The longest bull market in history is over. After a decade of sustained economic growth, GDP is set to collapse by double digits in the next quarter. And after a year of the unemployment rate hovering at a half-century low, more than 3 million people in the United States have applied for jobless benefits in a single week — an unprecedented figure.
The coronavirus is no normal economic crisis. Despite some asset bubbles that are surely inflated and our looming national debt conundrum, the underlying factors of our economy were strong. The labor market was so tight last year that not only did employers have to pull three-quarters of new workers from outside of the labor force, but the first real wage growth in a decade disproportionately went to low-income earners. The nation reported record confidence in their financial prospects and satisfaction in their personal lives, and consumer confidence matched.
Then, the pandemic struck, offering the planet an untenable choice: Shut down the global economy or gamble on the lives of millions in the hope that the virus wanes on its own.
We chose the former — and rightly so. But make no mistake. Plunging the planet into a depression was a calculated choice, and our unprecedented jobless claim numbers prove what a black swan event the coronavirus is.
There’s no question that given China’s culpability in the pandemic’s outbreak, the rest of the world will reevaluate our relationship with the dictatorship. We’ll divorce our critical supply chains from China, and as a culture, we’ll likely maintain the deregulation that’s expedited our crisis response and hygienic measures that have ameliorated transmission rates.
But the virus itself is an anomaly. Sure, barbaric Chinese wet markets made it more likely that such a virus would emerge in a dictatorship that would malevolently allow it to spread around the world. But it could have come from anywhere. We’re prepared to handle wildly infectious illnesses such as measles with vaccines. We’re prepared to handle wildly fatal diseases such as Ebola, which kills half its carriers and thus limits its transmission. But a virus that’s more transmissible and deadlier than the flu with no vaccine?
We could prepare for a pandemic, but there was no possible way to prepare for this one until it was created.