Shelly Aldean: Echoes from the past

The current debate about the reasonableness of government intervention to combat the impacts of COVID-19 is like an echo from my past.

While growing up, I remember my parents recounting their experiences as children during the Great Depression when FDR, a proponent of Keynesian economics, introduced the New Deal designed to provide temporary help to unemployed Americans, to provide aid to the most vulnerable members of society, and to shore up the economy by stimulating industrial production.

Although the New Deal worked, by 1938, Roosevelt became increasingly concerned about the rising U.S. debt. Although there are some striking similarities between the consequences of the Great Depression and the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, there are also some glaring contrasts.

In recent years, even during periods of economic expansion, there has been little concern about the ramifications of unbridled spending and no apparent appetite by either party to address the rising debt. Due to the elevated profile of politicians, they have become the de facto standard bearers for societal norms. Citizens of this country who are two generations removed from the Great Depression have been deprived of some very valuable lessons. For example, “saving for a rainy day” was a frequent admonition in my household growing up and “spending more than you have” was the height of irresponsible behavior.

Yet, today, many people are unable to survive even the temporary loss of employment. The reckless spending habits of our government and the availability of too much credit have encouraged some people in our consumerist society to spend money they don’t have on products they don’t need. There is a delicate balance between necessary spending to ensure the health of the economy and the comfort of the consumer and extravagant spending that actually undermines the stability of the spender and, therefore, the nation as a whole.

According to my father, many of the people who lost their jobs during the Depression were embarrassed to be standing in breadlines and humiliated by having to rely on government assistance. Today, this sort of dependency is no longer a badge of shame, but is seen by some, as a just and desired means of support. As a result, U.S. businesses, both large and small, are justifiably concerned about their ability to reassemble a willing and able workforce when the current crisis is over.

Also, today, there is rising concern that the restrictions being imposed by some government officials in response to COVID-19 are too draconian and are a blatant infringement on individual liberties. Some of these restrictions may be the outgrowth of legitimate worries, but others, I fear, are an attempt to pander to favored industries (you can buy pot but not vegetable seeds) and/or simply an unabashed play for power.

In any case, the peaceful protests that are occurring in response are a healthy reaction to this perceived overreach and a sacred right under our democratic system. Just like the New Deal generated debates over collective security versus individual rights, so too, the debates of today are raising similar concerns.

As we sort through these issues in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, let’s be ever remindful of the fact that “The only sure bulwark of continuing liberty is a government strong enough to protect the interests of the people, and a people strong enough and well enough informed to maintain its sovereign control over the government”. Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Shelly Aldean is a Carson City resident.


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