ALEX COLVIN: Hi. My name is Alex Colvin. I'm the Martin Scheinman Professor of Conflict Resolution as well as the dean of the ILR School here at Cornell University. Somebody who studies the world of work and employment and labor, we think a lot about what are going to be the impacts of the pandemic on the economy, on society. We know there's been this sudden huge surge in unemployment that we've never seen.
We've never seen that kind of surge of unemployment. The Great Depression was awful, but it took longer to build up. This is very quick and very impactful on the economy. And so there are going to be long ripple effects of that even as things start to open up again, which hopeful they will, we're going to see businesses struggling to figure out how to continue their operations.
One thing from the conflict resolution world we say is you're going to do better if you work together with your workforce. You need your workforce. We see that all the time in the pandemic response. Grocery store workers are suddenly essential workers, something I don't think we would have thought about six weeks ago. But now we do think about them that way, and that's an important realization.
And as we try and get the economy out of this crunch, that's going to be even more important that businesses sit down with labor, sit down with their workforces, and really work together to come up with a way to get out of this. I think about broadly, how the pandemic will change the country going forward. One thing we know from studying the history in my field is that change often happens in moments of crises.
In the world of labor relations, the biggest period of change in American history was back in the 1930s coming out of the depression. The depression put enormous strains on our country. It was the last time we had these catastrophic levels of unemployment. People wondered if the American democratic and capitalist system would survive.
And so that created pressure for change, and enormous change happened-- the New Deal that set really the foundation for the American economy for the rest of the century. Our system of labor relations was born in the Great Depression of the 1930s. So I think that there is going to be a potential for major changes going forward out of this.
Just to quickly talk about three areas to look at, think about technology, the world of remote working. For a while technology, hasn't actually had a big impact on productivity from our research, but I wonder now. Now we're going to get used to Zoom meetings and working remotely. Maybe that will have a long-lasting effect as we figure out how to use technology better.
Globalization is going to be affected too. Globalization has transformed the economy worldwide. This is going to put a hiccup in globalization. It's no longer as simple to think about travel and goods shipping across the world. Things happening on one side of the world are affecting things on the opposite side of the world. That's happened with the virus. But that's going to force us to rethink economically how we're moving stuff around the world and spreading our production across the world.
Then thirdly, thinking about the role of government, the role of government is obviously crucial when we see a pandemic like this. The ability of government to respond effectively, to have good public policy in place, is incredibly important in this kind of situation-- providing public services, making sure your unemployment insurance office can handle claims. Those kind of things become more important. And the government is essential to saving the economy in this situation. The Federal Reserve's interventions, the government spending on the economy is what's keeping us going.
And so I think there's going to be a rethinking of the role of government coming out of this, a recognition of the importance of it, and not just government as something separate from us, but it's an expression of our community. And that's maybe the thing I'm hopeful about out of this, is it's a reinvigoration of our idea that we are a community. We're a society, and we have to work together to protect our whole community. And my hope is that we'll learn that lesson from this experience.
So thank you for the opportunity to answer these questions. I hope you all stay in good health, you take care of each other, and keep social distancing and do your bit for the community. So take care and stay well.
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Alexander Colvin, Ph.D. ’99, a Cornell University employment and labor expert, says businesses affected by the pandemic will weather the economic storm more successfully if they collaborate with their workforces. Technology such as video conferencing may strengthen productivity, and government intervention will be crucial to saving the economy, he says. Colvin is the Kenneth F. Kahn ’69 Dean and the Martin F. Scheinman ’75, M.S. ’76 Professor of Conflict Resolution at the ILR School. His research focuses on employment dispute resolution.