Even a one-percentage-point increase in the unemployment rate of the region would mean a quarter of a million workers losing their jobs. If you include South America, Africa, Asia, and the rest of the world in this analysis, it’s unavoidable that a U.S. recession in a period of weak global growth would mean a full-on global recession, which would throw millions of people out of work and reduce income growth in every corner of the world. If your aim in removing Trump is to improve global welfare, this is a strange outcome to root for—even as an insurance policy against his capacity to potentially destroy the planet.
Oh, and about the planet ...
A recession is the wrong way to save the planet.
Let me do my best here to summarize what might be the most sophisticated argument for cheering a recession. A downturn is going to come anyway; no business cycle lasts forever. So we might as well have one now, when we have a once-in-a-species opportunity to arrest Republicans’ reckless deregulatory policies and establish laws and rules that rein in climate change, and save humanity in the process. (Plus a recession will probably reduce global emissions, anyway!)
I think all of these arguments are wrong—except for the last one, which, taken to its logical extreme, would be an argument for permanently lowering the living standards for most living humans. (Evaluating that desire would require a whole other column.)
First, there is no economic or physical law that says that economies must suffer recessions. Australia, for example, has been recession-free for a quarter of a century.
Derek Thompson: The new servant class
Second, it’s not hard to imagine how an economic downturn could hurt the national case for a Green New Deal, or a similarly dramatic action on climate change. In a 2019 Pew survey of public priorities, the environment was a top issue for Democrats, behind only health care and education, with jobs and the economy far behind all three. The stage is set for a Democratic president to take unprecedented action on climate change in his or her first year in office.
But in a recession, this picture could change quickly. With job losses mounting by the month and voters freaked out about their savings and income, economic worries would dominate, and centrists might back away from policies that struck them as expensive, economically risky, or not directly responsive to the crisis. Could a Warren White House stuff a 2021 stimulus bill with huge subsidies for renewable energy and a fund for carbon-capture technology? Sure. Or we could also see a redux of the Waxman-Markey clean-energy bill, which passed Congress in 2009 but died before reaching the Senate floor, doomed by the constraining politics of a bad economy.
This unpredictability is precisely the point: A recession is not an Icy Hot patch. You can’t slap it on, tear it off, feel a moment’s burn, and then forget about it forever. A recession brings unpredictable consequences for workers, firms, politics, and policy. Trump may be a whirlwind of chaos and injustice. But don’t pray for a hurricane to take out a tornado.