Six months have passed since the nation’s businesses, schools, and government offices shut down as part of a global effort to stymie Covid-19, a virus that would spread despite the lockdowns. Almost instantly, tens of millions of Americans found themselves unemployed; millions of working parents were forced to take on the duties of full-time teachers; shuttering businesses have left city landscapes culturally and spiritually barren; and millions of 20- and 30-somethings are now realizing that the second financial crisis to strike their burgeoning careers could affect their economic security all the way into retirement.
The pandemic has exposed the fundamental fractures in the economy: the underfunded unemployment insurance systems, the tenuous state of child care, the underemployment that has only become more entrenched in the years since the Great Recession. But in doing so, the pandemic has also provided the nation an opportunity. Policymakers now have every reason to intervene to stabilize the economy while making the future better for people it has historically left behind.
A mobilization this massive has been accomplished before. We only have to look to the past.
In 1945, as Britain reached the conclusion of years of war and prepared for the inevitable contraction of its wartime economy, the economist John Maynard Keynes proposed not financial austerity, but its polar opposite: He sought to invest in people on an almost ostentatious scale, designing the new National Health Service and a pension and social support system, even investing in the arts on a grand scale. To Keynes, the economy was less a series of numbers and indicators than a slew of social and cultural issues that must be addressed for the good of the nation.
Today, as Covid-19 continues to change the landscape for American workers and the economy at large, could these lessons of Keynes be applied, here and now?
Could we federalize unemployment insurance, offering effective aid to the unemployed during times of crisis rather than shorting them because of the myth of personal responsibility? Could we find purpose for underemployed graduates sidelined by the pandemic, save child care as a means of guaranteeing that millions of others might work, fix our broken policing, and solve for housing shortages while addressing the racist barriers in our housing system? We can.
This month’s issue of The Highlight surfaces the pervasive issues that have left vast swaths of our economy vulnerable, and looks to economists, policymakers, advocates, historians, even former presidential candidates to answer the difficult question of how we might correct the missteps of the past.
The great rebuilding of the economy won’t be easy. But we have the blueprint. We only have to let it guide us.
How to build a better American economy
A blueprint exists for a more inclusive, successful nation that invests in the well-being of its citizens. We only have to look to the past.
by Zachary D. Carter
We can end America’s unemployment nightmare
The problem with our social safety net is clear. The solution is, too.
by Emily Stewart
Young people are the new corps of engineers the US has been waiting for
We have more than enough work to go around for the next generation if we address one of our nation’s biggest problems: infrastructure.
by Andrew Yang
The financial case for defunding the police
It’s time to ask why we continue to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on police misconduct lawsuits and billions more on policing that yields poor outcomes.
by Sean Collins
Building housing — lots of it — will lay the foundation for a new future
A massive boom in new construction would create countless jobs and help finally end the legacy of racist housing policies.
by Matthew Yglesias
The future of the economy hinges on child care
We must bail out the industry that allows millions of parents to work.
by Anna North
Party of One is a collaborative creative studio founded by Melissa Deckert and Nicole Licht, based in Brooklyn, New York. Through combined experience in fine arts and traditional design, Party of One creates compelling visuals with an emphasis on unique and often handcrafted prop design, styling, and sets.
These stories are part of The Great Rebuild, a project made possible thanks to support from Omidyar Network, a social impact venture that works to reimagine critical systems and the ideas that govern them, and to build more inclusive and equitable societies. All Great Rebuild coverage is editorially independent and produced by our journalists.