Popular Economics Weekly
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is sounding like President Roosevelt when he intones, “It’s not about me, it’s about we.” in his morning COVID-19 press conferences.
President Roosevelt most famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” in his first inaugural address at the beginning of the Great Depression. Roosevelt was telling us we could conquer a Great Depression if we conquered our fears and came together to fight economic collapse.
We could be entering another such depression, though this downturn will probably be much shorter. The March 8.7 percent plunge in U.S. retail sales is the first major indication of the effects of the business shutdown and shelter-in-place mandates.
The severest part of the oncoming recession could last only a matter of months if we listen to the health care experts and do the required testing and contact tracing required to prevent a further spread of the novel coronavirus in all 50 states.
But the abrupt shutdown of businesses with consumers unable to shop outside of buying necessities will cause a horrific decline in economic growth—on the order of 3 to 6 percent, according to the IMF, depending on how closely Americans follow the stay-at-home recommendations.
And there are more pessimistic scenarios. For instance, if the pandemic lasts into 2021, it could reduce the level of global GDP by 8 percent compared with the baseline, said Gita Gopinath, the IMF’s top economist.
Retail sales sank 27 percent at auto dealers and 17 percent at gas stations, two of biggest segments of the retail industry, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Fewer people are buying cars with millions of Americans losing their jobs and millions more worrying about their next paycheck.
“Americans also drove less as an economic shutdown spread across the country, exacerbating already steep price declines caused by a global price war that has cut the cost of crude oil by two-thirds in just a few months,” said MarketWatch’s Greg Robb, commenting on the retail sales figures.
It may console us a bit that the 1930s were a much different time. The Great Depression only became ‘Great’ because it lasted 10 years over two successive recessions, until the beginning of World War II. This COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t have to be a repeat if we keep the necessary safeguards in place long enough to prevent successive recurrences of the pandemic.
Governor Cuomo’s words could end up to be as historically significant in helping to inspire Americans, for they signal what Americans must also conquer—the narcissism exemplified by our Narcissist-in-Chief and his political party—in order to work together and ignore political affiliations and ethnic divisions.
It takes a certain kind of selflessness that many are showing in banding together to supplement the shortage of PPE masks and clothing, while states work together to supply each other with medical equipment, including scarce ventilators.
This is while we see President Trump’s fumbling responses to the pandemic that so exemplifies the personality disorder we seem to have been living through as a country. Maybe this worldwide pandemic will bring us out of the Age of Narcissism itself, the ‘me first’ attitude that has been the byword for the fragmentation of the U.S. into blue states and red states, white vs. brown skins, and native-born vs. immigrant divisions that our Narcissist-in-Chief has fomented to enhance his own political power.
President Roosevelt in the 1932 speech also said, “…we now realize as we have never realized before our interdependence on each other; that we can not merely take but we must give as well; that if we are to go forward, we must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline, because without such discipline no progress is made, no leadership becomes effective.”
Simply put, we can no longer think of just ‘me’, if we want to survive this pandemic and prevent another Great Depression.
Harlan Green © 2020
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