If you pay much attention to the mainstream entertainment news organizations, the world seems like it is in chaos right now. It appears as if we are in a global economic downturn the size of which has not been seen since the great depression. During the depression there was unheard of unemployment and challenges even for the most hardworking people. It was especially bad in America. In a roughly ten-year stretch, they had faced a world war, financial crisis, a great flood, failing crops and a pandemic.
Right now, from the 2019 fires in Australia to today in May of 2020, we have all the above, just on a global scale.
In 1933 the newly elected FDR had a plan to turn the economy around. A plan that would become known as the New Deal. It cost a lot of money at the time (the equivalent of $856.1 billion today), but the result was a nation of employed people paying taxes and spending in their communities with confidence. The plan created policies that changed American history and arguably set the stage for what it was soon to become a thriving period in world history. In essence, the New Deal enabled the American dream and the economic and social boom that was to follow the second world war.
One of the most popular parts of the New Deal was the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC was a volunteer paid workforce of up to 300,000, previously unemployed due to the great depression. These men built and maintained much of the infrastructure that ultimately makes up the US national parks system as we know it today. It was the most rapid peacetime mobilization in American history, and it is estimated that in total 3,000,0000 people were eventually employed by the CCC during its run from 1933 to 1942 (it was disbanded at the start of WWII).
But it wasn’t just about employing people and building nice things like parks. The most far-reaching and long-lasting programs of the New Deal were the social security measures. The fact that old-age security benefits, unemployment compensation, disability insurance, maximum work hours and minimum wages were also started during this time is often lost during the political discourse that commonly surrounds it. Americans started this process and the world adopted it in due course.
There is little doubt we are in a time of similar need right now. The world needs new, global versions of the CCC and the New Deal. We are struggling not only with the current coronavirus pandemic but also the effects of global climate change. The world’s population has been living with hotter summers, deadlier storms, massive wildfires, droughts, water scarcity and crop failures. This all needs to be addressed, and the time to do so is now. Governments are rightly focussed on restarting the global economy when it is safe to do so, but rather than bailing out industries that contributed to the problems in the first place, why not use this as the opportunity to fix these looming environmental issues?
While the New Deal cost almost $1trillion in today’s dollars, it wasn’t wasted money. The Reconstruction Finance Corporation was an independent agency within the US federal government that set up lending systems to encourage private capital to invest in publicly desirable projects. Its purpose was to provide private companies and banks the security to invest in major infrastructure programs, and it worked. Under the guidance of Jesse Jones (a Texas banker and one of the original investors in Exxon), the program persuaded private lenders to invest in programs that would benefit the country and in so doing, kickstart the economy. Employed people started buying homes, banks started providing mortgages on those homes and so the cycle began anew. Banking and finance industry rules (the SEC) were enacted to protect the savings of private citizens, further boosting confidence in the economy.
We can do something similar right now and can look to Europe for the blueprint. The trillions of dollars being spent on stimulus in the EU will have a huge positive impact on global climate change. The exact details are yet to emerge, but there has been a growing non-partisan movement there to divest from polluting, last century industries. Instead, the talk is of investment in clean energy, carbon capture, reforestation, waste treatment, clean transportation, recycling technology and more. There is a huge opportunity for companies looking for long term growth, and millions of jobs will be created in these sectors. According to the US NDRC, in 2017 there were more than 1 million Americans working in clean technology – 5 times the number working in fossil fuel energy production. This number is only set to increase.
Humans are the only creatures to have had such a huge impact on the planet. We can change it to be anything we want, and we have proven that we can do it rapidly. If we only learn one lesson from the coronavirus in 2020, I hope it is the fact that is we can all band together to make huge changes to the way we live if we really need to.
I believe the coming decades can be a time of economic prosperity and societal growth, unlike anything we have seen before. There will be roadblocks and hurdles, but we’ve rallied before and we will rally again. The time is now.
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