repeatedly discussed but stymied by Republicans reluctant to spend the money.  That position has now become a tragic joke.

 

Regardless of Trump’s manipulations, cheer leading, and baseless happy projections, full scale recovery will not take place before the fall elections.  Restructuring of the national economy will take years and that economy will look remarkably different from the pre-plague one.

Whole industries and sector will be reorganized and ownership will change hands.  Given our economic system, absent strict enforcement of existing anti-trust laws ownership will pass from one wealthy elite to another.  If organized labor were stronger, and who’s to say it won’t once again become so, rights of workers, re-employed and new, cannot be guaranteed.  But the golden rule will apply: he who has the most gold, rules.

If Trump should be re-elected, expect his wealthy and powerful friends to come out on top.  A lot of the huge recovery package will have gone their way.

But, in the midst of this chaos, one principle should prevail and Joe Biden must be its protector and champion.  That principle is fairness.  It is imbedded in almost all our hearts.  We know it when we see it, and we know it even more when it is absent.

In the great restructuring that is to come, the single most important principle to restore is fairness…call it the New Fairness Deal.  Wholesale restoration of family owned small businesses is every bit as important as giant corporations.  Small towns across the nation are as important to America’s backbone as sprawling cities.  Thousands of Main Streets are as important as one Wall Street.

The issue is trust.  I trust Joe Biden to restore fairness a whole lot more than I trust the guy who is there now.

16 Responses to “The Plague as the New Depression”

  1. Neil McCarthy Says:

    I’m all for New Deal 2.0 (or the New Fairness Deal; either works for me). And I agree that Joe Biden has to think about casting himself as this century’s FDR.

    But let’s all remember what made last century’s FDR possible:

    1. Roosevelt won the 1932 elections in a landslide. He won 43 of the 48 states. He won 472 electoral votes to Hoover’s 59. His success was national in scope. The only places Hoover won were four New England states (Maine, NH, Vt., and Rhode Island) and Pennsylvania.

    2. In 1932, the Democrats picked up 97 seats in the House. The House went from 218-216 in favor of the GOP to 313-117 in favor of the Democrats. There were also 4 additional Farmer-Labor Party House members as a result of the 1932 election, for a total of 5 members from that party (which, broadly speaking, was a progressive party).

    3. The Democrats also picked up 11 seats in the Senate that year. The Senate went from 48-47 in favor of the GOP to 58-37 in favor of the Democrats. There was 1 Farmer-Labor Party Senator and he continued after the 1932 election.

    These super-majorities are what made the New Deal possible, and the motto of the story is simple. If we want a second New Deal, we need to win substantially more House and Senate seats, along with making Joe Bident the President.

  2. LORENZO CHERIN Says:

    Assured of hopeful ideas as we are, herein,so Easter is a renewal.

    A Happy Easter to Senator Hart and his family, and our friends and colleagues.

    And now we look to consider the renewing of communities and nations…

  3. Stephen D. Pillow Says:

    Excellent commentary. This should be forwarded personally to Joe Biden and impressed upon him that he is our best hope for a future that does not include rampant destruction of this nation, physically, socially, and economically. He must take his stance upon the principals, which you espouse herein.

    The points that I have taken from your commentary and presented below (in quotes) are ones that must be impressed repeatedly upon the citizens of this nation, if we are to survive as anything resembling a democracy with a Constitution much like the ones which we have today.

    I must disagree with you on the following, unless you are referring just to well trained economist and political science/history persons.

    “Few believe the economic damage done by this plague will disappear when (and if) the plague is conquered. The disruption of markets, industries, and supply chains will reverberate for decades to come. It will be decades before the leisure industries, hotels, restaurants, transportation, and much else come anywhere near the old normal, if ever.”

    The average citizen has little to no idea what is to come. They just assume that within the next couple of weeks, or months at the most, someone will, as Dr. Anthony Fauci has said not to expect, “flip a switch” and every thing will “as if by magic” return to normal and life will just pick up where it left off. No one of any current political stature has, as my Grandma used to say, “the intestinal fortitude” to stand up in public and make any statement resembling what you have proposed. Every one of them is too damned afraid of being the messenger that will be killed now, but possibly immortalized later. That would mean the probability of ending a promising career in politics.

    “The political administration of this New Era of Reconstruction would be problematic for even an administration of sound leadership and experience. We do not have that kind of administration right now. And we may or may not get one next November.”
    BINGO! Especially if Joe Biden is the very best person that the democratic party has to offer. But, “WYSIWYG”.

    “So, we are now in a campaign that is literally about life and death. Trump better pray that his Party does not lose the Senate, or more directly, that he does not lose. Either way, there will be corruption investigations regarding his administration of trillions of recovery dollars for decades to come. Jail cells are waiting.”

    One can only hope, and work diligently for, the repubicans loosing control of both the white house and the congress, as well as most, if not all, of the state legislatures and governorships. Just wiping out the repubicans in DC will not bring about the long-term solutions that need to be obtained.

    “Regardless of Trump’s manipulations, cheer leading, and baseless happy projections, full scale recovery will not take place before the fall elections. Restructuring of the national economy will take years and that economy will look remarkably different from the pre-plague one.”

    Again, another point that must be made loudly, clearly, and immediately. The more time that Joe Biden takes to make up his mind and state the obvious, get the howl of objections heard, endured, and over with, the sooner he can address just how he intends to handle “another fine mess” that the repubicans “hath wrought”.

    “If Trump should be re-elected, expect his wealthy and powerful friends to come out on top. A lot of the huge recovery package will have gone their way.”

    “Say it ain’t so, Joe.”

    “The issue is trust. I trust Joe Biden to restore fairness a whole lot more than I trust the guy who is there now.”

    And, thusly, we are again given a choice between the lesser of two evils. The current abomination infesting the white house, or the middle of the road democrat, who looks longingly back toward a better time, instead of addressing the devastating calamity that awaits us all in the very near future. Is he truly the best that the democratic party can offer the citizens of this nation at this tumultuous time in our history?

    (It may be noticed that I have not used an initial capital for the either of the current major political partied, the congress, the current occupant of the white house, or the white house itself. As long as the current collection of persons, who are the predominant characters in this farce that they call our government, occupy and control our government, I can and will not bestow upon any of them the honor represented by having their name started with an initial capital. They have either lost or haven’t earned that honor.)

  4. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Another typically and wonderfully thought-provoking piece. And Lorenzo’s timely call for a consideration of renewal is altogether appropriate. I’m sure I won’t be able to translate what I’m feeling in this regard into words before the next piece is up.

    But, I have to say this in response to Stephen, predictably. While Senator Biden isn’t a savior, he sure as heck ain’t the lesser of two evils. And, I trust him with my life to pick up the pieces and, with principles and a moral compass to guide him, renew the promise of America to its own citizens and to the world.

    As it was so beautifully put to me at my other favourite blog, whatever his faults and foibles, Biden’s strength is that he’s always tried his best to be on the right side of history. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

  5. Neil McCarthy Says:

    The one thought I had in response to Stephen’s comment was this:

    Abraham Lincoln, at the time he was elected President, promised to preseve slavery in the states where it already existed and argued that his only goal was to keep the union together. Later in office he said that if he could preserve the union by freeing slaves he would, that if he could preserve it by ending slavery, he’d do that, and that if he could preserve the union being freeing some slaves but not others, he’d do that too. He became the great emancipator later. And he did not really recognize that the war was fully about slavery and the moral problem it created until he forced the 13th Amendment ending slavery through the lame duck Congress in January 1865 and thereafter delivered his Second Inaugural in March.

    Franklin Roosevelt ran for President in 1932 on a platform to balance the budget. He didn’t become a Keynesian until he was in office and, after being reelected in 1936, actually lost some of his Keynesian (or New Deal) nerve as he tried to cut spending to keep the deficit from ballooning. In truth, the real New Deal came with World War II, which unleashed an enormous stimulus, and which, when combined with the productivity boom at that time and after the war, the enfranchising of labor through the NLRA, and the GI Bill, created the industrial era’s middle class.

    The point is that even concededly great Presidents like Lincoln and FDR could have been thought of (and probably were thought of) as the “lesser of two evils”, namely, temporizing politicians without the stomach to embrace courageous policies and risk it all for the sake of the common good and national interest, when they were elected. In this country, revolutionaries do not get elected and incremental progress is the way things work.

    I want Biden to win. And I will work hard to try to make that happen. But I think it’s unfair to assume he will not be up to the great challenges that lie ahead and I am more than willing to suspend judgment while he is given a chance. The one thing we do know is that Trump is not remotely up to the challenge. Indeed, given his character and moral flaws, he is even less up to the challenge than were Herbert Hoover and James Buchanan, in 1932 and 1860, respectively.

    Shakespeare said that “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” The second and third options are still open for Joe Biden, as they were for Lincoln and FDR. We do not now know if he will rise to the occasion. But before they did so, we did not know that about Lincoln or FDR either.

  6. Stephen D. Pillow Says:

    I want to thank Elizabeth for her comments I did placed Biden in a position of being considered one of two evils from which I am going to have to pick. I think that we can all agree that the current occupant can be consider, at least on some level, evil at the very least in a moral and ethical sense. Biden, for me, is a lesser choice that I would like to make for my candidate for President. That being said, I tend to play the devil’s advocate to get some very good ideas flowing. Again, I thank Elizabeth.

    I also appreciate Neil’s comments. I agree with him that “I want Biden to win. I will work hard to try to make that happen.” As for being “up to the great challenge” I am hopeful that he will be, because I have no other option now. As for the suspension of “judgement while he is given a chance”, what other option do I have now? That is because, as Neil again so aptly points out, “the one thing that we do know is that (the current occupant of the white house) is not remotely up to the challenge.”

    I have to in the end again agree with Neil: “Shakespeare said that ““Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” The second and third options are still open for Joe Biden, as they were for Lincoln and FDR. We do not now know if he will rise to the occasion. But before they did so, we did not know that about Lincoln or FDR either.” Biden has a monumental challenge before him. I hope that he is up to it. I know that he will need all of us to support and help him in any way that we can, so that we just might come out the other side of this chaos a stronger and healthier Democracy than we were before.

  7. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    That was very well said, Neil. I just wish you knew Biden like I know Biden. In which case you wouldn’t have betrayed so much doubt. 🙂

  8. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Keep on playing the devil’s advocate, Stephen! It’s one of the things that make this a very special place.

  9. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Will Americans stand up to president Trump and ensure that he does not pull funding from the WHO, a truly indispensable organization, especially in the middle of a pandemic, for God’s sake!?

    Trump is the example of the most dangerous kind of abject ignorance.
    Can Congress stop this particular insanity, if they so chose?

    I keep waiting for them to draw the line. This would be a good time for it. Because, as problems go, I’d say we’ve got one here.

    The WHO just released their most critical guidance yesterday to help countries safely unlock their shutdowns. The press briefing today should be quite informative. It is set for 5pm, Geneva time.

    https://www.who.int/publications-detail/strategic-preparedness-and-response-plan-for-the-new-coronavirus

  10. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    I just learned a new word today and wanted to share: 🙂

    “I hope the US is not trending toward kakistocracy”, she quips.

    Kakistocracy, meaning government by the worst citizens, may be a word worth remembering.

  11. Gary Hart Says:

    In response to Elizabeth’s first of two messages today, Congress can mandate payment to the World Health Organization. But it will not because of the Republican Senate. Further, even if both Houses concurred on it, Trump would still veto the legislation. But if circumstances were otherwise, Congress should mandate the payment anyway, if nothing else as a gesture of support for WHO. This is all about Trump passing the buck. GH

  12. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Trump does what he knows best.

  13. Stephen D. Pillow Says:

    Elizabeth, I know no other way in may cases than to be the devil’s advocate, except when I really agree with the issue of absolutely despise it, such as anything that the abomination in the white house spews forth from that opening in the lower portion of his face.

  14. LORENZO CHERIN Says:

    I value the friends , colleagues, for a good thoughtful approach, and progress thus can develop from such thoughts and ideas.

    Would Elizabeth, especially, with her level of liking for Joe Biden, also others here too, enthuse those of us concerned re: allegations on his age and condition and past behaviour, the media are selective but these things can hurt the candidate and his reputation.

  15. Michael Says:

    I don’t know if Biden has it in him to become a new FDR. I thought Obama did, but I was wrong. Maybe Senator Hart can shed some light since he worked so closely with him. If we get the right AG (Adam Schiff?) maybe we’ll get some investigations into all the corruption. I hope we don’t get more of the ‘time to look forward not back’ attitude that we got in 2009. I remember how the Republicans refused to work with Obama and the Democrats, even as the economy was collapsing from under us, so I don’t expect any cooperation once there is a Democrat in the White House. I do expect a lot of kicking and screaming about the national debt, and a push to cut, cut, cut, programs for the elderly, the poor, and middle class. With the right leadership the government could do a lot to reshape the post-pandemic economy; not only by enforcing antitrust laws and making it easier for unions to organize, though we will be dealing with a changed federal judiciary, which will add to the burden. With the ability to borrow unlimited sums at record-low interest rates, the Federal government can become the largest hedge fund in the world, buying controlling interests in large corporations in trouble, changing their management and direction to make them more worker friendly and environmentally responsible. Much like was done to GM during the financial crisis. It would take bold leadership. Let’s hope Biden is up to it.

  16. Sara Wanderer Says:

    Not debating anything about Trump but have failed to hear any coherent plan from Biden. Maybe I am looking in the wrong places.

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