I have been living in Switzerland for the last 4 months. From the Outside looking in, I have been worried about the state of America. It seems like there is just no common ground. During the 1980’s I was a university student. There were conservatives and liberals. Democrats and Republicans. We could agree to disagree but we could also find common ground. I am a democrat but I have also voted for some republicans. My conversations with colleagues in Europe made me realize how much the GOP has changed. Never before has there been one side so divorced from reality. They seem to believe that their personal liberties extend to create their own facts regardless of what the science says. For me personally- I believe that climate change is real and that there are things we can do to slow it’s progress. I also believe that everyone who can, should get vaccinated to protect those who cannot get vaccinated. Choosing to be vaccinated CAN be a choice. BUT choices have consequences. If you make the decision to not be vaccinated, you may also be making the choice to not get on a plane, not travel to some countries, not eat indoors and possibly not work in some places. It is a choice you make. You face the consequences. If you get Covid, I wish you a speedy recovery and the best possible care. When you are struggling to breath, realize that yes, the medical staff is pretty pissed at you but they are going to do their job.
When I returned back to the USA I was out getting a coffee and I heard the people at the next table talking. They were clearly more conservative than I am. I listened because I do not have all the answers and I want to hear the opinion of others. What I discovered is that they really were not talking about policy or ideas. The only thing they had was what they could do to “trigger the libs”. It made me think, is the GOP’s policy agenda hidden or nonexistent?
I was trying to put my thoughts into my notebook when I read Sunday’s paper. On the opinion page of Seacoast Sunday there was a piece by John T. Broderick Jr., the former dean of UNH Law and the founder of the Warren B. Rudman Center for Justice, Leadership and Public Policy. He put it better than I ever could.
Make no mistake. America is broken. The entire idea behind democratic rule is subverted every day by a minority of our population who distrust any government they don’t control, ignore science they don’t understand yet don’t like while callously putting others at risk, disparage and restrict voters of a color different than their own and despise immigrants striving to be free. Their view of our Constitution is most often fanciful, contradictory and uninformed and their idea of freedom is twisted and self-absorbed. They live in a self-interested, imaginary world with no social compact and no reciprocal responsibilities. They disgrace the service and sacrifice of so many Americans who unselfishly gave so much to protect rights they neither understand nor honor. They support the Big Lie with zero proof; a Lie that any rational American would reject. Every federal judge found no evidence because there was none. It is the same Big Lie that even President Trump’s hand-picked Attorney General William Barr disowned. Incredibly, according to some recent polls, sixty percent of Republicans still believe that the election was stolen, too. They have zero proof as well. Do facts matter anymore? Is truth too inconvenient to be honored? For an increasing number of Americans, facts don’t exist or at least facts that don’t serve their ends.
Too many Americans live in a conspiracy-laden echo chamber of their own creation and embrace the American flag while supporting those who used that same flag as a spear to attack Capitol police in an effort to subvert our democratic election. These are the same people who allegedly support the police 100 percent. Many of those people presented with clear and graphic proof that misguided Trump supporters attacked our government on January 6th have concocted the bizarre notion that the FBI or Antifa were behind the insurrection. They have zero proof of that as well yet they hold to it senselessly even as the Proud Boys and others are being prosecuted or plead guilty. How far have we fallen? How dangerous is our descent? How much destructive nonsense, ill-will and subversive conduct can we tolerate and still sustain democratic rule in America? Free speech is protected and cherished under our Constitution but not efforts in plain sight to subvert or destroy our country. Actions speak louder than words.
The Republicans in Congress and in Republican-controlled legislatures across the country are actively working to grind our democratic process to a halt and replace it with autocratic rule. Where are the Republican voices with the courage to speak up? Why are so many good Republicans remaining silent or objecting only in whispers or among a small circle of safe friends? Where are they? Conservative Republicans cheer Kyle Rittenhouse, who, whatever the verdict, took two lives with an automatic weapon. Cheering seems tone deaf and classless to me. I have never heard a police officer cheer if he/she takes another life in self-defense. I’ll bet you haven’t either.
Where have all the statesmen gone? When did truth die? When was finding out who organized and funded the January 6th assault on our free elections a petty partisan exercise to be disparaged by virtually every elected Congressional Republican? Unless things change, America will continue its sorry decline from being a democratic beacon to a world yearning to be free to just a sad example of a noble yet failed experiment in self-government. I take nothing for granted. In current circumstances silence is dangerous.
Putin must be smiling in Moscow.
John T. Broderick Jr. is the former dean of UNH Law and the founder of the Warren B. Rudman Center for Justice, Leadership and Public Policy.
I love classic Christmas songs. I always have. Sometimes what is old and comfortable is new again and finds new meaning.
I am writing this in the beginning of December and I am a VERY long way from home.
I am living and working in the beautiful country of Switzerland. Christmas markets are popping up in every town. Snow is falling. A truly amazing place for Christmas. But I am without my family.
The other day I was doing some planning and I put on my Christmas playlist for some background music. Bing Crosby’s version of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” came on. It was as if it was the first time I had ever heard it. The emotional response was deep.
According to Wikipedia it was originally written to honor soldiers overseas who longed to be home at Christmas time. The song is sung from the point of view of a soldier stationed overseas during World War II, writing a letter to his family. In the message, he tells the family he will be coming home and to prepare the holiday for him, and requests snow, mistletoe, and presents on the tree. The song ends on a melancholy note, with the soldier saying, “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams”
Magglingen Switzerland is a long way from anything that resembles a war zone and I am surrounded by wonderful people. Unfortunately I am just not near the ones I am closest to in my life. I originally was supposed to be in Colorado this weekend for a family vacation. Our daughter and her boyfriend live there. Our son and his girlfriend were joining my wife and I. A new covid variant was detected and travel restrictions were put in place that prevented me from being able to join them. The gymnasts I work with here found out about this and got in contact with my wife and kids. My family recorded videos letting me know I was loved. The affections I felt from my gymnasts was immeasurable. As they showed me they video, they let me know that I did have family here. They may not be the family I was born with or created. But the family that I made along the way.
During line up before morning training they presented me with the video.
I will be going home for Christmas and I look forward to the time with my family there. But While I am there- I will miss my gymnastics family here.
To my Team Suisse Gymnasts. Thank You. I love you
In 1943 the chaplain on the Battleship North Carolina knew that the crew was feeling homesick as they were expected to still be overseas during the holiday season. He had an idea and collected $5 from every crew member that had children back home.
The chaplain made a list of all that gave him money for their children at home and he sent that money along with the addresses of the sailor’s home to Macy’s department store. The request was made for Macy’s to buy gifts using the money provided for the crew’s family and have the gift mailed to their homes in time for Christmas.
As Christmas approached, the service men on the ship gathered for the annual Christmas show that involved songs, skits and entertainment for the troops aboard the Battleship North Carolina. When the entertainment had ended, the chaplain had a surprise to reveal.
When Macy’s received the money from the chaplain along with the list of the addresses, they thought that in addition to just giving gifts to these military families at home, they should give a one of a kind gift to the soldiers as well. Since they had the addresses for all the sailors homes, they reached out to each family and asked if they wanted to come to the Macy’s store and send a special message to their loved one who would not be able to be home for Christmas.
The men aboard the Battleship North Carolina sat there and saw their wives, children and loved ones appear before them on the screen as Macy’s had videoed each of their families sending them a Christmas message. These rugged sailors watched, wept and rejoiced.
People spend more, take more risks—and demand more of politicians
This article came up as I was listening to a podcast from the Economist the other day. My undergraduate degree is in History so this kind of thing I find interesting and it got me thinking. I have been trying to plot the course as we emerge from the pandemic. How we as a society will work and how my businesses will work. Will the 2020’s ROAR like the 1920’s? Will it lead to a crash?
Money, machines and mayhem
The cholera pandemic of the early 1830s hit France hard. It wiped out nearly 3% of Parisians in a month, and hospitals were overwhelmed by patients whose ailments doctors could not explain. The end of the plague prompted an economic revival, with France following Britain into an industrial revolution. But as anyone who has read “Les Misérables” knows, the pandemic also contributed to another sort of revolution. The city’s poor, hit hardest by the disease, fulminated against the rich, who had fled to their country homes to avoid contagion. France saw political instability for years afterwards.
Today, even as covid-19 rages across poorer countries, the rich world is on the verge of a post-pandemic boom. Governments are lifting stay-at-home orders as vaccinations reduce hospitalisations and deaths from the virus. Many forecasters reckon that America’s economy will grow by more than 6% this year, at least four percentage points faster than its pre-pandemic trend. Other countries are also in for unusually fast growth (see chart 1). The Economist’s analysis of gdp data for the g7 economies going back to 1820 suggests that such a synchronised acceleration relative to trend is rare. It has not happened since the post-war boom of the 1950s.
The situation is so unfamiliar that economists are turning to history for a sense of what to expect. The record suggests that, after periods of massive non-financial disruption such as wars and pandemics, gdp does bounce back. It offers three further lessons. First, while people are keen to go out and spend, uncertainty lingers. Second, crises encourage people and businesses to try new ways of doing things, upending the structure of the economy. Third, as “Les Misérables” shows, political upheaval often follows, with unpredictable economic consequences. Take consumer spending first. Evidence from earlier pandemics suggests that during the acute phase people behave as they have during the past year of covid-19, accumulating savings as spending opportunities vanish. In the first half of the 1870s, during an outbreak of smallpox, Britain’s household-saving rate doubled. Japan’s saving rate more than doubled during the first world war. In 1919-20, as the Spanish flu raged, Americans stashed away more cash than in any subsequent year until the second world war. When that war hit, savings rose again, with households accumulating additional balances in 1941-45 worth some 40% of gdp.
History also offers a guide to what people do once life gets back to normal. Spending rises, prompting employment to recover, but there is not much evidence of excess. The notion that people celebrated the end of the Black Death by “wild fornication” and “hysterical gaiety”, as some historians suppose, is (probably) apocryphal. The 1920s were far from roaring, at least at first. On New Year’s Eve 1920, after the threat of Spanish flu had decisively passed, “Broadway and Times Square looked more like the old days”, according to one study, but America nonetheless felt like “a sick and tired nation”. A recent paper by Goldman Sachs, a bank, estimates that in 1946-49 American consumers spent only about 20% of their excess savings. That extra spending certainly aided the post-war boom, though the government’s monthly “business situation” reports in the late 1940s were nonetheless filled with worry of an impending slowdown (and indeed the economy went into recession in 1948-49). Beer consumption actually fell. Consumers’ caution may be one reason why there is little evidence of pandemic-induced surges in inflation (see chart 2).
The second big lesson from post-pandemic booms relates to the “supply side” of the economy—how and where goods and services are produced. Though, in aggregate, people appear to be less keen on frivolity following a pandemic, some may be more willing to try new ways of making money. Historians believe the Black Death made Europeans more adventurous. Piling on to a ship and setting sail for new lands seemed less risky when so many people were dying at home. “Apollo’s Arrow”, a recent book by Nicholas Christakis of Yale University, shows that the Spanish flu pandemic gave way to “increased expressions of risk-taking”. Indeed a study for America’s National Bureau of Economic Research, published in 1948, found that the number of startups boomed from 1919. Today new business formation is once again surging across the rich world, as entrepreneurs seek to fill gaps in the market. Other economists have drawn a link between pandemics and another change to the supply side of the economy: the use of labour-saving technology. Bosses may want to limit the spread of disease, and robots do not fall ill. A paper by researchers at the imf looks at a number of recent outbreaks of diseases, including Ebola and sars, and finds that “pandemic events accelerate robot adoption, especially when the health impact is severe and is associated with a significant economic downturn.” The 1920s were also an era of rapid automation in America, especially in telephone operation, one of the most common jobs for young American women in the early 1900s. Others have drawn a link between the Black Death and Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press. There is as yet little hard evidence of a surge in automation because of covid-19, though anecdotes abound.
Whether automation deprives people of jobs, however, is another matter. Some research suggests that workers in fact do better in the aftermath of pandemics. A paper published last year by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco finds that real wages tend to rise. In some cases this is through a macabre mechanism: the disease culls workers, leaving survivors in a stronger bargaining position.
In other cases, however, rising wages are the product of political changes—the third big lesson of historical booms. When people have suffered in large numbers, attitudes may shift towards workers. That seems to be happening this time: policymakers across the world are less interested in reducing public debt or warding off inflation than they are in getting unemployment down. A new paper from three academics at the London School of Economics also finds that covid-19 has made people across Europe more averse to inequality. Such pressures have, in some instances, exploded into political disorder. Pandemics expose and accentuate pre-existing inequalities, leading those on the wrong side of the bargain to look for redress. Ebola, in 2013-16, increased civil violence in West Africa by 40%, according to one study. Recent research from the imf considers the effect of five pandemics, including Ebola, sars and Zika, in 133 countries since 2001. It finds that they led to a significant increase in social unrest. “It is reasonable to expect that, as the pandemic fades, unrest may re-emerge in locations where it previously existed,” researchers write in another imf paper. Social unrest seems to peak two years after the pandemic ends. Enjoy the coming boom while it lasts. Before long, there may be a twist in the tale. ■
The window for Republicans to create a multiracial working-class party closed this weekend when 49 senators nixed COVID-19 aid.
They Senate on Saturday passed President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package which includes a $1400 stimulus check so go out and buy yourself something nice. Like November‘s rent.
The $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill passed by the Senate this week while the Republicans spent most of the weekend trying to derail it while still whining about Dr. Seuss.
The past few months have offered a deeply revealing look at the state of American democracy and the course it could take over the next few years without major reforms. On the one hand, we saw a political faction which represents a minority of American voters try to overturn an election they lost and then sell a violent insurrection interfere with a lawful counting of electoral votes. Then about two months later we saw 50 senate Democrats who represent about 41 MILLION MORE Americans than the 50 senate Republicans vote to deliver one of the largest rescue bills in history. The relief bill has been massively popular in poll after poll. Not a single Republican joined them in the Senate or in the house seemingly because they were too busy doing jobs like reading Green Eggs and Ham.
The Republican Party has become (once again) the party of NO. And their brand is pearl clutching over reaction.
While the Democrats are working to help real people. The Republican are all up in arms about The Muppets, Dr Seuss and Mr Potato Head. They used every delay tactic they could to actually delay stimulus checks going out to 80% of Americans.
The GOP wants all children back to in person learning in schools but they do not support the bill to get vaccines to everyone.
They spend more time trying to make voting more difficult than they did in confirming Trump’s last minute supreme court justice.
Politics will ALWAYS be part of the process. But maybe the GOP could take a stand on something a little more substation that Mr Potato Head?!
While you wait for your stimulus check- remember the GOP delayed it.
While you wait in line to vote in the next election- remember it was the GOP that made it harder.
It was less than two weeks ago that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a past and future presidential hopeful for the Republican Party, stood before an annual confab of conservative fanatics and proclaimed he could see the future of the Grand Old Party. In Orlando, a stone’s throw from Walt Disney’s Fantasyland, Cruz promised CPAC that the GOP will be “the party of steel workers and construction workers and pipeline workers and taxi cabdrivers and cops and firefighters and waiters and waitresses and the men and women with calluses on their hands who are working for this country.”
Yet on Saturday afternoon, Cruz and 48 of his Republican colleagues raised their uncalloused, millionaire hands and flipped a giant middle finger to the American middle class who could have returned their party to power in Congress in 2022. In unanimously — and futilely — opposing the Democrats’ 50-49 passage of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that will likely be signed by President Joe Biden later this week, Cruz and his fellow GOPers went on the record opposing $1,400 checks for struggling taxi drivers, expanded jobless benefits for waiters and waitresses whose jobs were obliterated by the pandemic, and local aid to stop the feared layoffs of cops and firefighters.
Even before this weekend’s historic vote that will define America’s politics of the 2020s, the Republicans provided a giant metaphor for its drop-dead message to the working class when a party stalwart — Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, who concedes his “preference” is not even running for another term next year —dug deep in the Senate rulebook to force clerks to read aloud the entire 628-page relief bill. The goofy parliamentary stall took some 10 hours and 43 minutes, finally ending around 2 a.m. Friday morning as an anguished Johnson — required to be present — buried his exhausted face in his hands. How bad were “the optics” — in Beltway lingo — of the Wisconsinite’s stunt? While the move held up billions to speed up coronavirus vaccines, approximately 750 more Americans died from COVID-19.
The father of the now lost-in-the-wilderness American right, William F. Buckley, wrote famously that the modern conservative “stands athwart history, yelling Stop.” The political and moral bankruptcy of that philosophy was on full display this weekend, as Republicans planted their flag as the party of obstruction and celebrators of broken, gridlocked D.C. politics, while the Democrats voted to keep history moving forward, with a bill supported by about 70% of the American people, including millions of rank-and-file GOP voters.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) tried to hold up the coronavirus relief bill.
Greg Nash / MCT
Yes, there were moments when the Democrats — still no more of an “organized political party” than when Will Rogers told that joke a century ago — looked determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, confronted with a bill that, with the arguable exception of Obamacare in 2010, does more for the U.S. middle class than any legislation since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society since the mid-1960s. The macho posturing of West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin — for whom getting on the Sunday talk shows matters more than his state’s high rate of poverty — nearly toppled the bill, and the Democrats’ blind spot on the $15 minimum wage is deeply disappointing to leftists who voted for Biden last November.
But in the end, the Democrats’ resolve and unity among its one-vote Senate majority was a stunning victory for a new American political reality in the 2020s. It involves forging an all-new definition of “bipartisanship” around hardball politics for measures that are supported by majorities of citizens, rather than negotiating with a Republican Party that continues to rally behind a Big Lie around nonexistent voter fraud and the 2020 election that threatens our democracy.
Saturday’s bold vote didn’t change the overriding dynamic behind America’s warring political tribes. The Democrats’ base is still college-educated voters, while Republicans’ toxic stew of both class and racial resentments will continue to amp up white people without diplomas. But Democrats just passed a bill that, frankly, does more for the nation’s broad, multiracial working class and the less-advantaged than for upscale suburbanites who put Biden over the top in 2020. In doing so, the party has a great chance to stop the slow bleed of working-class voters — especially a shift of Latinos and some Black voters to Donald Trump last fall — and ride a booming post-pandemic economy in 2022, thus bucking the powerful trend of a party in power losing seats in a midterm election.
After a half-century or so of watching American politics, it’s hard for me to overstate what an epic flub we are witnessing from today’s GOP. Trump’s reckless, demagogic presidency riled up voters on both sides; even in losing badly to Biden, the 45th president increased his turnout from 62 million in 2016 to more than 74 million, in a way that suggested a path forward for a new kind of right-wing populism. Indeed, many voters on the long lines in pro-Trump precincts cited their initial $1,200 stimulus check, and there’s little doubt that the GOP standard-bearer would be serving his second term if he’d forced through a second $2,000 check before Nov. 3, as Trump himself realized after it was too late.
The tragedy of the coronavirus had offered Republicans an opportunity to show a kind of economic empathy for the “essential workers” of the blue-collar electorate that would have doubled down on its current limited strategy, which is mostly cultural warfare. But — other than a laudable child tax credit offered by Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, who’s not super popular among the party’s pro-Trump base these days — GOP politicians have only offered the middle class empty platitudes and pale light beer versions of Democratic social welfare, much as the Dems looked utterly lost trying to sell watered-down Republican ideas for 30 years after Ronald Reagan.
In this image from video, the vote total of 50-49 on Senate passage of the COVID-19 relief bill, is displayed on screen in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington Saturday.
The Republicans do have a plan but it’s as dumb as it’s morally repellent — doubling down on its scheme to try to win national elections with just 46-47% of the popular vote, aided by the anti-democratic aspects of the Constitution and our political norms as reflected in the makeup of the Senate, its arcane rules and, in presidential years, the Electoral College.
This week showed us both what the GOP is incapable of doing — aiding the middle class — but also its fundamental three-prong strategy for the elections of 2022 and 2024. First, burn a lot of empty political calories on cultural outrage such as the supposed banning (not really) of Dr. Seuss and (also not really) Mr. Potato Head, with the subliminal messages that what leftists really want to cancel is their white supremacy. Second, muddy the waters on the pandemic with “free-dumb” policies like Texas and Mississippi ending mask mandates and other restrictions just as new variants appear. Third — and this is really the centerpiece — is to fall back on Trump’s 2020 Big Lie to pass a slew of voting restrictions targeting Black voters, Latinos, or the young, to win in 2022 not on the best ideas but by picking the voters.
The fact that the current Republican Party is so quick to fall back on racism, xenophobia and misogyny makes me happy that its leaders seem to have also flunked Poly-Sci 101. The opportunity for the GOP to become a true majority national party as a foil to the increasingly diploma-wrapped image of the Democrats — in a nation where just 37% of adults currently hold four-year college degrees — was right there, if the party had been willing to put its money where its mouth was, on Cruz and his phony-baloney rhetoric about cabdrivers and the wait staff.
Instead, the 2022 election will turn on Republicans’ success as an anti-democratic (with a small “d”) party trying to keep as many legitimate voters away from the ballot box as possible. For Democrats, the ultimate lesson of this weekend may prove less about economics and more about courage in using just 51 votes to make the tough calls for saving America. Giving aid to the working class was a good first step for the Democrats, but whether it matters at the polls in 20 months depends on their bravery in abolishing the filibuster and passing laws to make sure that the working class can still vote.
Will is the national columnist — with some strong opinions about what’s happening in America around social injustice, income inequality and the government
A year ago I was faced with an incredibly difficult decision. Do we close the gyms because of the pandemic or do we fight to remain open. Yesterday I wrote an e-mail to my staff and posted it on the Atlantic Gymnastics Blog. Just to help them keep things in perspective. Not on what we have lost- but on how far we have come.
The 1920s Roared After a Pandemic, and the 2020s Will Try
The day was cold and windy. Standing outside the Capitol, the just-sworn-in president called for “a new unity of spirit and purpose” to bind together a nation that had been wracked by a pandemic and high unemployment. His predecessor wasn’t on stage. The inauguration of Warren G. Harding on March 4, 1921, marked the inauspicious, unofficial start of an historic decade. The somber mood gave no hint that America was about to go on a tear.
The Roaring Twenties saw widespread adoption of the assembly line, the automobile, radio, motion pictures, indoor plumbing, and labor-saving electric appliances. Consumerism and mass culture took shape. It was the decade of art deco and jazz, Coco Chanel and Walt Disney, The Great Gatsby and the Harlem Renaissance. It was “the first truly modern decade,” says retired Marquette University economic historian Gene Smiley.
As the U.S. suffers through another pandemic, it’s tempting to ask whether history will repeat itself. Once the virus passes, will the 2020s roar the way the 1920s did?
It’s not impossible. The past year demonstrates that the economy and society can change shape quickly. We’ve seen multiple Covid-19 vaccines developed in record time and an almost-overnight transition to remote work. Tesla Inc. delivered just shy of a half-million electric vehicles in 2020 despite the pandemic. A London-based unit of Alphabet Inc. solved a half-century-old scientific puzzle, using artificial intelligence to predict accurately how proteins fold, which could revolutionize drug discovery.
In all probability, though, the U.S. will continue to wrestle with “secular stagnation,” an economic plague of developed nations. Preconditions include an aging population, slow labor force growth, and weak demand for credit, which is why the disease is resistant to traditional monetary remedies. The latest evidence that investors aren’t holding out much hope the coming decade will break out of that mold: The yield on inflation-protected 10-year Treasury notes is around negative 1%, down from 4% during the ’90s tech boom.
Despite the differences, by copying what was done right in the Roaring Twenties and avoiding what went wrong, Americans can make the 2020s a success—by today’s standards, anyway.
The world of 2021 is “a muddled mix of the Twenties in a lot of ways,” says Rutgers University economist Eugene White. Stock prices are high in relation to corporate profits, as then. Today’s suspicion of international institutions such as the United Nations and World Health Organization would be familiar to a traveler from the 1920s. Race relations are once again strained, though Black Americans are in a far better position than they were a century ago. Tariffs rose under President Donald Trump, as they did in the 1920s. Americans continue to complain about overbearing government, as they did during Prohibition. The 1920s was the first decade in which the rural population was smaller than the urban one; in the 2020s, rural White America is feeling disenfranchised after having gone strong for Trump’s failed reelection.
“There is no chance of sustained decade-long growth that matches the achievement of the 1920s”
The 1920s didn’t get off to a good start. The Spanish flu pandemic, which killed about 675,000 Americans out of a population of 100 million, was over, but the U.S. was deep into an 18-month downturn marked by the sharpest one-year decline in wholesale and consumer prices in 140 years of record-keeping. The economic miracle of the Twenties didn’t really begin until July 1921, when the recession ended and boom psychology set in.
This summer, depending on how vaccinations progress, there will likely be a flicker of that mania as people emerge from their Covid-19 bubbles, ready to party. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg are predicting above-average growth in gross domestic product after a difficult first quarter, with the median forecast peaking at an annualized 4.7% in the third quarter.
Indications of pent-up demand are abundant. Carnival Corp., in a sign of confidence in the public’s desire to socialize again, plans to begin boardings in April for its biggest ship ever, the 5,200-passenger Mardi Gras. Finally free to do as they please, Americans may make like the Lost Generation, who chose to “live in the pure moment, live gaily on gin and love,” as the literary critic Malcolm Cowley wrote.
Gin and love make a powerful cocktail but won’t sustain a decade’s worth of growth. The bull case for a repeat of the 1920s is that the pandemic lockdown has accelerated the adoption of technologies such as videoconferencing and digital commerce that will keep paying dividends long after the virus is vanquished. McKinsey & Co. says a global survey of executives revealed that they were a “shocking” seven years ahead of where they planned to be in terms of the share of digital or digitally enabled products in their companies’ portfolios. And there’s still headroom. Cowen Research reports that almost half the corporate technology buyers it interviewed said they were in the early stages of a transition to cloud computing.
What’s hard about forecasting technological progress is figuring out where we are on the adoption curve. Take robots. The word was coined in 1920 by a Czech playwright, Karel Capek, but a century later robots haven’t lived up to hopes—or fears. It took 13 years, from 2005 to 2018, for the number of installed robots in the U.S. to double, according to the International Federation of Robotics. To a pessimist, that’s almost a plateau. To an optimist, it means robots are still on the bottom of the S-shaped adoption curve and are poised for takeoff at any moment.
Bearish forecasters say labor-force expansion and gains in schooling don’t match those of the 1920s, and information technology and biotech breakthroughs, while impressive, don’t measure up to the transformative, general-purpose technologies—electrification and the internal combustion engine, to name two—that powered growth a century ago. As investor Peter Thiel famously said, “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters.” (It’s 280 characters now, but still.)
For the average American, life changed more from 1920 to 1929 than it’s likely to change from 2020 to 2029. Electrification gave us refrigerators (instead of ice boxes), washing machines (instead of washboards and hand-cranked wringers), and radio (instead of your sister at the piano). With electrification, factories no longer had to rely on power from a single engine that was connected to machines via noisy, inefficient belts and pulleys.
The internal combustion engine came into its own in the 1920s, powering cars, trucks, farm equipment, and airplanes. The number of registered drivers almost tripled during the decade. The automobile’s rise sparked investment in roads and suburbs as well as production of rubber, steel, glass, and oil.
Two Decades Far Apart
Robert Gordon, an economist at Northwestern University, is a leading proponent of the argument that these modern times don’t live up to those modern times. At the request of Bloomberg Businessweek, he assembled figures on labor productivity for the entire economy from 1893 through 2019, clustering the data into roughly equal spans that begin and end at high points in the business cycle. The data up to 1948 come from a book he wrote, The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living Since the Civil War. For the rest he relied on government figures.
The data compiled by Gordon demonstrate that productivity growth jumped in 1920 and remained high for a half-century before slumping after 1973. “While it is likely that productivity growth will revive somewhat in the 2020s from the dismal record of the 2010s,” Gordon wrote in an email, “there is no chance of sustained decade-long growth that matches the achievement of the 1920s.”
One lesson, then, is that timing matters. The 1920s roared because technologies that had been nurtured for several decades were finally ready for mass deployment. That may not be the case today.
It’s easier to spot social similarities between the decades than economic similarities. Then as now America was divided between a fast-moving, multiethnic, urban society of immigrants and a predominantly White, conservative, rural society pining for a past that it perceived as purer and less tumultuous. Americans elected three Republican presidents in the 1920s—Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover. Harding vowed a “return to normalcy,” while Coolidge, a taciturn Vermonter, “appeared to be a reluctant refugee from the previous century,” wrote Nathan Miller in New World Coming: The 1920s and the Making of Modern America.
The reformist Progressive Era that began around 1900 had lost its moxie, and the big-government New Deal hadn’t yet arrived. Business was given free rein. “Never before, here or anywhere else, has a government been so completely fused with business,” the Wall Street Journal wrote in 1928. Said Coolidge: “The man who builds a factory builds a temple. The man who works there worships there.” Elon Musk slots in nicely as this century’s answer to Henry Ford, though our society is more skeptical that what’s good for business is good for the country.
Gordon calls the 1920s “a Janus-faced decade that defies simple characterization.” It was a time of liberation, in which women got the vote and dared to wear short skirts, smoke cigarettes, and drink bathtub gin, while Black poets, authors, and musicians found wide audiences. “It was the period when the Negro was in vogue,” poet Langston Hughes wrote.
The Immigration Act of 1924 barred the gates to immigrants from Asia and seriously restricted immigration from southern and eastern Europe—drawing the admiration of none other than Adolf Hitler, who wrote approvingly in Mein Kampf, “The American Union categorically refuses the immigration of physically unhealthy elements, and simply excludes the immigration of certain races.”
The 1920s was a time of rising prosperity on the whole but also rising inequality of incomes and wealth and deepening divisions in society. Prohibition, which took effect in 1920, drove a wedge between “drys” and “wets” and fueled organized crime. Factory workers, stock investors, and Big Business mostly did well, but the still-sizable agriculture economy was shocked by a 53% decline in farm product prices in the 1920-21 recession and would take years to recover.
The first three years of Trump’s term were likewise marked by a tide of strong economic growth that lifted many boats, though not all. The unemployment rate for Black Americans, for instance, reached a record low. The pandemic has wrecked much of that progress. Bringing the economy back to its potential to lift up the less fortunate is a second reason, after saving lives, for President Biden to accelerate the distribution of vaccines.
Perhaps the most important lesson the 2020s can learn from the 1920s is the peril of isolationism. The U.S. emerged from the Great War of 1914-18 as the world’s most powerful economy as well as its biggest creditor, having lent heavily to the Entente Powers to finance the war effort.
Yet the U.S. resisted taking on the responsibilities of global leadership. Fed up with Europe and its bloody quarrels, isolationists in Congress prevented the U.S. from joining the League of Nations. With stringent fiscal and monetary policy, the U.S. forced its deflation onto other countries. Washington also insisted that the U.K. and France repay their war debts to the penny. In a vise, those countries raised the money to pay the Americans by exacting reparations from Germany. That fed the resentment among Germans that contributed to the rise of Hitler.
Much has changed since then. The U.S. is now a debtor nation, consuming more than it makes. Trump was correct that this is a problem: The U.S. is accumulating debts, while its productive capacity is being hollowed out.
What’s similar is that today, as in the 1920s, the U.S. can’t escape the special obligations that go along with being the world’s biggest economy. Americans learned that lesson after the twin disasters of the Great Depression and World War II. The U.S. was instrumental in the founding of the UN, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank and led the push to lower tariff barriers, which enabled poor countries and those ravaged by war to prosper through trade. Nations such as Germany and France set aside imperialist dreams and focused on quality of life. “If you ask an average European man what he cares about, it’s very often soccer,” says Columbia historian Adam Tooze, author of the 2014 book, The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931.
In four years in office, Trump revived isolationism, even resurrecting the “America First” motto that Harding campaigned on in 1920—and that was embraced by the anti-Semitic, fascist-sympathizing America First Committee that fought to keep the U.S. out of World War II.
In the absence of U.S. leadership, nations such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Malaysia, and Vietnam are at risk of falling into the orbit of China, says Tooze. “As in the Twenties, we are our own worst enemy,” he says. Biden must attempt to demonstrate that the U.S. is once again a reliable partner.
Meanwhile, the notion that the Covid-19 pandemic is some kind of trampoline that will bounce the U.S. toward a bright future is not only off-putting, but wrong. Pandemics enduringly damage societies in ways that go beyond the death toll. In October the IMF released a working paper by senior economist Tahsin Saadi Sedik and economist Rui Xu that uncovered a vicious cycle: Pandemics reduce output and increase inequality, stoking social unrest, which further lowers output and worsens inequality. The study was based on disease outbreaks in 133 countries from 2001 to 2018. “Our results suggest that without policy measures, the COVID-19 pandemic will likely increase inequality, trigger social unrest, and lower future output in the years to come,” the authors wrote.
A final lesson of studying the 1920s is simply that history does have something to teach us—a point that the movers and shakers of that frenetic decade sometimes had trouble grasping. “History is more or less the bunk,” Ford said in 1916. “It is tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a tinker’s damn is the history we make today.”
Introspection wasn’t the forte of the Roaring Twenties. “Torn nerves craved the anodynes of speed, excitement, and passion,” Frederick Lewis Allen, looking back from the near remove of 1931, wrote in Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s.
Our nerves, too, are torn. But learning from the past can help the healing begin.
5 Great Things We Should Never Forget About Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020)
Sep 21, 2020
A Supreme Court hero, and all-round wise woman, Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on Friday at the age of 87 surrounded by family at her home in Washington, D.C.
She was the second woman justice to serve on the highest court in the land—a pioneer in her field, when there were few females in the halls of legal offices or law schools. But there were other reasons we will always remember her.
1) She proved that mothers get things done—and then some.
RBG showed that being a mother can prove an advantage and not an impediment to a woman’s professional life.
In a 2016 essay for the New York Times, she wrote that she believed her success at Harvard and…
But we do not have time to deny it. Today, short term, we are facing a pandemic. We have a plethora of long term environmental issues having to do with climate change. We have to look to the future to get out from under these. We cannot do nothing and wish for the “good ole’ days”.
New Hampshire is just starting to flatten the curve of the virus. If we do not take a smart approach- all our hard work will be for nothing. I am not sure my businesses will survive another long term shut down. The only way we realistically get through this is by working together.
My businesses are open because of the hard work of my staff. My businesses will remain open because our clients are willing to wear masks and keep a safe distance from each other. When a vaccine comes out it will make things easier. I was speaking with a friend, like many of my friends he is MUCH smarter than me. We were talking about the vaccine and he said that vaccines are over-rated. That through homeopathic measures and nutrition we can boost our immunity and reduce our risk of catching the virus and lessen the effects if we catch it. While I believe that is TRUE. I do not believe that it is practical. A Virus does NOT know boarders. It does not discriminate. If one person follows a homeopathic approach and reduces their symptoms, they still carry the virus and infect many people. There are probably millions of people who cannot afford or do not have access to homeopathic alternatives.
Yes- I think that pharmaceutical companies are evil. But like medicine, it may taste bad and be difficult to take, it will work to keep us healthy. The lack of a response from the federal government has already cost lives and possibly billions of dollars to the economy. The abdication of leadership and responsibility has left the states and local government to fend for themselves. We cannot build a wall between states to protect us from the virus any more than building a wall will protect us from a changing climate.
Now is not the time to go backwards. New Hampshire right now has a Republican Senate candidate who disputes medical experts advice calling for the use of masks to slow the spread of the virus. Donald Bolduc falsely claims that masks are harming us even as President Trump encourages Americans to wear masks.
Bolduc’s opponent in the GOP primary is Corky Messner, himself a climate science denier who has stoked doubts about coronavirus vaccines.
Wow- what a terrible choice between these 2. Just Another reason the GOP has failed us.
We are PROBABLY on the other side of the curve. There are encouraging signs all over the country, and no early indications of a reopening debacle.
The coronavirus has taken a heartbreaking toll in America, which has had more than 100,000 fatalities, but the course of the virus is not the same as it was a few months ago. We are on the other side of the curve. There are encouraging signs all over the country, and no early indications of a reopening debacle.
The question now is whether the media and political system can absorb good news on the virus, which is often ignored or buried under misleading storylines.
The press has a natural affinity for catastrophes, which make compelling viewing and good copy. The pandemic is indeed a once-in-a-generation story. So the media is naturally loath to shift gears and acknowledge that the coronavirus has begun to loosen its grip.
Meanwhile, progressives and many journalists have developed a near-theological commitment to the lockdowns, such that any information that undermines them is considered unwelcome, even threatening. This accounts for the widespread sense that no one should say things have gotten better … or people are going to die.
Usually when it is thought the public can’t handle the truth, it is a truth about some threat that could spark panic. In this case, the truth is information that might make people think it’s safe to go outside again.
Almost all the discussion about reopening is framed by worries that we will reopen too soon, not that we might reopen too late—that is literally unthinkable.
None of this is to minimize the seriousness of this pandemic. New York and its surrounding suburbs have been through hell. What’s happened in the country’s nursing homes is a tragedy. We want to be cautious about reopening—as even the most forward-leaning governors have been—and vigilant about new outbreaks.
But we have entered a new phase. As Nate Silver pointed out on Tuesday, the seven-day rolling average for deaths is 1,362, down from 1,761 the week prior and a peak of 2,070 on April 21. That’s still much too high, but the trend is favorable.
Testing capacity, such a concern for so long, has really begun to expand after hitting a plateau for weeks. Testing nationally on some days has been in the high 300,000s or (on May 17) over 400,000. The issue in some states now is not capacity but actually finding enough people to test.
Scott Gottlieb of the American Enterprise Institute notes that the positivity rate, or percentage of people testing positive, has continued to fall throughout May. In New York City, the country’s epicenter, the positivity rate was below 5 percent as of the middle of the week.
The reopenings could certainly still go awry, but so far there is no clear indication of it. Cases are still falling in Austria, Denmark and Norway, despite those countries being relatively far along on reopening. Denmark has been mystified why it is almost five weeks into reopening and hasn’t yet seen increases in infections.
On Tuesday, Georgia, so widely criticized for its reopening, had its lowest number of Covid-19 patients in the hospital since April 8, when such data began being reported. The number has dropped 12 percent since the week before, and 34 percent since May 1.
The press has often, out of sloppiness or willfulness, tried to create negative news around the reopenings. CNN tweeted last weekend, “Texas is seeing the highest number of new coronavirus cases and deaths just two weeks after it officially re-opened.” As Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics pointed out, the seven-day rolling average of new cases had indeed been trending up, but the seven-day rolling average of the number of tests had gone up, too—which would naturally turn up more cases.
The key indicator is the positivity rate, and it was down in Texas.
A North Carolina TV station tweeted, “Breaking News: NC sees largest spike in coronavirus cases since pandemic began.” That referred to 800 new cases over the past 24 hours on May 16. But tests had been going sharply up and the positivity rate trending down. Hospitalizations were basically flat.
The other day, headlines noted that Florida recorded 500 new cases on one day. It generated fewer headlines, and perhaps none, when Gov. Ron DeSantis pointed out that the state had received a dump of 75,000 test results, yielding the 500 new cases, for a minuscule positivity rate of 0.64 percent.
It’s not as though we haven’t had a cataract of unassailably legitimate bad news over the past few months. We’ve been experiencing a wrenching public health crisis and a steep recession on top of it. There shouldn’t be a need to obscure favorable trends. We can handle the truth.
Call me sentimental, but I’ve always loved graduations: the way they tie up loose ends and signify new beginnings, the chance to reflect on the past, and celebrate the future. I feel bad for the graduates of 2020. Schools closed 2 months ago. Students finished (what they could) their education on line. When I graduated I can still remember handing in my last paper. I remember getting together that night with a few others who were graduating and having a little barbecue in front of our apartment. We had an opportunity to share what came next. Grad school, Law School, Work, Summer jobs, Internships. Even the fear of “What’s Next” was exciting.
Like the final months of their education, 2020 graduation will be online and virtual.
We will be ok, we will get back to normal. We, as a society have rebounded from much worse. I hope at that time…