By Jack Mintz, May 7, 2020
With its profound health and economic effects this pandemic will transform society in ways we do not yet fully understand. History teaches that major events result in major shifts in new consumer and voting patterns, some of which were not foreseen at the time they happened. Let me try anyway.
I think of my own parents, who lived through the Great Depression and two world wars. Those events affected their habits for the rest of their lives. They became cautious with their finances, avoiding risks that might entail a loss of their retirement savings or home. They preferred investments in bonds rather than equity. With war rationing, they learned that we could do without many things even if we would prefer to have them. At the same time, they were optimistic about the future once life became more settled. After all, what could be worse than two major wars and an economic depression in barely three decades?
The Pew Research Center reports on polls taken after 1933 on political attitudes in the United States. Depression-era Americans felt insecure economically and more supportive of institutions and government spending. Americans supported Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, social security, and regulations to prevent misleading advertising and prohibit child labour. They also favoured nationalizing electric power and the munitions industry but were tough on crime because of rising theft during the Depression. On social policy they had mixed views, accepting that wages were too low and profits too high but generally opposing strikes or increasing farm and wage benefits. Support for government spending eventually weakened, however, as public debt mounted to 40 per cent of GDP in 1937 (we should be so lucky!).
As we come out of this deep recession in 2020, I expect people will become more cautious and feel less secure…