“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” — George Santayana
No question about it. We are living in interesting times.
From a plainly parochial perspective, it is perhaps the most interesting time in the history of humanity.
While the current COVID-19 crisis appears to signal a quantum paradigm shift in the social consciousness that will define our way of life for the rest of the 21st Century, this event is not the first time that the human species has had to engage in what can be generically referred to as a great reset.
A little over 100 years ago, the Spanish Flu erased up to 100 million souls between 1918 and 1920.
The following decade, the Great Depression, which was global in scope, also necessitated a great reset of the social and political order of many countries.
This week, we would like to consider this — will the COVID-19 crisis of 2020 require the human species to engage in yet another life-altering, transformative reset?
The Spanish Flu
The 1918 influenza pandemic, also known as the Spanish Flu, was a pandemic of unusual severity and one of the most devastating pandemics in human history.
This disease killed 40 million people in a single year (1918), including 675,000 in the United States.
It was first discovered in March 1918 at a military camp in Kansas in the United States.
The first wave began in May or June 1918 and coincided with the arrival of the first U.S. troops in Europe to join the fight in World War I.
This pandemic, which had two additional waves by 1920, received its name because of the extensive reports it received in the Spanish press after many of the United States armed forces transported the disease to Europe.
The pandemic rampantly spread to France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany and finally to Spain.
The rapid rate of infection was primarily the result of the absence of social distancing by the soldiers and civilians who were at war during the pandemic’s outbreak.
The Spanish Flu was not contained to Europe. The flu devastated China, where an estimated 30 million people died, and many millions in South America and Africa as well.
This pandemic disappeared almost as quickly as it surfaced, but not before claiming the lives of 100 million souls, mainly because most survivors developed an immunity to the virus – effectively resetting the status quo.
It is believed that this immunity has continued in the human genes to this day; hence the recent virus belonging to the same H1N1 family was less lethal when that virus resurfaced in 2009.
It is also noteworthy that the global magnitude and extent of the Spanish Flu pandemic were exacerbated by World War I, which is estimated to have killed roughly 10 million civilians and nine million troops.
The Great Depression
Within a decade of the outbreak of the Spanish flu and World War I, another development presented a new global catastrophe: the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Although this cataclysmic event began on October 29, 1929, with the crash of stock markets, first on Wall Street and then around the world, the Great Depression forever altered the lives of billions of the world’s inhabitants.
It was the longest, deepest and most widespread economic catastrophe, which demonstrated how intensely and rapidly the global economy can decline.
The Great Depression devastated both rich and poor countries. Personal income, tax revenue, profits and prices dropped, while international trade fell by more than 50 percent.
Construction halted in many countries, and farming communities and rural areas suffered as crop prices fell by 60 percent.
Facing plummeting demand with few alternative sources of jobs, areas dependent on primary sector industries such as mining and logging suffered the most.
Unemployment in the United States rose to 23 percent and in some countries topped 33 percent.
The Great Depression witnessed the virtual collapse of most of the world’s economies, a dangerous deepening of poverty, long food lines for those who had lost their jobs and a serious struggle for the survival of entire communities.
The decline in the U.S. economy had the immediate effect of depressing the economies of most other countries, while internal weaknesses in each country made conditions worse.
There were frantic attempts of individual states across the world to shore up their economies through protectionist policies, which exacerbated the collapse in global trade.
By 1933, the economic decline had pushed world trade to one-third of its level just four years earlier.
Some economies recovered by the mid-1930s; however, the adverse effects of the Great Depression lingered until the beginning of World War II for many countries.
The Great Depression required a rethinking and a reset of the global economy.
Extensive public policy initiatives were undertaken by many countries in response to the Great Depression to address many of the systemic weaknesses that contributed to that historical catastrophe.
Some of those initiatives, like the Social Security system in the United States, took root in the society, helping the elderly and other vulnerable citizens, and setting an example for other countries, as our own National Insurance demonstrates.
Listen to the earth!
The COVID-19 pandemic has accentuated the urgency for yet another great reset.
Mother Earth has been regularly entreating us in so many ways to quiet the daily noise that has invaded our busy lives and end the thoughtless damage we are doing to our world, but we have failed to listen.
One of the most inspiring appeals about our careless and criminal conduct toward Mother Earth that I read over the past few days was found in “The Coronavirus Letter to Humanity” by Vivienne R. Reich:
“The earth whispered, but you did not hear.
The earth spoke, but you did not listen.
The earth screamed, but you turned her off.
And so, I was born…
I was not born to punish you…
I was born to awaken you…
The earth cried out for help…
Massive flooding. But you didn’t listen.
Burning fires. But you didn’t listen.
Strong hurricanes. But you didn’t listen.
Terrifying tornadoes. But you didn’t listen.
You still don’t listen to the earth when
Ocean animals are dying due to pollutants in the waters.
Glaciers melting at an alarming rate.
You didn’t listen to how much negativity the earth is receiving.
You just kept going on with your life…
No matter how much hate there was…
No matter how many killings daily…
It was more important to get that latest iPhone than worry about what the earth was trying to tell you…
But now, I am here.
And I’ve made the world stop on its tracks.
I’ve made YOU finally listen.
I’ve made you take refuge.
I’ve made you stop thinking about materialistic things…
Now you are like the earth…
You are only worried about YOUR survival.
How does that feel?
I give you fever…as the fires burn on earth.
I give you respiratory issues…as pollution fills the earth’s air.
I give you weakness as the earth weakens every day.
I took away your comforts…
The things you would use to forget about the planet and its pain.
And I made the world stop…
China has better air quality… Skies are clear blue because factories are not spewing pollution unto the earth’s air.
The water in Venice is clean and dolphins are being seen because the gondola boats that pollute the water are not being used.
YOU are having to take time to reflect on what is important in your life.
Again, I am not here to punish you… I am here to awaken you…
When all this is over, and I am gone… Please remember these moments …
Listen to the earth.”
The human species has not been good stewards of our planet, our societies, or our humanity. We now urgently need a great global reset.
In our next column, we will consider what we must do to reset our lives and our economy. We will discuss how we will have to adapt to a new way of life to confront the challenges that will invariably develop from this pandemic.
The human species adjusted and adapted to the catastrophes that were created by the Spanish Flu, World War I and the Great Depression. Now we must develop a great reset from the COVID-19 calamities so that we can ensure the continuation of life on the planet.
• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.