Professor Pahnke: COVID-19 Has Made the World Leaderless, Just Like 1930s

Tuesday, April 07, 2020
Black and white photo of Unemployed men standing in line outside a Great Depression soup kitchen opened in Chicago by Al Capone
Unemployed men stand in line outside a Great Depression soup kitchen opened in Chicago by Al Capone. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

CULTURICO (ZURICH) -- Anthony Pahnke is an assistant professor of International Relations at San Francisco State University, in San Francisco, California. His research deals with social movements and protest, development and trade policy.

“Global economic turmoil, states in retreat, dominant powers in decline — welcome to the 1930s,” Pahnke wrote. “At the time the Great Depression drew most countries in the world downward, driving up unemployment in the U.S. and Europe. In response, the U.S. passed legislation — the Smoot-Hawley Act — which placed tariffs on imports in a flawed attempt to protect domestic production. The government also deported a million Mexican-Americans — some of whom were citizens — as nationalist sentiment increasingly drove the U.S.’ politics.

“European countries were similar. Fascist parties and extreme nationalist ideas took hold in Italy, Spain, and Germany. In Britain, tariffs were placed in the 1930s on everything from foreign films to mutton. Across Europe, countries used economic policy as a way to compete with one another, engaging in what scholars have called ‘beggar thy neighbor’ trade policies.”