I don’t envy policymakers at the national and state levels. The decision to reopen economies and risk reigniting the coronavirus outbreak is fraught with uncertainty. It’s not an easy choice, despite what many health professionals are saying.
Still, we’re talking about the loss of human life when we reopen the economies of the states. We’re also talking about a spike in infections. How much of that should we be willing to bear? At what point does it become self-defeating to save the economy while thousands more are dying?
If the economic restart is done carefully enough, and if people are smart enough, it may not come to that choice. But you can bet any kind of an increase in deaths or infections will cause the opponents of reopening the economy to accuse those who advocated for it of unnecessarily killing people.
That’s politics. And sadly, that’s where we are in this crisis.
I have no doubt there are those on the other side who might never come out and say it, but who support the continued shuttering of the U.S. economy because they think it serves their political purposes. And then, there are those who advocate for an opening of the economy who are either uncaring of the consequences or want the political benefits that would follow.
Some people think that health professionals should be in charge. But then, they’d have us locked in our homes and all businesses would have closed until there were zero deaths from COVID-19.
Regardless of when and how we reopen the economy, it’s going to be a very rough ride.
Several states, including Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee are already relaxing stay-at-home orders. Tattoo parlours, cinema complexes and bowling allies are apparently now safe to visit in Georgia. In reality, such venues are ideal for super-spreaders. In the trade-off between growth and health, reopening the economy too soon achieves neither. Scientists warn such measures will sharply increase the chances of a second wave of coronavirus.
That, in turn, would trigger another instant depression. Economists point out that the US is not even in a recession, which is defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth. Yet JPMorgan forecasts that the US economy will shrink by 40 per cent in the second quarter. American unemployment is likely to hit 20 per cent when the April number comes out next week. In reality, the US economy is already in depression. Nothing on this scale — and at this speed — has been seen since the Great Depression in the early 1930s. It took the second world war to dig the US out of that. It will take a vaccine, or a miracle prophylactic, to stop America’s first depression in almost a century.
Yes, there’s a chance a “second wave” of infections will be even worse, overwhelming already stretched hospitals. But then, there’s also a chance that this “second wave” will be a lot milder than the first. Social distancing wherever possible and other common-sense measures that have slowed the infection rate will, if continued, also possibly slow any “second wave” of infections.
The key will be, how much loss can we accept? How many additional deaths will be too many? There will be those who say one person dying because we opened too soon is too many. But that’s silly. We might as well all wear hazmat suits and go to our prepper bunkers and hunker down.
The economy may be ruined no matter when we open back up. We may see a “double-dip” recession if we’re forced to shutter the economy again, or we may even be looking at a depression. Hard times are coming no matter what we do, so perhaps it’s best to just bull our necks and plow forward.
And make sure you keep six feet from your neighbor.
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