The Iron Lady and the Coronavirus Age

Like Thatcher, we’ll need to achieve much out of the ordinary. Love of country is the place to start.

I’ve been trying to get a sense of the economic effects of the 1918 flu pandemic, which killed an estimated 675,000 Americans. Government record-keeping in those days wasn’t what it is now; there’s not much data. You see references in academic papers to factories closed, businesses shuttered. You see newspaper pictures of people in masks and clippings about people dying in hallways. Yet what followed was the Roaring ’20s—expansive, even ecstatic economic growth.

香蕉视频苹果下载Conditions were different. The shutdowns then weren’t national but local, and varied in severity. The pandemic was less of a psychic shock because people were more used to death: Tuberculosis, gastrointestinal infections and syphilis killed; there were no antibiotics, no chemotherapy; infant mortality was twice what it is now. Men just back from the war had seen carnage. The economic historian Amity Shlaes noted in an interview that there was a sharp economic downturn at the beginning of the 1920s, “but it was very brief, and not an outcome of the pandemic.” “We came out of it in part because of optimism, public policy choices, and also realizing for the first time, post-war, that we could become an economic superpower.”

香蕉视频苹果下载Today’s American economy is massive, complex, interdependent, a varied consumer-based economy with service and communications sectors. Everything changes in a century. But maybe there are things to learn from a study there, a history of how America dug itself out of that crisis.

香蕉视频苹果下载For now I think the employment impact of what we’re going through will be more dramatic than perhaps we understand. The first-quarter numbers released this week felt almost encouraging—economic output shrank at an annual rate of only 4.8%. Terrible, but absorbable—again, “There is a great deal of ruin in a nation.” But the second quarter, which will be reported in July, is the one everyone fears, because it’s when the dimensions of the catastrophe will become clear.

The administration says the economy will explode with pent-up energy after the lockdown. It’s part of their job to cheerlead in this way, to say there’s nothing to fear. But recovery will surely be tentative. Health fears will change habits. A lot of people will have no money to spend; many will be careful with what they have.

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