I am begging your indulgence in me pursuing a theory in this blog format. If you are not interested in the inner workings of my brain, you may want to stop reading here. Otherwise, join me, won’t you?
As I have previously stated in this blog, this is our first global pandemic together. We are in uncharted waters, which adds to the excitement and dare I say fear. Many have compared this pandemic to the last big one, the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1917-1918. I must venture a guess that our understanding of disease has advanced a fair amount in the past hundred years, which should be working in our favor. But this is not the reason of my speculations. No, I am much more interested in human behavior than I am the epidemiology of this strain of virus vs the previous one.
I have seen the pictures of the people in masks from the turn of the last century, and I have seen pictures of the dead and of the mass graves. All of it is heartbreaking. On a side note (which is what I am known for) I learned that my own grandfather lost his mother and brother in that pandemic. His father remarried his stepmother and he was never fully accepted into that new family very well. That pandemic was devastating in its impact. I am not trying to diminish the current one in any way, but it seems like a kinder, gentler virus than the one a hundred years ago.
My working theory is that the period immediately following the Spanish Flu Pandemic marked a period which was unprecedented in our country’s history. It appears as if those who survived and found themselves relatively healthy on the other side of the worst of it had cause for celebration. The decade following the Spanish Flu is better known as the Roaring Twenties.
Of course, I was not alive during the 20’s but being a student of history, I know enough about that time to make some connections. This was a time when there seemed to be an abundance of overindulgence. Drinking to excess, dancing new dances, sporting new styles of clothing matched by a new optimistic attitude that the future was clearly brighter than the immediate past. Flappers flapped to new and interesting jazz music. Cocktails were consumed, to excess, and art deco became all the rage. New heights were reached in innovation and the modern era was born. Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic which birthed the idea that old barriers were there only to be broken. The economy roared, lifting the country out of its slump into dizzying new heights.
The people bringing this newfound prosperity are the very same people who previously were gripped by fear and watched their loved ones die right before them. We are a resilient people and there still exists the indomitable spirit that is unique to our American culture. If you doubt me look no further than September 11th. New Yorkers, in many ways, uniquely epitomize this spirit. Look to any natural disaster or any crisis and you will see the best of our humanity shine.
My point is this. One day, and I believe it will be a day that is sooner than you may expect, we will also be on the other side of this pandemic. We will gather. We will eat together. We will hug, without fear. We will celebrate this long dark period as the sun will once again rise on us and shine brightly, like that first sunshine after a terribly fierce storm. Once that happens, I believe it will be “game on” for Americans, and the economy.
In the past several months, Americans have set records with the amount of savings that they have made, hitting an unprecedented high savings rate of 33% in April. Since then it has backed off a bit, but it is still averaging high teens. We have not been able to travel, attend live events or do many of the things that bring us meaning and enjoyment. We are great spenders, but in many ways, we have not been able to spend like we normally would. As a consequence, we have amassed an unprecedented amount in savings, money market, or checking accounts. Currently the estimate is that we hold over $5 Trillion in these types of accounts. You may be thinking, that is a big number (and it is) but what is it normally. Great question, just seven years ago that number was $2.3 Trillion.
Once we are fully open, it will take an “all hands on deck” attitude from the American worker as we rebuild and restock the shelves from everything that is currently unavailable. I don’t know what it is that you have tried to get during this period of time that represents lack, but for me it has been appliances, bicycles, outdoor table umbrellas, and pickles. Whatever it may be, in your mind work backwards to all that will need to happen to bring that product back to market. It is mind boggling if you think about it.
I am usually a glass half full kind of guy; you should know that by now. My new belief is that I would rather be optimistic and be wrong than to be pessimistic and be right. I am not predicting or forecasting what will happen; that is not my point. But I am positing a very possible scenario and judging the human response to the last global pandemic and suggesting that little has changed in the human spirit in the last hundred years. If I am wrong, you are fully entitled to remind me of my Pollyannaish outlook. If I am right, I look forward to celebrating with you.