How can Congress treat the fallout of a problem it has failed to define and whose solutions are helping to drive the problem? What is the point of bankrupting our future for a stimulus when California is shutting down the entire state and the Trump administration is considering doing so for the entire nation? We are entitled to a robust debate and some answers.
Politicians and the media are telling the public to be prudent and not to panic, but everything they are saying and implementing is sowing panic, and they are now contemplating actions that reflect more of a bubonic plague dynamic. Their entire legislative approach is about feeding on panic and using the crisis to immediately implement socialism before we even know the scope of the problem and can more effectively target solutions.
Bailing out industries and indiscriminately sending out $1,200 checks to every person in this country (even those fully employed) is way too premature and doesn’t address the problem at hand. There is no economy to stimulate until we solve the logistical problem of getting people back to work. That requires using better scientific data to more effectively localize the quarantines to the places and to the people who need to be home and get as many people working as possible. We need a strategy of containment more in line with the South Korea model than with the European model.
In the meantime, we should be suspending different forms of taxation and offering interest-free loans to incentivize people to work and maintain personal businesses. We already passed paid leave for those who can’t work. And those who are laid off are already eligible for unemployment benefits, which we should work on expediting.
Aside from that, sending out checks to everyone makes no sense. For starters, while many are unable to work, a lot of people are still receiving 100 percent of their salary by working from home or through other arrangements. Why should we pay those people? For example, a family of five like mine who relies solely on telecommunicating (which is not shut down) would receive $3,900 in cash. I mean, I’ll gladly take it or donate it to charity, but does it really make any sense? Instead, incentivize more work by slashing taxes.
As for those in need, $1,200 per person is both too much and too little. It’s too much in the macro-fiscal sense, because it will bankrupt our nation with crushing interest payments on the debt. But it’s also way too little for most families if government is really warning about months of shutdowns, even up to 18 months. If we go the European route instead of the Korean route in terms of a shutdown, we’ll have to mail out $50,000 checks.
Which leads to the main point: Shouldn’t the legislative response focus on most effectively containing the outbreak while getting people back to work, rather than legislating for a major assumption of indefinite shutdowns that seems to be disproven by data from countries that have already gone through this?
All of the Asian countries, such as Singapore, South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, have already bent the curve, with less economic pain. Even in Washington state, which was the inception and epicenter of the epidemic in the United States, the number of new cases appear to be declining. Washington began with the disruptions and distancing before anyone else, and while the fallout is severe and the deaths are more than in any other state, the state is beginning to see a downward trajectory.
Then there is geography. Most of the outbreaks are clustered in urban areas and most pronounced in a few parts of the country. This is largely going to depend on decisions by governors and local officials, but not every part of the country requires as severe a shutdown.
More than half the cases and over 60 percent of fatalities so far have been in three states: New York, Washington, and California. And even then, they are very localized. That's why resources and the balance of quarantine vs. economic activity should be targeted.
For example, 56 percent of the Washington state cases are in King County, and when the two neighboring counties are factored in, they account for almost all the cases. 85 percent of the deaths were in King County, of which more than half were in one nursing home. Almost all the deaths are in metro Seattle.
As of Tuesday, 56 percent of the NY cases were in NYC, nearly all of them in metro NYC with the exception of a known anomalous outbreak in Westchester County.
We need to tailor the quarantine to where it’s needed most, and that will dictate the economic outcomes.
Thus, there is no reason Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf should be taking the prudent distancing a step further and shutting all “non-life-sustaining” businesses in the entire state when there has only been one fatality statewide. Most of the counties in the state have no cases reported. So we are going to shut every store in rural Pennsylvania but still have outbound flights from Seattle?
The decision by California’s Governor Newsom to essentially put everyone in every county under house arrest is just appalling.
South Korea got the epidemic under control in less than a month without shutting down its entire economy. The country went into crisis mode around February 20 and began bending the trajectory after the first week in March. Yes, it’s possible it could take longer in some parts of our country, but not in others, and certainly not for 18 months. So why is our government panicking to legislate under that assumption? Because policymakers are pandering to industries, and they are also trying to use the crisis to implement dependency-inducing and liberty-squelching policies they’ve long sought anyway.
Perhaps I’m not taking this serious enough? Well, here’s a rule of thumb: The government should treat the rest of our economy with the same plans to get it restarted again as it is treating refugee resettlement. The State Department announced its intention to bring in refugees again beginning on April 7, while California is contemplating an indefinite house arrest of Americans and the Trump administration is looking to do this nationally. Are you kidding me?
Panic mixed with shameless pandering is a recipe for a bigger crisis than the coronavirus itself. It’s time for real men to stand up and be counted.