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疫情如戰爭,我們能從二戰中學到什么?

疫情如戰爭,我們能從二戰中學到什么?

Jeremy Kahn 2020年04月11日
號召工業界抗擊新冠病毒的做法,引發了人們對于二戰期間經濟轉型的回憶。

當法國應對快速蔓延的新冠病毒大流行時,總統埃馬紐埃爾·馬克龍在全國講話中宣布:“我們正處于戰爭中?!?/p>

法國總統并不是唯一一位把疫情作比戰時狀態的政治家。英國首相鮑里斯·約翰遜稱病毒是“致命的敵人”,必須戰勝它。風險投資家也為成為“戰時CEO”的企業家們提供了建議。

此外,努力號召工業界抗擊新冠病毒的做法——從汽車制造商用工廠線制造呼吸機金龙彩票|官网登录,到時尚品牌改用織布機生產口罩——以及有關定量配給衛生紙、面粉等生活必需品的談論,都引發了人們對于二戰期間經濟轉型的回憶。在那個年代,工業界(特別在美國)協助政府建立起“民主國家的兵工廠”,生產了成千上萬輛坦克金龙彩票|官网登录、飛機和輪船,而廣泛使用的定量配給和價格控制政策也起到了防止囤貨居奇的作用。

但二戰經驗和新冠病毒大流行的相關性究竟有多大呢?從當年成功管控工業的做法中,政府應該借鑒哪些經驗呢?

研究1940年代戰時經濟的歷史學家們表示,雖然那個年代和當下的情況有顯著區別,但在這場危機中,政府仍然可以借鑒某些政策。

統一協調供應

北卡羅來納大學夏洛特分校的歷史學教授馬克·威爾遜認為,第一個,或許也是最重要的經驗,就是在協調生產和為企業提供正確的激勵措施方面金龙彩票|官网登录,政府發揮著至關重要的作用。

威爾遜是2017年出版的《破壞性創造:美國企業與第二次世界大戰的勝利》一書的作者。他說金龙彩票|官网登录,美國在珍珠港事件后立即成立了戰時生產委員會,用以協調重要軍需物資的生產事宜金龙彩票|官网登录,作為統一協調機構,領導各地全力提升輪船、飛機和彈藥的產量。

這正是讓威爾遜覺得奇怪的地方金龙彩票|官网登录,因為隨著美國爆發新冠病毒疫情,聯邦政府有時似乎放棄了協調物資采購的職責。美國總統唐納德·特朗普遲遲未啟動《國防生產法案》金龙彩票|官网登录,該法案允許他命令企業為政府生產醫療用品,還可扣押出口或私人客戶的物資。據報道,美國商會曾游說特朗普不要啟用這項法律。上周四,特朗普終于援引該法案,加快生產呼吸機。此外,他還阻止了外科口罩制造商3M向海外出口醫療物資,并下令“截胡”了一批運往德國的口罩。

特朗普還曾告訴各州,購買呼吸機和防護設備主要靠自己。3月16日金龙彩票|官网登录,特朗普在與州長們的電話會議上表示:“你們要試著靠自己去采購呼吸器金龙彩票|官网登录、呼吸機等所有設備?!北局?,因所在州醫院的物資嚴重不足金龙彩票|官网登录,備感絕望的紐約州長安德魯·科莫不得不向聯邦政府尋求援助金龙彩票|官网登录。他說:“在此刻,一個州唯一的希望真的只能來自聯邦政府〗鹆势眧官网登录!?/p>

更糟糕的是金龙彩票|官网登录,因缺乏聯邦政府的協調,美國各州被迫要搶購關鍵設備和物資——由此推高了產品價格金龙彩票|官网登录。威爾遜稱,美國從內戰期間的痛苦經歷吸取了教訓:各州最初基本上都是自己準備軍備,因而產生了很大的問題。就像現在一樣,各州因急于爭奪稀缺物資而推升了價格,“導致紐約州等更大、更富裕的州和印第安納州等比較貧窮的州,在軍隊方面拉開了很大差距?!?/p>

“讓我感到震驚的是金龙彩票|官网登录,160年過去了金龙彩票|官网登录,我們還是沒能吸取教訓,”威爾遜說道。

1943年金龙彩票|官网登录,福特汽車公司在底特律的Willow Run工廠組裝B-24“解放者”轟炸機。歷史學家發現金龙彩票|官网登录,政府動員企業進行戰時生產的某些做法,可能有助于號召企業抗擊新冠病毒。圖片來源:Ford/Getty Images

政府在二戰期間也進行過干預金龙彩票|官网登录,避免有的州在采購重要醫療設備時遭遇哄抬物價的問題。軍隊和民眾都需要的多種物資——比如糖類金龙彩票|官网登录、汽油和鞋類——都受到定量配給和明確價格政策的管控。

威爾遜表示,政府在二戰時期的大部分合同都依照成本加成原則簽訂,這樣做既能鼓勵供應商生產所需商品——因為可保障他們獲得利潤金龙彩票|官网登录,也能把盈利限制在適中水平。事實上,在與軍事供應商簽署的大多數合同中,政府都堅持加入了回撥條款(clawback),以便能追回超額利潤。軍事合同的回撥條款一直沿用至朝鮮戰爭結束金龙彩票|官网登录。更重要的是,政府設定了極高的稅率——在某些情況下,可高達公司“超額利潤”的90%。

許多二戰政策都是根據美國人在一戰期間的經驗制定的。當時,美國工業公司紛紛攫取“戰爭暴利”,在戰后變成了巨大的丑聞。這次疫情也可能會發生類似的情況,當疾病造成死亡和整體經濟低迷時,公眾會將憤怒的矛頭指向那些向州政府抬高基本醫療用品價格以牟取暴利的公司。根據ProPublica的調查報道金龙彩票|官网登录,紐約州花費了近25萬美元購買一臺便攜式X光機,而該售價通常介于3萬到8萬美元之間;此外,該州還花了20美分來購買平時不到5美分的手套。

共享專利

歷史學家們認為,另一個從二戰工業政策學到的教訓是,政府應依靠現有的產品和制造商,與他們攜手合作,把設計授權給其他制造商以擴大生產——而不是浪費時間去設計或發明新設備金龙彩票|官网登录。大衛·埃杰頓是倫敦國王學院的歷史學教授,著有《英國戰爭機器》一書金龙彩票|官网登录。他說,雖然努力應戰確實能激發創新金龙彩票|官网登录,但大多數新技術都需要數年時間才能得以完善金龙彩票|官网登录,直到戰爭接近尾聲才可以使用?金龙彩票|官网登录!岸鹬胁捎玫拇蟛糠旨夹g都來自二戰前,”他說。

政府通常會向原創專利持有人和設計者施壓,要求他們將產品授權給其他制造商。例如,普惠生產飛機發動機時得到了斯蒂旁克公司和蘇聯部分工廠的授權,英國勞斯萊斯梅林飛機發動機則經美國Packard Motor Company授權才生產。

埃杰頓擔心金龙彩票|官网登录,當今的政策制定者已經聽信了這樣的神話——即短短幾天內,新技術就能以某種方式神奇地完成起草到部署的全過程。英國首相溫斯頓·丘吉爾在戰時也曾受此影響。但實際上,即便在戰爭時期金龙彩票|官网登录,這一過程也需要花費數年時間金龙彩票|官网登录〗鹆势眧官网登录!岸鹬械拇蠖鄶挡少?,都是在擴大生產已采購的物資,”他說。

為了滿足目前激增的呼吸機需求,英國政府起初試圖說服有興趣制造設備的生產商做新設計。確實,以真空吸塵器和吹風機聞名的戴森僅用10天就設計了一款全新的呼吸機。但現在金龙彩票|官网登录,該公司必須獲得監管部門審批,如此一來就可能造成使用上的延誤金龙彩票|官网登录。其他制造商則對政府的建議猶豫不決金龙彩票|官网登录,相反金龙彩票|官网登录,他們同意獲取現有呼吸機制造商的設計許可。

疫情和二戰是否有可比性

二戰期間,有大量工廠改裝車間制造武器。比如,通用汽車工廠停止生產民用車,開始為美國陸軍制造卡車,有的黃銅配件廠轉而生產彈殼。

但二戰時的改裝生產可能只是個被過度宣揚的神話金龙彩票|官网登录。威爾遜說,盡管二戰時有的裝配線確實進行了改裝,但大多數關鍵武器都是在全新的工廠里生產的金龙彩票|官网登录。這些工廠由政府出資建造,然后讓公司承包經營。他說,那才是為戰爭制造大部分飛機、坦克和輪船的生產方式。

當然金龙彩票|官网登录,建造全新的工廠需要耗費幾個月時間金龙彩票|官网登录,而新冠病毒疫情預計將在幾周內達到高峰,所埃杰頓認為,將現在的情況與二戰時努力生產的情形相比,可能比較膚淺?金龙彩票|官网登录!氨仨毢投鹬械奶囟ㄊ录鲱惐取薄热缍乜虪柨舜蟪吠酥袆佑玫拿裼么岸皇菫閼馉幐冻龅娜颗??!?/p>

英國華威大學的經濟史學家馬克·哈里森也覺得沒有什么可比性。他在個人博客上寫道,各國政府最多只有幾個月時間為新冠病毒大流行做準備。這與二戰時的情況截然不同金龙彩票|官网登录金龙彩票|官网登录,在戰爭爆發前,政府有好幾年時間思考如何組織全社會迎戰——而且,當時還能借鑒一戰的經驗?!拔覀冋幱趹馉幹?,但手里握著一張白紙,”哈里森在有關新冠疫情的文章中寫道。

威爾遜認為金龙彩票|官网登录,制藥業可能是有時間投資新設備的領域。特別是需要大量生產的疫苗,或會對現有產能形成壓力。而且金龙彩票|官网登录,由于疫苗可能至少一年后才問世,因此政府現在就能投資建造新設備,把運營權外包給已有的制藥商。

當談及宏觀經濟政策時,歷史學家認為,當年與現在的危機沒有太多相似之處。哈里森寫道,二戰造成了資本和勞動力需求的爆炸式增長,因此政府的許多政策都以控制通脹為目標。今天的情況卻并非如此金龙彩票|官网登录,許多企業因保持社交距離的措施而倒閉,造成了數百萬人失業金龙彩票|官网登录。

威爾遜認為,目前的情況實際上更接近大蕭條時期,因此可能需要采用類似的計劃來保障就業和提振需求。他說金龙彩票|官网登录,美國可能會考慮借鑒富蘭克林·羅斯?金龙彩票|官网登录?偨y的新政政策,投資基建項目——只是為了讓人們重新就業。但另一方面,他也承認,現在需要保持社交距離金龙彩票|官网登录,這與讓更多人復工的政策背道而馳。

歷史學家們擔心,新冠病毒可能會加劇西方社會已經加速惡化的收入不均問題。哈里森寫道,二戰“導致成百上千萬人死亡、受傷和痛失親人,但沒有人陷入貧困,因為每個人都有自己的角色,也能找到工作金龙彩票|官网登录。戰爭結束后,英國社會比以前平等多了〗鹆势眧官网登录!?/p>

但這一次,不太可能出現這樣的情形。(財富中文網)

譯者:Emily

當法國應對快速蔓延的新冠病毒大流行時,總統埃馬紐埃爾·馬克龍在全國講話中宣布:“我們正處于戰爭中?!?/p>

法國總統并不是唯一一位把疫情作比戰時狀態的政治家金龙彩票|官网登录。英國首相鮑里斯·約翰遜稱病毒是“致命的敵人”,必須戰勝它金龙彩票|官网登录。風險投資家也為成為“戰時CEO”的企業家們提供了建議。

此外,努力號召工業界抗擊新冠病毒的做法——從汽車制造商用工廠線制造呼吸機,到時尚品牌改用織布機生產口罩——以及有關定量配給衛生紙、面粉等生活必需品的談論,都引發了人們對于二戰期間經濟轉型的回憶。在那個年代,工業界(特別在美國)協助政府建立起“民主國家的兵工廠”金龙彩票|官网登录,生產了成千上萬輛坦克、飛機和輪船金龙彩票|官网登录,而廣泛使用的定量配給和價格控制政策也起到了防止囤貨居奇的作用。

但二戰經驗和新冠病毒大流行的相關性究竟有多大呢?從當年成功管控工業的做法中金龙彩票|官网登录,政府應該借鑒哪些經驗呢?

研究1940年代戰時經濟的歷史學家們表示,雖然那個年代和當下的情況有顯著區別,但在這場危機中金龙彩票|官网登录,政府仍然可以借鑒某些政策金龙彩票|官网登录。

統一協調供應

北卡羅來納大學夏洛特分校的歷史學教授馬克·威爾遜認為,第一個,或許也是最重要的經驗,就是在協調生產和為企業提供正確的激勵措施方面,政府發揮著至關重要的作用金龙彩票|官网登录。

威爾遜是2017年出版的《破壞性創造:美國企業與第二次世界大戰的勝利》一書的作者。他說,美國在珍珠港事件后立即成立了戰時生產委員會,用以協調重要軍需物資的生產事宜,作為統一協調機構,領導各地全力提升輪船、飛機和彈藥的產量。

這正是讓威爾遜覺得奇怪的地方金龙彩票|官网登录,因為隨著美國爆發新冠病毒疫情,聯邦政府有時似乎放棄了協調物資采購的職責。美國總統唐納德·特朗普遲遲未啟動《國防生產法案》,該法案允許他命令企業為政府生產醫療用品,還可扣押出口或私人客戶的物資金龙彩票|官网登录。據報道,美國商會曾游說特朗普不要啟用這項法律。上周四,特朗普終于援引該法案,加快生產呼吸機。此外,他還阻止了外科口罩制造商3M向海外出口醫療物資,并下令“截胡”了一批運往德國的口罩金龙彩票|官网登录。

特朗普還曾告訴各州,購買呼吸機和防護設備主要靠自己。3月16日金龙彩票|官网登录,特朗普在與州長們的電話會議上表示:“你們要試著靠自己去采購呼吸器、呼吸機等所有設備?!北局?,因所在州醫院的物資嚴重不足,備感絕望的紐約州長安德魯·科莫不得不向聯邦政府尋求援助金龙彩票|官网登录。他說:“在此刻,一個州唯一的希望真的只能來自聯邦政府?!?/p>

更糟糕的是金龙彩票|官网登录,因缺乏聯邦政府的協調,美國各州被迫要搶購關鍵設備和物資——由此推高了產品價格。威爾遜稱,美國從內戰期間的痛苦經歷吸取了教訓:各州最初基本上都是自己準備軍備,因而產生了很大的問題。就像現在一樣,各州因急于爭奪稀缺物資而推升了價格金龙彩票|官网登录,“導致紐約州等更大、更富裕的州和印第安納州等比較貧窮的州,在軍隊方面拉開了很大差距?金龙彩票|官网登录!?/p>

“讓我感到震驚的是金龙彩票|官网登录,160年過去了,我們還是沒能吸取教訓金龙彩票|官网登录,”威爾遜說道。

1943年金龙彩票|官网登录,福特汽車公司在底特律的Willow Run工廠組裝B-24“解放者”轟炸機。歷史學家發現,政府動員企業進行戰時生產的某些做法,可能有助于號召企業抗擊新冠病毒。

政府在二戰期間也進行過干預,避免有的州在采購重要醫療設備時遭遇哄抬物價的問題。軍隊和民眾都需要的多種物資——比如糖類金龙彩票|官网登录、汽油和鞋類——都受到定量配給和明確價格政策的管控。

威爾遜表示,政府在二戰時期的大部分合同都依照成本加成原則簽訂,這樣做既能鼓勵供應商生產所需商品——因為可保障他們獲得利潤,也能把盈利限制在適中水平。事實上,在與軍事供應商簽署的大多數合同中,政府都堅持加入了回撥條款(clawback),以便能追回超額利潤金龙彩票|官网登录。軍事合同的回撥條款一直沿用至朝鮮戰爭結束金龙彩票|官网登录。更重要的是,政府設定了極高的稅率——在某些情況下,可高達公司“超額利潤”的90%。

許多二戰政策都是根據美國人在一戰期間的經驗制定的。當時金龙彩票|官网登录,美國工業公司紛紛攫取“戰爭暴利”,在戰后變成了巨大的丑聞。這次疫情也可能會發生類似的情況,當疾病造成死亡和整體經濟低迷時,公眾會將憤怒的矛頭指向那些向州政府抬高基本醫療用品價格以牟取暴利的公司。根據ProPublica的調查報道,紐約州花費了近25萬美元購買一臺便攜式X光機,而該售價通常介于3萬到8萬美元之間金龙彩票|官网登录;此外,該州還花了20美分來購買平時不到5美分的手套。

共享專利

歷史學家們認為,另一個從二戰工業政策學到的教訓是,政府應依靠現有的產品和制造商,與他們攜手合作,把設計授權給其他制造商以擴大生產——而不是浪費時間去設計或發明新設備。大衛·埃杰頓是倫敦國王學院的歷史學教授,著有《英國戰爭機器》一書金龙彩票|官网登录。他說,雖然努力應戰確實能激發創新,但大多數新技術都需要數年時間才能得以完善金龙彩票|官网登录,直到戰爭接近尾聲才可以使用?!岸鹬胁捎玫拇蟛糠旨夹g都來自二戰前金龙彩票|官网登录,”他說金龙彩票|官网登录。

政府通常會向原創專利持有人和設計者施壓,要求他們將產品授權給其他制造商。例如,普惠生產飛機發動機時得到了斯蒂旁克公司和蘇聯部分工廠的授權,英國勞斯萊斯梅林飛機發動機則經美國Packard Motor Company授權才生產。

埃杰頓擔心,當今的政策制定者已經聽信了這樣的神話——即短短幾天內,新技術就能以某種方式神奇地完成起草到部署的全過程金龙彩票|官网登录。英國首相溫斯頓·丘吉爾在戰時也曾受此影響。但實際上,即便在戰爭時期金龙彩票|官网登录,這一過程也需要花費數年時間金龙彩票|官网登录?!岸鹬械拇蠖鄶挡少?,都是在擴大生產已采購的物資,”他說。

為了滿足目前激增的呼吸機需求,英國政府起初試圖說服有興趣制造設備的生產商做新設計。確實,以真空吸塵器和吹風機聞名的戴森僅用10天就設計了一款全新的呼吸機。但現在,該公司必須獲得監管部門審批,如此一來就可能造成使用上的延誤。其他制造商則對政府的建議猶豫不決,相反,他們同意獲取現有呼吸機制造商的設計許可。

疫情和二戰是否有可比性

二戰期間金龙彩票|官网登录,有大量工廠改裝車間制造武器。比如,通用汽車工廠停止生產民用車,開始為美國陸軍制造卡車,有的黃銅配件廠轉而生產彈殼。

但二戰時的改裝生產可能只是個被過度宣揚的神話金龙彩票|官网登录金龙彩票|官网登录。威爾遜說,盡管二戰時有的裝配線確實進行了改裝,但大多數關鍵武器都是在全新的工廠里生產的。這些工廠由政府出資建造金龙彩票|官网登录,然后讓公司承包經營金龙彩票|官网登录。他說,那才是為戰爭制造大部分飛機金龙彩票|官网登录、坦克和輪船的生產方式。

當然,建造全新的工廠需要耗費幾個月時間,而新冠病毒疫情預計將在幾周內達到高峰,所埃杰頓認為,將現在的情況與二戰時努力生產的情形相比,可能比較膚淺?!氨仨毢投鹬械奶囟ㄊ录鲱惐取薄热缍乜虪柨舜蟪吠酥袆佑玫拿裼么岸皇菫閼馉幐冻龅娜颗??!?/p>

英國華威大學的經濟史學家馬克·哈里森也覺得沒有什么可比性金龙彩票|官网登录。他在個人博客上寫道金龙彩票|官网登录,各國政府最多只有幾個月時間為新冠病毒大流行做準備。這與二戰時的情況截然不同,在戰爭爆發前,政府有好幾年時間思考如何組織全社會迎戰——而且,當時還能借鑒一戰的經驗?!拔覀冋幱趹馉幹?,但手里握著一張白紙,”哈里森在有關新冠疫情的文章中寫道。

威爾遜認為,制藥業可能是有時間投資新設備的領域。特別是需要大量生產的疫苗,或會對現有產能形成壓力金龙彩票|官网登录。而且金龙彩票|官网登录,由于疫苗可能至少一年后才問世,因此政府現在就能投資建造新設備,把運營權外包給已有的制藥商。

當談及宏觀經濟政策時,歷史學家認為,當年與現在的危機沒有太多相似之處。哈里森寫道,二戰造成了資本和勞動力需求的爆炸式增長金龙彩票|官网登录,因此政府的許多政策都以控制通脹為目標。今天的情況卻并非如此金龙彩票|官网登录,許多企業因保持社交距離的措施而倒閉,造成了數百萬人失業。

威爾遜認為,目前的情況實際上更接近大蕭條時期,因此可能需要采用類似的計劃來保障就業和提振需求金龙彩票|官网登录。他說,美國可能會考慮借鑒富蘭克林·羅斯附鹆势眧官网登录?偨y的新政政策,投資基建項目——只是為了讓人們重新就業。但另一方面,他也承認,現在需要保持社交距離金龙彩票|官网登录,這與讓更多人復工的政策背道而馳金龙彩票|官网登录。

歷史學家們擔心,新冠病毒可能會加劇西方社會已經加速惡化的收入不均問題。哈里森寫道,二戰“導致成百上千萬人死亡金龙彩票|官网登录、受傷和痛失親人,但沒有人陷入貧困金龙彩票|官网登录,因為每個人都有自己的角色金龙彩票|官网登录,也能找到工作。戰爭結束后,英國社會比以前平等多了金龙彩票|官网登录?!?/p>

但這一次,不太可能出現這樣的情形。(財富中文網)

譯者:Emily

"We are at war," Emmanuel Macron declared in a national address as France confronted the rapidly spreading coronavirus pandemic.

The French President is not the only politician drawing wartime analogies. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has spoken of the virus as "a deadly enemy" which must be combated. Venture capitalists too have counseled entrepreneurs on the value of becoming "wartime CEOs."

Certainly efforts to enlist industry in the fight against coronavirus—from automakers converting factory lines to produce ventilators to fashion brands turning looms over to mask production—and talk of rationing essential items, from toilet paper to flour, evoke nothing so much as the transformation of the economy during World War II. That’s when industry, particularly in the U.S., helped build “An Arsenal of Democracy,” churning out tanks, planes and ships by the thousands, and rationing and price-controls were widely used to prevent hoarding.

But how relevant is the Second World War experience to the coronavirus pandemic? Are there lessons governments ought to be drawing on from the way it so successfully harnessed industry back then?

Historians who study the wartime economies of the 1940s say there are significant differences between then and now, but that there are still policies governments could emulate in this crisis.

Supplier-in-chief

The first, and perhaps most important lesson, is that government has a critical role to play in coordinating production and providing the right incentives to business, says Mark Wilson, a history professor at the University of North Carolina Charlotte.

In the U.S., the Wartime Production Board was established immediately after Pearl Harbor to coordinate the manufacture of vital military supplies—and it became the umbrella organization for a number of efforts aimed at boosting the manufacture of ships, planes and ammunition, says Wilson, author of the 2017 book Destructive Creation: American Business and the Winning of World War II.

That’s why Wilson says he found it bizarre that, as the coronavirus outbreak spread in the U.S., the federal government often seemed to abdicate its role in coordinating the procurement of supplies. U.S. President Donald Trump hesitated to invoke the Korean War-era Defense Production Act, which would allow him to order companies to produce medical supplies for the government and to seize supplies bound for export or private customers. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reportedly lobbied Trump not to invoke the law. On Thursday, Trump finally did invoke the Act to speed the production of ventilators and, in the case of surgical mask manufacturer 3M, he ordered the seizure of a shipment of masks overseas that had been bound for Germany.

Trump has told individual states it is primarily up to them to purchase their own ventilators and protective equipment. “Respirators, ventilators, all of the equipment—try getting it yourselves,” U.S. President Donald Trump said on a conference call with governors on March 16. This week, a desperate New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, his state’s hospitals running critically low on supplies, was left to plead for federal help. “Really, the only hope for a state at this point is the federal government's capacity to deliver,” he said.

Worse, without federal coordination, U.S. states have been forced to bid against one another for vital equipment and supplies—driving up prices. Wilson says the U.S. had learned from bitter experience during the Civil War, when states were at first largely left to equip their own regiments, how problematic this kind of approach can be. Just like now, the states wound up competing for scarce material with one another, driving up prices, and "leading to big disparities between military units from larger, wealthier states, like New York, and poorer ones, like Indiana."

“I am stunned that 160 years later, we failed to learn that lesson,” Wilson says.

In the Second World War, the government also stepped in to prevent the kind of price gouging that some states have encountered when trying to procure vital medical equipment. Many items that were in demand for both the military and the civilian population—such as sugar, gasoline and shoes—were subject to rationing and explicit price controls.

Wilson says that most WWII-era contracts the government handed out were on a cost-plus basis. This encouraged suppliers to produce needed goods, since they were assured of making a profit, but it capped those profits at a modest level. In fact, the government insisted on clawbacks in most contracts with military suppliers that would allow it to claim back any excess profits. These clawbacks persisted in military contracts through to the Korean War. What’s more, the government set extremely high tax rates—as high as 90%, in some cases, of corporation’s “excess profits.”

Many of these World War II policies were informed by Americans' experience during the First World War when “war profiteering” by some U.S. industrial companies became a major scandal after the conflict ended. Similar public anger might be directed at companies this time around that are found to have minted money by over-charging states for essential medical supplies while people die and the overall economy tanks. New York State has, according to a ProPublica investigation, paid almost $250,000 for a portable X-ray machine that normally costs between $30,000 and $80,000 and 20 cents for gloves that normally cost less than five cents.

Sharing IP

Another lesson from Second World War industrial policy, according to historians, is that government should rely on existing products and manufacturers, working with them to expand production through the licensing of their designs to other manufacturers—and not waste time trying to design or invent new devices. David Edgerton, a history professor at Kings College London and author of the book Britain’s War Machine, says that while the war effort did inspire innovation, most of these new technologies took years to be perfected and were not ready for use until near the war’s end. “World War II was largely fought with pre-World War II technology,” he says.

Often, government pressured the original patent holders and designers to license their products to other manufacturers. For instance, Pratt & Whitney aircraft engines were produced under license by the Studebaker Corporation, as well as by factories in the Soviet Union, and British Rolls-Royce Merlin aircraft engines were produced in the U.S. under license by the Packard Motor Company.

Edgerton worries that contemporary policymakers have fallen for the myth, which he said also afflicted U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill during the war, that new technology can somehow magically go from drawing board to deployment in mere days, when in reality that process, even during wartime, took years. “Most procurement in the Second World War was ramping up the production of things already being procured,” he says.

To meet the current surging demand for ventilators, the British government initially tried to convince manufacturers who expressed interest in making the devices to create a brand new design. Dyson, best known for vacuum cleaners and hair dryers, has, in fact, created an entirely new ventilator in just 10 days—but now it has to get regulatory approval for its device, a process that may delay its deployment. Other manufacturers balked at the government’s suggestion and, instead, have agreed to license designs from existing ventilator makers.

The myth of retooling production

Another myth from World War II that historians say may stymie current efforts to fight the coronavirus is the idea that a large number of factories were retooled to produce weapons. While some assembly lines were, indeed, reconfigured—for instance, General Motors plants stopped making civilian cars and started making trucks for the U.S. Army, and some brass fittings factories produced bullet casings—Wilson says most key weapons were produced in brand new factories, built at government expense, and then operated under contract by corporations. That, he says, is how most aircraft, tanks and ships for the war were produced.

But, of course, building brand new factories takes months. And the coronavirus outbreak is expected to peak within weeks. So parallels to the Second World War production efforts may be superficial, Edgerton says. “The analogy would have to be with particular events in World War II” — say the way civilian vessels were used in the evacuation of Dunkirk — “rather than the entire war effort.”

Mark Harrison, an economic historian at the University of Warwick in England, agrees. Writing on his blog, Harrison says that the fact governments have had at most just a few months to gear up for the coronavirus pandemic is a big difference from the Second World War, in which governments had spent years before the war’s outbreak thinking about how they might organize society to fight it—plus they had the relatively recent experience of the First World War to learn from. “Here we are in the middle of our war with a blank sheet of paper,” Harrison writes of the COVID-19 outbreak.

One area where there might be time to invest in brand new facilities is in the production of pharmaceuticals, Wilson says. The scale at which vaccine doses in particular will need to be produced may strain existing capacity. And, with a vaccine likely at least a year away, the government could invest now in constructing new facilities and contract their operation out to existing drug manufacturers.

When it comes to macro economic policy, historians say there aren’t many parallels with the current crisis. Harrison writes that World War II caused an explosion in demand—for both capital and labor. As a result, many government policies were targeted at controlling inflation. That’s not true today, with many businesses closed due to social distancing measures and millions of people out of work.

The current situation, Wilson says, actually more closely parallels the Great Depression. And it might require similar programs to help keep people employed, and bolster demand. Wilson says the U.S. might consider taking a page from President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal policies and invest in infrastructure projects—just to get people working again. But, on the other hand, he acknowledges, the need for social distancing at the moment argues against policies that would see a lot more people going to work.

The coronavirus is likely to exacerbate Western societies already accelerating income inequality, the historians fear. The Second World War “killed, injured, and bereaved millions, but no one was cast into destitution because everyone had a role, and could find a job,” Harrison writes. “After the war, British society was a lot more equal than before.”

That’s not likely to be the case this time around.

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