If we look at the raw economic numbers, world trade is expected to plunge in 2020 by between 13% and 32%, according to the World Trade Organization (WTO).
While the WTO does not mention a word about the Great Depression (1929-1939) or how global economies contracted during that period, a 32% contraction would be on par with the plunge in trade during 1929-1932, according to The Guardian.
“The unavoidable declines in trade and output will have painful consequences for households and businesses,” WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo said, “on top of the human suffering caused by the disease itself.”
While it is still too early to predict if we will see a second Great Depression (1929-1939) since such an eventuality hinges on what policies governments instigate like protectionism, it’s clear that economic hard times will not treat migrants and minorities nicely.
Even during periods of economic growth like in the European Union during this century, we still have not succeeded at eradicating social ills like Islamophobia and the shameful treatment and persecution of the Romany minority.
The size of the minority does not matter when it comes to ethnic persecution. In 1933, when Hitler took power in Germany, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates there were 505,000 Jews out of a total population of 67 million. Half a million Jews accounted for less than 0.75% of Germany’s population.
The rise of fascism during the worst economic contraction in the history of the industrialized world did not foster ethnic understanding and respect but led to a terrible world war and the wholesale slaughter of an estimated six million Jews during the Holocaust that included half a million Roma.
Even if the historical context of the present coronavirus crisis is different from what happened in Germany and led to Hitler’s rise to power, why wouldn’t a severe economic downturn and draconian protectionist measures bring out again the monster in us?
In an interview with CNN in March, historian and professor Yuval Noah Harari stated that the lack of trust, closing borders and isolating oneself, are the most significant threats posed by the COVID-19 pandemic
There is also another reason, in my opinion, why matters are going to get worse in Europe as our economies contract and knee-jerk nationalist reactions: We have failed to slay the same monsters of xenophobia and petty nationalism that gave us World War 2 in our eyes.
If we have failed at ridding racism from our societies during good economic timers, why would we succeed at such a challenging task during poor economic times?
If there is an image that evokes the challenges we face ahead, it is the four horsemen of the apocalypse, a Biblical reference appearing in the New Testament’s final book of Revelation. The four horsemen charging at us represent pestilence, famine, war, and death.
We have two choices today and tomorrow: to unite and rebuild or succumb to the four horsemen.