Depression, Depression Books, Do-Gooders…and Willie Nelson's 70th Album | Opinion

A man wearing a mask walks by the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on March 17, 2020 at Wall Street in New York City.
A man wearing a mask walks by the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) at Wall Street in New York City. Getty Images

Another week of pandemic chaos. Markets roller-coastered; unemployment claims broke a record, and the D-word is now being thrown around. Let's get started:

Recession or Depression? Well, it was inevitable, I guess, given the way things have been going that the words "depression" and "economy" would come up. "For the first time in my life, I think a depression is conceivable," writes Washington Post economics columnist—and former Newsweeker—Robert Samuelson. Bob is a very smart guy and not one for hyperbole. So, when he says we might already be in depression-land, pay attention. In the past two weeks 10 million jobless claims were filed with more to come. The likes of Boeing, Macy's and American Airlines all piled on the country's workers through a combination of pure layoffs, salary cuts and furloughs. Last Thursday's Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 39 percent of those surveyed have been laid off or have lost income. The equities markets continued to struggle—the S&P 500 was down 2.3 percent for the week. Let's be clear: I don't know what's going to happen and no one else does either. But it's pretty clear now that any recovery from what my colleague Bill Powell calls a "medically-induced depression" isn't going to happen soon—despite predictions for a third-quarter bump only a week or two ago. I'm not all that sharp, but the impact of the pandemic, psychologically at the least, isn't going to suddenly evaporate after we're on the other end of the curve. After all, 70 percent of the GDP is consumer spending and I doubt folks, pre-vaccine, will be rushing back to restaurants, movie theaters, baseball parks and Cabo San Lucas once Dr. Fauci gives us the green light. Also keep in mind that that state budgets will be slammed, property and other taxes will go up—and folks will be trying to find jobs at places that may not be in business anymore. (Business.com says about 62% of small businesses in its recent survey said that they have just two months or less before they go under if things don't improve.) Never mind that people, if they have jobs, will be trying to replenish their 401(k)s. I could go on. Ugh.

D-Books: If you are tired of the Tiger King—and I, unlike many of you, was after the first episode — consider something a little heavier. Given the state of the economy, I asked David Warsh, the editor/writer of the terrific weekly newsletter Economic Principals, for some essential reading on big-time economic downturns. (Yeah, I know, many of you are onto the next item...but still I persist.) Among his favorites: Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression by Morris Dickstein; (Music, movies and dance halls included) Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed ("A spell-binding narrative account of the run-up and subsequent foul-up," says Warsh); and for you economic geeks only: The World in Depression, 1929-1939, by Charles P. Kindleberger. OK, back to Joe Exotic.

Stepping-Up: If anything good comes out of the coronavirus plague it may be the positive response of many business folks—big, small and in-between—who had been hammered pretty hard as greedheads by various candidates during the Democrats presidential nomination race . Some of my favorite examples: Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle slashed his salary—and the pay of his executives—so his 3,500 retail store workers could continue to get their paychecks. Aflac CEO Dan Amos, through his family's foundation, donated $1 million to the Piedmont Columbus (Ga.) Regional Hospital. The money will be used to convert the hospital's fifth floor to a Covid-19 ward, including seven new intensive care units. Then there's Tarrytown, New York's Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, which plans to produce 500,000 coronavirus test kits for the state—no charge. And, from The New York Times, Brooklyn landlord Mario Salerno canceled April rent for scores of tenants. Take a bow.

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Loose Change: Country star/legend Willie Nelson announced his 70th(!) studio album. First Rose Of Spring. The single of the same name was co-written by friend of Newsweek Marc Beeson along with his song-writing partners Randy Houser and Allen Shamblin. Instant review: One hundred stars from me...HR Hell: Charleston Post and Courier columnist Steve Bailey worries that the massive collection of coronavirus data will have a big—and negative—impact on privacy in the workplace. Will employees be required to certify they are coronavirus-free? Will testing be required before employment? Just like drug testing is now by many companies?...And finally, a couple of many goodbyes in the music business. Adam Schlesinger, 52, the founder of the pop-rock band Fountains of Wayne passed on due to COVID-19 complications. Too little space here to list his accomplishments—Emmy awards and, of course, "Stacy's Mom" — but all I can say is that I spent hours listening to FOW in my car with my kids. I think "Utopia Parkway" was our favorite. Bill Withers died at 81 from heart problems. Three Emmy awards and the mega-hits "Stand by Me" and "Ain't No Sunshine" are on his CV. Legendary...Til' next week, be safe and remember: you can report hoarding or price gouging of personal protective equipment to disaster@leo.gov. Or Jared Kushner.

Depression, Depression Books, Do-Gooders…and Willie Nelson's 70th Album | Opinion | Opinion