Opinion: Like Great Depression, things won't go to normal anytime soon

Yet with a staggering 26 million Americans filing for unemployment over the last five weeks, it is difficult to dismiss projectionsofjobless rates reaching or even eclipsing the Depression-era peak that confronted Franklin Roosevelt on that very first day of his presidency. If that historiceffectisanyindication, we may emerge from our own global crisis to find our habits and lifestyles significantly altered as well—a prospect that runs counter to theblitheassumptionsofsomepoliticians and presidential advisers that the U.S. economy will quickly return to “normal” once it’s re-opened. Video: Unemployment rate could reach Great Depression levels: Trump economic adviser (ABC News) ____________________________________________________  More on coronavirus: ____________________________________________________ A vital part of FDR’s recovery plan was not simply getting Americans back to work but persuading them, insofar as possible, to resume their normal spending patterns. Their children and grandchildren will surelyrecall their steadfast resistance to purchasing any but the cheapest consumer items for themselves and their adamant refusal to toss perfectly good aluminum foil after a single use. Federal involvement in certain public-service initiatives such as disease prevention and social education had expanded notably during the “Progressive Era” of the early 20th century, but taking action to relieve economic distress was another matter. President Grover Cleveland declared in 1887 that “though the people support the Government, the Government should not supportthe people.” Cleveland’s dictum largely held sway until the sudden profusion of breadlines, soup kitchens and homeless encampments marking the onset of the Depression put the lie tohisinsistence that “the friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune.” The severity of the situation finallymovedeventhe hidebound free-marketeer Herbert Hoover to agree in 1932 to set aside billion for loans to banks, credit agencies and other businesses. Though more akin to a drop inan oceanthanabucket, President Hoover’s modest rescue initiative nonetheless amounted to a new precedent upon which his successor would expand and improvise repeatedly astheDepressiondefiantlydraggedon. Roosevelt had proceeded in such disjointed and piecemeal fashion that, ultimately, even hiseconomic advisor, Alvin Hansen, was forced to admit that “I really do not know what the basic principle of the New Deal is.” As the historian Paul Conkin observed, Roosevelt had, howeverunwittingly,created what amounted to a virtual “welfare state.” Yet because he had given his fellow Americans little reason to view it holistically, succeeding generations wereinclined tofully embraceonly that outgrowth of the expanded federal presence in national life that benefited them directly. There is no accounting for thepsychologicaleffects of stressing out—even if for a much shorter period than the Depression—not only about the security of your job or your 401(k) plan but the prospect that you orsomeoneyou care aboutmight suddenly fall ill and die.