Friday, June 26, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Ten Amazing History Stories You Probably Didn't Know About

[earlier version first published on The Prairie Editor blog in 2013]

      ON JANUARY 30, 1945.
      The Wilhelm Gustloff, built as a Nazi passenger
      cruise ship (and named for a Swiss Nazi demogogue)
      in 1937, had been stranded in the East Prussian port
      of Gotenhofen on the Baltic Sea since the outset of
      World War II. As Soviet troops overtook East Prussia
      in early 1945, over a million ethnic Germans, whose
      families had lived in East Prussia for centuries,
      attempted to flee to the German mainland a few
      hundred miles away via the Baltic sea route to avoid
      the feared revenge of the Russian soldiers as
      they reconquered the area. The Wilhelm Gustloff,
      built to accommodate 1500 passengers and 500 crew,
      was overloaded with about 11,000 men, women and
      children (some of whom were German soldiers), and 
      began a 200-plus mile sea trip in a storm. (The trip
      was no longer possible by rail or truck.) A Soviet
      submarine spotted the ship, and sent four torpedoes
      at it, sinking the ship in a brief time. Approximately
      9400 persons died in the sinking, making it it the
      largest loss of life from one ship disaster in history.
      [Further reading: Death in the Baltic by Cathryn J. Prince.]

      Although his name is a household word in the United
      States and in much of the rest of the world for his
      role as president of the United States during the
      nation’s Civil War (1861-65) and his assassination, it   
      is much less known that Abraham Lincoln could be
      rated today as the father of the modern American
      English language. This role is usually assigned to
      a major literary figure (e.g., Shakespeare in British
      English, Dante in Italian, Cervantes in Spanish,
      Pushkin in Russian, et al). The only American writer
      who even comes close to Lincoln, and came after
      him, was Samuel Clemens (“Mark Twain”).
      Lincoln’s major speeches are still considered today
      as the finest examples of their kind by an American,
      and his collected speeches and letters form a unique
      body of the English language spoken and written in
      the U.S. as it was being transformed from its British
      origins. Lincoln’s language, almost alone among his
      19th century contemporaries (including Hawthorne,
      Emerson, Melville, Longfellow, et al) remains fresh
      today without the “dated” quality of almost
      everyone else in his era. Amazingly, Lincoln was
      entirely self-taught, and did not ever attend a school
      in his childhood.
      [Further reading: Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln,
      Rutgers University Press]

      JAPANESE NOBLEWOMAN known as “Lady
      Murasaki” (her real name is unknown).
      A lady-in-waiting to the Empress Shoshi of
      the Heian period  of 11th century Japan, she
      wrote her extraordinary fictional account of life,
      manners and personalities of the Japanese 
      court life in an unprecedented work entitled The
      Tale of Genji. It is also described today as the first
      psychological work of fiction. The novel form did
      not truly emerge until more than 500 years later in
      the West. Remarkably, The Tale of Genji is even 
      today a highly readable, fascinating masterpiece.
      [Further reading: Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki]

      was the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 which
      inundated most of the mid-Mississippi River Valley
      following an unprecedented period of rain beginning
      in August, 1926. At its peak, months later the flood
      covered 27,000 square miles, and dislocated 700,000
      residents. About 500 persons are known to have died   
      (although the total death toll,was not ever known).
      Total damages in today’s dollars would approach
      $1 trillion. Then-President Calvin Coolidge did not
      visit the area, but sent his Secretary of Commerce
      Herbert Hoover instead, and put Hoover in charge of
      the recovery. When Coolidge decided not to run for
      re-election in 1928, Hoover was nominated in his
      place, and elected president.
      Known as the Uraic family of languages,
      Magyar, Finnish and Estonian have no roots in the
      much larger Indo-European family of languages
      which are spoken in most of the nations near them.
      Although their exact origins are not yet known,
      philologists, in fact, trace these languages partially
      back to Siberian Asian (Chuvash) roots and to those
      who came to the region more than two thousand
      years ago. Magyar, the official language of Hungary,
      is the largest non-Indo-European language spoken
      in Europe.
      The late Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer suffered a
      stroke in 1990, and after that was unable to speak
      or write. Nevertheless, he received the Nobel Prize
      for literature in 2011, and was considered by many
      to be the greatest living poet in any language.
      His short and austere poems, critics say, create
      stunning images and spaces. Before his stroke,
      he worked professionally as a psychologist in a
      prison while at the same time writing poems and
      publishing several books of Swedish poetry. He has
      since been translated into many languages.
      [Further reading: Twenty Poems by Tomas
      Transtromer, and Windows & Stones by Tomas
      Transtromer; (both translations)]

      The 18th century Brazilian sculptor Antonio Lisboa
      was the son of a Portuguese carpenter and a slave
      mother. While relatively young, he developed either
      leprosy or sclerodoma, and lost all the fingers of his
      hands as well as the toes on his feet. He became   
      known as “O Aleijadinho” (or “The Little Cripple”).
      He created most of his sculpture in the Brazilian
      province of Minas Gerais where, after he was
      disfigured, and through truly remarkable efforts, he
      sculpted many masterpieces, most of which survive
      Until 1924,the Arabian peninsula had no fixed
      national boundaries, no formal nation states, and      
      was inhabited primarily by nomadic Bedouin tribes
      that went back thousands of years. It technically was
      part of the Ottoman empire under its sultan who
      ruled the Islamic world. Ibn Saud, a young leader
      of the Wahhabi tribe and 6 foot 4 inch warrior prince
      who grew up living in tents and moving about the
      southern Asir region of Arabia with his family,
      began his unification of the various tribes in 1902
      by seizing the ancient Wahhabi capital of Riyadh,
      and then by systematically eliminating in battle the
      usually more powerful rival sheikhs in the region
      over the next two decades. After the sultan was
      deposed and the Ottoman empire dissolved
      following World War I, Ibn Saud was declared king
      of the new Saudi Arabia. Short of cash, he made
      deals with the British, and then the Americans, to
      allow exploration for oil and gas in the peninsula
      which led to major discoveries in 1937. Because of
      breakout of war in Europe and Africa in 1939-40,
      the huge profits from the oil fields did not appear
      until after World War II, when Saudi Arabia became
      the world’s largest producer and seller of oil.
     [Further reading: Ibn Saud by M. Darlow & B. Bray]

      Morris “Moe” Berg played for American League
      teams for most of his 15-year baseball career, and 
      was called “the brainiest man ever to play baseball.”
      Casey Stengel (of all persons) even once called him
      “the strangest man ever to play baseball.” An
      impoverished son of European Jewish immigrants,
      he received degrees from Princeton and Columbia
      law school, and became famous early for his highly
      successful appearances on the national radio quiz
      show “Information Please.” A polymath, he spoke
      seven languages fluently, and when war broke out, he    
      became a U.S. spy and was sent undercover to Italy
      and occupied Central Europe to secretly assess
      the Nazi atomic bomb program. After World War II,
      he worked for the Central Intelligence Agency. In
      spite of his extraordinary and colorful career and 
      life, he died in obscurity in 1972.
      [Further reading: Heisenberg’s War by Thomas Powers]

        The (shortened) name of this country is
        officially Sovrane Militare Ordine di Malta or
        S.M.O.M. It is an important worldwide Catholic   
        philanthropic entity known also as the Knights of
        Malta, and which once ruled the island nation of 
        Malta. Today, its size is reduced to two villas in
        Rome and some land on the outskirts of the Italian
        capital; only the upper floors of one of the villas is
        considered the sovereign territory of S.M.O.M. It is
        therefore the only nation on earth which can only
        be entered by elevator.
Copyright (c) 2013 and 2020 by Barry Casselman.
All rights reserved.

Monday, June 22, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: National Conventions In 2020

Between 1988 and 2008, I attended many of the Democratic and
Republican national conventions. Their outcome was not in
doubt, but for a journalist with credentials it was a very good
time indeed, especially if you were a collector of political
buttons, lapel pins, bumper stickers and other campaign
paraphernalia. Most important for a journalist, there was easy
access to political figures for interviews and quotes.

For delegates and other attendees there was an endless array
of policy meetings, social occasions, as well as free food and
drink, There was also a unique opportunity to meet and make
friends with other political activists from across the nation.

Finally, although there was little suspense at these recent
conventions, there were the convention floor programs
designed as spectacles to whip up excitement and enthusiasm
for the party’s ticket in November.

I  have many stories to tell from the conventions I attended.
Here’s just a few.

At my very first convention, the Democratic meeting in Atlanta
in 1988, I did not go to the convention floor the first few days
because I was so diverted by the events outside the convention
proceedings, but finally I made it to the hall just as Michael
Dukakis was being nominated. To my surprise, many of the
delegates were booing the speaker. When I asked someone
what was going on, I was told that the nominator was the
young governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton, who had decided to
speak interminably, and the delegates wanted him to finish.
The incident made him a national laughing stock. Only four
years later, despite many other controversies, he was the
Democratic nominee in New York City. Just before he was
introduced, they showed a video of his life. It wasn’t that
remarkable until a short clip appeared with President John
Kennedy greeting a delegation of teenagers from Boys
Nation a the White House in the early 1960s. Suddenly, from
the crowd, emerged a teen-age Bill Clinton to shake Kennedy’s
hand. Few present had seen his clip before. The crowd gasped,
and then broke into cheers. A few moments later, Clinton
came on stage to a huge ovation.

At that same convention in New York in 1992, I walked into
the very large media center on the last day, expecting to have
a quiet snack. As I walked in, however, hundreds of press
colleagues turned to me and began applauding! I was totally
mystified until someone came over to me and explained that a
video of me describing my interview with Governor Jerry
Brown in Iowa earlier that summer had just been played on
the media lounge screens. What had happened was that a few
days before, I had met two cheeky students from Dartmouth
who had wangled media credentials,and were making an
irreverent video of the convention by interviewing famous
politicians and media stars with off-the-wall questions. I
liked their spunk, and told them a few off-beat stories of my
own, including the one about my odd Jerry Brown interview
in a Mexican restaurant in Iowa. Two nights later, I ran into
them, video cameras in hand, and although I was exhausted,
I let them tape me telling my Jerry Brown story. Trust me,
I’m no comedian, but I was so tired, it somehow came off
as very wry and funny.

That same year, at the Republican convention in Houston,
I happened to use my convention floor privileges during Pat
Buchanan’s notorious speech. While I was on the floor, I ran
into someone I had met several years before when he was
visiting Minneapolis. It was George W. Bush, then a private
citizen and working for his father at the convention. We shook
hands, and from his few words and the look on his face, I knew
he knew the Buchanan speech was bad news for his father’s
re-election. Only eight years later, I attended the convention in
Philadelphia that nominated him.

In 2008, the Republican convention was in St. Paul.  It was a
home town experience.  My visiting friend and editor Tony
Blankley and I went to so many convention parties, we
stopped counting. Main downtown streets were blocked, but
of course I knew alternative routes. Many events, most of
them quite lavish, took place near where I lived and also
near Tony’s hotel. I even threw a party, an ice cream social at
a legendary local ice cream parlor outside downtown, with a
political  celebrity guest list. (Some still talk about it.) I
watched Sara Palin's famous speech from the convention
floor. My political memorabilia collection peaked.....

By 2012, the appeal of a national convention, even as a social
occasion, appeared more diminished, and this continued to
2016. Nevertheless, plans were made for traditional
conventions in 2020 by both major parties. Indeed, for a time
the Democratic nominating contest  seemed like it could be
undecided until its convention at Milwaukee in July.

Then the pandemic occurred, and profound changes in the
2020 political campaign season took place.

As I write this, current convention plans remain provisional.
The Democrats are still meeting in Milwaukee, but it isn’t yet
clear how many will attend  in person. Program plans are
incomplete, although Joe Biden has announced he will accept
his nomination in Milwaukee. The original date was moved
from July to August.

After the North Carolina officials refused to lift certain
restrictions, the Republicans decided to move the main part
of their convention to Jacksonville. Its program and who
will attend in person are also undecided.

What is clear is that the national convention experience will
be very different in 2020. The need to kick off the campaign
and excite the base remains, but how to do it is up in the air.
Even veteran entertainment promoter Donald Trump is
challenged by this environment.

Media coverage of the conventions will also be changed.
I doubt that thousands of print and broadcast journalists
from around the world (as usually happens) will show up,
and that the typical huge lavish media centers will host
and feed them. How much coverage of the daily programs
will be broadcast by the networks is also uncertain. By
August, many now at home could be back to work, and
unlikely to be watching a virtual political convention.
But there will be conventions. Two national tickets will be
nominated. A campaign, however unprecedented, will
follow. On November 3, votes will be counted.

The show must go on.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, June 19, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: No Hand For Writing And Shaking?

I wrote in 2014 in this space about the approaching extinction
of handwriting or cursive script. Now, in response to the
current pandemic, the same fate seems to await the
widespread practice of handshaking.

The ritual of the handshake goes back at least 27 centuries
when it was visually portrayed by the king of Assyria shaking
hands with the king of Babylonia. It was apparently common
practice in much of the ancient world. Homer mentions it
frequently in The Iliad and The Odyssey.  But it only became
common modern practice in the 17h century when  Quakers
popularized it as more egalitarian than bowing or tipping
one’s hat, then the common practices. From ancient to
modern times it has always been a gesture of trust,
friendship, agreement and peaceful greeting.

What handwriting and handshaking have inherently in
common is linking --- the joining of letters of a word
and the touching between two persons.

Perhaps their disuse is emblematic of our age of increasing
social severance and isolation. In any event, there are now
no visible good prospects for either handwriting or

We already know what replaces handwriting, but what will
we substitute for the handshake?

It would seem that Japanese-styled bowing one’s head is
not an option in he U.S., but perhaps a slight nod will do it.
Or  a wave?  A thumbs-up? An outstretched arm, with or
without a “Hail!,” is definitely out. And unless you are in
military, not a salute. Men don’t wear hats much any more,
so tipping one won’t work. A small (non-touching) foot kick?

What to do?

The handshake worked well in its day, but now it seems
it’s time for something new. I don’t think it will be elbow
touching --- or any other kind of touching.

A generation that moves by skateboard will come up with


Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Election Day Cometh

The days now seem to be passing with extra speed, even as
the national economy reopens. “Normalcy” is not likely to
reappear for some time, but the calendar insists on some
fixed points --- including the change of seasons, holidays ---
and election day.

Believe it or not, Election Day, 2020 is now only four-plus
months away.

Conventional wisdom seems to be that too much is unsettled
in the country to discern any dispositive election trends yet,
but there is also some evidence that, despite recent
extraordinary events, the 2020 cycle will be decided on the
two traditional factors of a second-term presidential election
--- voter judgment on the incumbent’s first term and voter
attitude about the economy.

What complicates this “traditional” circumstance is the very
“un-traditional” current character of both the incumbent and
the economy. The closest recent historical parallel seems to
be 1972 when a much despised (by liberals and the media
establishment) incumbent, Richard Nixon, won an historic
landslide victory (all but two states) against George McGovern
whose policy views had turned off many moderates who had
voted for Hubert Humphrey in1968 when Nixon had barely
won. By 1972, Nixon had not yet ended the unpopular Viet Nam
war, Watergate had just happened, but the economy was in a
boom, so the parallels are limited.

Joe Biden is no George McGovern, but since clinching his
party’s nomination, he has been appealing notably to the
present-day version of the McGovern wing (Bernie Sanders,
Elizabeth Warren. et al) that was rejected by voters in most
of the Democratic primaries this year.

The Biden strategy is to cause a huge turnout of his party’s
base, and to count on anti-Trump sentiment to bring him to
the White House in January, 2021.

The Trump strategy is to cause a huge turnout of his party’s
base still fiercely loyal to him, and to count on a backlash to
current Democratic party policies.

Where the voters will be in only about four months will
determine which  of these strategies will be most successful.

I suspect that the state of employment will be a key. Voters’
personal attitudes about Mr. Trump are not likely to change.
Anti-Trumpers will remain strongly negative to his style and
personality.  Mr. Biden might not be charismatic, but he is
“not-Trump” --- and that might be enough. On the other hand,
some voters could override their personal feelings to vote
for what they might consider to be their own best interests.

It needs to be remembered that U.S. senate and house races
are often determined by local and state issues, and that some
of these contests considered “safe” many months before
election day become very competitive in the final days of the
campaign. As well, the quality of individual candidates, both
incumbents and challengers, often outweighs general voter
trends. Finally, not all the party nominees have been chosen
in some very competitive races. In short, control of both
houses of Congress remains uncertain.

Polling so far doesn’t tell us much, especially if they are only
of registered voters and are national  polls. Some current
polls are contrived or presented for campaign fundraising
purposes by candidates of both parties, and can be regarded
with skepticism.

As we get closer to election day, however, unbiased polls of
likely voters in the competitive states will tell us much more.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, June 12, 2020




With the slow, but increasing, realization that we, the human
race, are on the verge of replacing ourselves with machines,
it is perhaps of special interest to go back to the earliest
moments when this profound insight first appeared in our

Perhaps the most notable of these took place just after World
War I when a young Czech playwright/novelist named Karel
Capek wrote a play titled mysteriously “R.U.R.” that
premiered in a Prague theater, and became quickly a
worldwide sensation.

A bit of history: Czechoslovakia had long been part of the
Austro-Hungarian empire in Europe, but had its own historic
culture and language. After World War I, it finally received its
own independence as a combination of Bohemia and
Slovakia, two ancient early European small states that had
emerged from the Dark Ages. The Abraham Lincoln of
Czechoslovakia was Tomas Masaryk, a brilliant democratic
and humanist figure who was the small nation’s first
president. Incredibly rich in folklore and culture,
Czechslovakia was a center of art and innovation on the
liberated European landscape. Composers such as Antonin
Dvorak, Bedrich Smetana and Leos Janacek; writers such as
Rainer Maria Rilke and Franz Kafka remain giants today in
world culture. The word “bohemian” has become a word in
English because it captured so aptly the subculture of Western
artistic life of the 19th and 20th centuries.

However, Czechoslovakia and its writer Karel Capek also
added a new word to English (and virtually all other world
languages) which applies importantly to the 21st century.
The play title “R.U.R.” stands for Rossums Universal Robots.
In Czech, “rossum” means “reason,” and “robot” means
“drudgery.” The word robot has its origins in the Czech word
for “slave.” Capek’s play is the very first appearance anywhere
of the word “robot” (the playwright gave credit to the actual
invention of the word to his writer brother.)

Today, “robotics” has become a central term in the evolution
of human activity. The word robot now stands for virtually all
machines created to do the work of humans. In the 1920’s,
robots were concepts of the future. Today, they are being devised
and put to work everywhere in virtually all human activities as
they replace human workers.

Since the early 1920’s, science fiction writers and films have
portrayed either sympathetic or threatening versions of
robots. The apotheosis of the former were lovable characters in
Star Wars. More ominous robots, however, have appeared in
books and films as a force that brutally takes over the human
race and eliminates or enslaves it.

An even newer and related technology is artificial intelligence or
AI. This has presented itself less physically as robotic machines
and more as hyper-thinking entities. Curiously, Capek’s robots
in 1920 were more a premonition of AI than of robotics. In his
play, the robots are actually artificially created thinking beings,
more like “cyborgs” or “androids.” Capek presciently also
foresees the robotic revolution producing more goods at much
lower prices.

Karel Capek was one of the world’s great futurists. A thinker
and philosopher, as well as a playwright and novelist, he was
during his short life on the cutting edge of what was
anticipated as the future of man. His play “R.U.R.” is rarely
performed today, and science fiction writers such as Isaac
Asimov have criticized it as a bad play because it ends on an
optimistic note (the last surviving human being in the play turns
over the world to two robots, calling them “Adam” and “Eve”).

But we need to remember that tragic time. Czechoslovakia, it
turned out, would only exist for 20 years. Its allies, Britain and
France, turned it over to Adolf Hitler without a fight at Munich
in 1938. Capek himself, only 48, died from pneumonia on
Christmas Day, 1938 --- only weeks after his beloved republic
was betrayed by Neville Chamberlain and his cohorts. Many
believe he actually died from his broken heart, sensing the
holocaust that was to come. (His brother Josef, the man who
actually invented the word “robot,” perished in a concentration
camp shortly afterwards.)

After World War II, Czechoslovakia traded the beast of Hitlerian
fascism for the beast of Soviet communism. Only in 1990, as the
Soviet Union was crumbling, was an independent, democratic
Czechoslovakia revived. It soon was divided into two separate
nations, The Czech Republic and Slovakia. Prague today is an
exciting cultural and industrial part of the new Europe.

In that extraordinary time and in that extraordinary place,
Karel Capek had a remarkable vision of the future, and he chose
to see it with hope and promise. Only about a decade after
putting robots into human consciousness, he was faced with one
of the most unspeakable depravities human beings ever created,
a depravity contrived solely by human evil with no assistance
from robotics.

Today, with robots and AI about to replace a major part of all
human work, and change forever how we live, the future is
also threatened by new and malign human frailties. Who can
fault the futurist Capek for his stubborn and indomitable
statement of hope and survival?

Copyright (c) 2016 and 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 8, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A Century of Centuries

The age of our species homo sapiens in its so-called “civilized”
form is rather brief --- very approximately 10,000 years or a
century of centuries. We are much older that --- 315,000 years,
give or take a millennium --- and our direct forbears go back
much further --- 6 to 8 million years by the latest estimate.

It took us fifty centuries to invent reading and writing, and then
forty-five more to invent the printing press. Three or four more,
and we we added the telegraph, camera, telephone, and films.
In the last century, otherwise the most deadly and
self-destructive ever recorded, we managed also to create
radio, television, cell phones and the computer. Obviously,
things are speeding up!

There were so many human catastrophes and so much venal
carnage in the 20th century, we might have hoped for some
relief in our new one, but so far, it’s not the case. This century
opened with a bang on September 11, and just as happened at
the outset of the past century, waves of terror have followed.
A century ago. there was a murderous global pandemic. We
are in one now. In 1914, the most civilized nations stumbled
into what became two world wars, a global cold war, and
innumerable local and regional wars. Now we already have
plenty of the latter.

It hasn’t always gone this way.

My late friend and acute observer of history, Tony Blankley,
noted in his book The West’s Last Chance:

“.....Consider briefly the shocking shift of European
life between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
The thirteenth century experienced warm weather,
bountiful crops; a population that expanded to over
seventy-three million people; the high point of
cathedral building; the founding of the universities;
the flowering of science, theology, mathematics and
literature; and the works of Dante, Roger Bacon, St.
Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis of Assisi, Marco Polo,
and many others......Then the fourteenth century
brought climate change (in the form of a mini Ice
Age); depressed harvests; the Hundred Years’ War
between England and France; and the Black Death,
which cut Europe’s population by 40 percent, to
about forty-five million....Then within decades,
Europe rejuvenated itself once again and exploded
into its Renaissance, and the age of discovery.....”

The alternating currents of those centuries do not mean
that the same will happen now. Nor is History an academic
mathematician. Our dating system of centuries and
millennia is quite subjective. Nature gives us days,
seasons, and years, but decades and centuries are our
own decimal contrivances.

I suggest that these events which we live through, good or
bad, are only station stops on a very long journey whose
destination is unknown. Unlike on a train, ship or
airplane, our speed of travel in the centuries changes all
the time.

But how much faster can we, or should we, go?

Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: What Do Economists Know?

Economics is considered a science, but it is concerned with
variable human behavior, past and future, and complicated
by a great number of variations of economic systems. Unlike
physics or biology or chemistry, it has no single or dominant
set of rules or laws which all its practitioners follow, but
rather, it includes a number of competing maxims and
theories, many of which contradict each other.

Further complicating the practice and understanding of
economics is its role in partisan politics where the veneer of
expertise is often employed for more ideological than
scientific goals.

We have, for some time, lived in an age in which “experts”
are regarded as dispositive. But experts often disagree among
themselves robustly, particularly about the future.

This has been made clearer than ever by the current pandemic
crisis. Many medical experts were routinely wrong about its
immediate impact when they tried to contrive models .Some
were more useful by setting down varying scenarios. Everyone,
of course, was guessing.

With the current stage of the pandemic beginning to diminish,
the economic experts are stepping up with pronouncements
--- mostly of already irreversible dire consequences of the
business shutdowns. A few contrarian economists, however,
are suggesting that if the nation’s commerce reopens now,
there will be a quick rebound. (The current stock market rally
appears to agree with the latter.) Of course, if the economy is
shut down long enough, it will collapse. (It is worth pointing
out that for many retail businesses a huge percentage of their
annual revenue is received in the holiday shopping season
between Thanksgiving and Christmas.)

In any event, a carefully managed reopening now designed
with consideration for the health and safety of the public is
likely to restore jobs lost in the shutdown --- and restore
much consumer confidence and resources.

The full extent of any economic damage will not be known
until 2021, although some businesses have closed or will
close permanently, precipitated in many cases by the
shutdowns. Small businesses, as I have written previously,
are particularly vulnerable. It must be remembered,
however, that in a free market economy, individual
businesses fail all the time, including during boom periods.

Stimulus payments to individuals and companies can be
necessary and helpful in the short-term, but beyond that
restoring jobs and re-employment is the key to any real
recovery. In the intermediate and perhaps longer term,
the conditions of the workplace might be changed,
especially for white collar office jobs. Returning to “normal”
will not, in many cases, be returning to jobs just as they
were. In some cases, the emergency will provoke innovation
or improvement --- just as often happens during and after

Economics can be a useful subject and practice. We need
talented and thoughtful economists.

The truest economic experts will now take U.S. ingenuity
and optimistic spirit into their forecasts. That’s not exactly
scientific either, but it is what has happened at critical
moments time and again for 244 years and counting......

Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.