The Public Role in Economic Transformation: Lessons from World War II

March 26, 2020

We are facing an unprecedented economic crisis, and the government must take on a larger role in our economy.


In response to the coronavirus, the unthinkable is quickly becoming thinkable. As of March 24, 2020, Congress is considering a $2 trillion stimulus; a $1,200 grant to all Americans; bailouts of firms facing bankruptcy; suspension of rent, student-loan, and mortgage payments; and drastic restrictions on travel and commerce. The coronavirus pandemic is—let us hope—a temporary emergency. The lessons we learn from it will need to be internalized more fully, and more persistently, as we wake up to a more lasting emergency: the climate crisis, which will be with us for generations.

In The Public Role in Economic Transformation: Lessons from World War II, Roosevelt Fellow JW Mason focuses on how the government’s role in rapidly building up war industries in the past will be relevant today if the US needs to drastically scale up the health care system or make other large-scale economic adjustments in response to the coronavirus. This precedent and government’s power will be even more relevant in the future for the transformation of all kinds of economic activity that is required for deep decarbonization necessary to curb the climate crisis.

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