Advertisement

EDITORIAL: Surviving the pandemic and what follows

Article content

At the start of this pandemic, there were comparisons made to the Second World War when citizens were asked to face hardships and deprivations with a stiff upper lip while the nation focused its energies on a single objective.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau evoked imagery from that era when he said the recent federal election campaign was the most important since the war.

What’s perhaps forgotten today is what happened when that war ended in 1945. There was a severe housing shortage, there was labour unrest, there was inflation.

During the six years that Canada was fully invested in fighting the Axis powers, few houses were built, and manufacturing for all but war materials came to a halt. When the war ended, there was a rush to fulfill a pent-up demand for everything from a new bungalow, to a new car, to pot and pans. Canada’s economy grew enormously in the decade that followed to meet those demands.

But what was certain was that the war had ended, and the military’s ranks were subsequently emptied. In 1945, the Royal Canadian Air Force had more than 215,000 personnel but only 13,000 by the end of 1946.

The same thing happened in the United States. Indeed, when the Americans responded to the conflict in Korea in June 1950, soldiers found they were using surplus material from the Second World War, as the economy in the U.S. had so thoroughly responded to post-war domestic demands that it had little room for new guns and tanks.

Planning for a post-war world began during the war. Governments came together to figure out what challenges lay ahead, and so did private industry and business. Most agreed that the years ahead would be incredibly difficult, as they had only one historic experience, that of the years following the end of the First World War. At that time, the U.S. and Canada faced a crippling economic crisis in 1920 and 1921. Unemployment rates skyrocketed.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

That didn’t exactly happen in the years following the Second World War. Yet the planning continued in earnest, as governments and private industry planned for the worst but hoped for the best.

And the same is happening with this pandemic. The Ontario government is suggesting that all restrictions related to COVID-19 could be lifted by as early as next spring. The province is hoping there will be a return to normalcy in 2022.

That might be wishful thinking, but it’s a thinking shared by a great many Ontarians.

In the meantime there are numerous challenges that must be met, such as solving a housing crisis, meeting the material demands of citizens, and keeping a lid on inflation.

It’s not unlike what happened in the years following the Second World War. But it took time then, and it will take time now.

Indeed, it’s amazing how much our economy has been disrupted after 20 months of COVID-19. Supply-chain issues have wreaked havoc with the automobile industry and other manufacturers, and the demand for new housing has placed pressure on raw materials.

The rate of inflation has increased accordingly, although it’s nowhere near what it was 75 years ago. Canada’s rate of inflation stood at 4.4 per cent for September. But in 1947 it was 14.43 per cent, and in 1948 it was 9.01. But by 1949, the inflationary rate had cooled considerably.

Labour issues were complex in 1946 and 1947 and they remain complex today, but in a different way. Seventy-five years ago, workers were organizing into collective bargaining units in record fashion and there were mass strike actions, particularly in the U.S., since wages, many of them pre-war in scale, couldn’t keep up with inflation. At some point, President Harry Truman threatened to send in the American military when the railway unions were planning a mass strike action that would have crippled the flow of materials and the economy.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

Today the labour issues are different, but perhaps not that different. There is a shortage of workers, or perhaps a shortage of workers willing to work for a certain wage. The only response for employers is to change the way they do business. They can automate their activity, or offer a healthier wage or salary for new employees.

The same thing happened 75 years ago. In fact, between 1950 and 1960, household incomes doubled in both the United States and Canada. But since the late 1970s and early 1980s, wages in both countries have been allowed to stagnate.

If history repeats itself, we’re facing the same situation. We’re in the midst of a housing boom. There is a shortage of goods because of supply-chain issues. Inflation hasn’t been rising as fast since 2003. And there is pressure to increase wages and salaries.

But we survived the war, and we’ll survive the pandemic. Yet just as the post-war world was much different than the pre-world war, so too will the world be different in the years following COVID-19.

– Peter Epp

Latest National Stories

Advertisement

Story continues below

News Near Tillsonburg

This Week in Flyers