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Forward to the Past

As we plunge into a new great depression, happy days appear to be far off. Despite brave talk of the economy “snapping back” when shelter-in-place restrictions are fully lifted, precedent says otherwise. The number of small businesses that are likely to not survive the pandemic’s mass closures seem another grim augury.

For folks in the United States, an added factor is the spectacularly incompetent Trump administration, headed by an ignorant egomaniac completely absorbed in handing all responsibility elsewhere and his, if possible, even dimmer son-in-law, the world record holder for being in over his head. Switching overnight from denying there was any problem at all to predicting high death tolls so as to take credit if actual deaths prove to be somewhat less to ignoring the advice of disease-management experts, it is hard to imagine anybody worse in the White House. Although it must be admitted that as long as Mitch McConnell is around, crowning the most malevolent person in Washington will never be a clear-cut choice.

Denying the reality of a crisis and then pronouncing it over isn’t unique to Trump. I remember the recession that hit during the Bush I administration; George H.W. Bush went months claiming there was no recession, right up to one Friday, then the following Monday announced the recession was over. Shortest recession in history — it lasted only a weekend. But as much as the Bush family purports to dislike Trump, they must have a little bit of a rooting interest because the Trump administration has displaced the Bush II/Cheney administration as the worst ever.

With the pandemic bringing about Great Depression-level unemployment rates in three months that took three years to reach after the 1929 stock-market crash, what does the rest of 2020 look like? History does not repeat itself so neatly, but the downturn that stretched across the 1930s with only incremental improvement doesn’t provide a hopeful example. Nor does the long “jobless recovery” from the 2008 economic crash or the Reagan recession of the 1980s.

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