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What the Democrats Must Do

Summary:
Although the United States has entered a period of deepening social strife and economic depression, the Republicans who are in charge have neither the ideas nor the competence to do anything about it. The Democrats must start planning to lead, starting with a commitment to full employment. BERKELEY – Like almost all other countries, the United States has become poorer since the COVID-19 pandemic began, because Americans can no longer engage in valuable activities that require close human contact. Millions of workers now need to find other productive things to do, and many of these new tasks will not be as valuable as the ones they replaced. America’s Mis-Police State

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Although the United States has entered a period of deepening social strife and economic depression, the Republicans who are in charge have neither the ideas nor the competence to do anything about it. The Democrats must start planning to lead, starting with a commitment to full employment.

BERKELEY – Like almost all other countries, the United States has become poorer since the COVID-19 pandemic began, because Americans can no longer engage in valuable activities that require close human contact. Millions of workers now need to find other productive things to do, and many of these new tasks will not be as valuable as the ones they replaced.

But there is no economic reason why the depression triggered by the COVID-19 crisis should be particularly deep or prolonged. The US leads the world in technological and organizational competence and is home to a highly skilled workforce. The problem is that recovery won’t happen by itself.

The fact that it took a decade for the US to recover fully from the 2008 financial crisis should inform today’s thinking. Back then, the US housing-construction sector had already shrunk back to its normal size before the subprime-mortgage crisis erupted, which meant that no sectoral structural adjustment was required. The challenge, rather, was to identify and reallocate resources to previously unproduced goods that would become more valuable in the future.

Moreover, the 2008 financial crisis and ensuing recession did not make American workers less skilled or reduce the effectiveness of existing technologies. In the short term, it destroyed many professional networks and reduced the social trust that underpins the economy’s division of labor. The only long-term effect was a loss of investor confidence in private-sector financial institutions’ ability to create safe, properly-rated financial assets.

But that is why it took a decade for US employment to recover from the subprime crisis. The world was short of safe assets, and governments failed to address that problem in the right way. The US, for its part, should have done more to mobilize extra private-sector risk-bearing capacity, create safe public assets, and support workers, including by printing money and buying stuff to drive effective demand and employment growth.

Although there is no reason why it should take a decade for employment to return to its...

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