COVID-19 mitigate will determine when economy comes back.
Yesterday, Greg Abbott stated that he plans to “reopen” Texas businesses potentially within the next week. He offered no details of the plans to do so (we’re supposed to get those later), but the implication is that some businesses currently closed by ordinance could reopen. It doesn’t take too much of a reach to be concerned that he wants to relax restrictions to an extent that would end essential physical distancing measures.
To rephrase lightly: it looks like a mistake. Health experts warned for months before the first massive wave of Coronavirus cases in the United States that we needed to implement measures to separate ourselves physically from one another. They have also told us over and over that we need widespread testing and careful tracing of cases in order to slow and eventually get in front of COVID-19 and that we need to practice social distancing for a while from here. We probably need therapeutic relief at the minimum and more than likely a vaccine to move to the final step where we can say we got past this thing.
What’s certain is that any premature end to social distancing makes the problem worse both economically and medically. It’s not going to help us in terms of either our health or our pocketbook to do that. Sick and dying consumers and workers don’t make for an economy that works. You can’t stimulate a broken engine. (I wrote about this last week).
The entire idea is based on a misguided metaphor in the first place because…
You can’t turn an economy off or on.
Economies don’t operate via light switch, and this is not a semantic quibble. Saying you want to “turn the economy back on” makes it seem as though economic activity is in a zero sum relationship with medical mitigation; it’s not. Some economic activity is happening now an will continue. An economy is “on” if there is trade. Trade = an economy. It’s what it is. People want stuff, other people have it, they trade.
In spite of the failure of that metaphor and the fair warning of both economists and health experts about the damage bringing us all physically together could do, the idea of turning something that is already “on” back “on” still persists. It’s a line of thinking that hurts us now and in the future and prolongs our misery. We don’t need to think of the economy as it was before COVID; we need to think of it as it is now and in years to come.
The Economy Must ADAPT
Instead of saying we want to “turn on” the economy, we should *adapt* it. There are ways to create work that is reasonable, and new ways to look at social programs and spending that are reasonable, too. Some of the most obvious elements of the new economy are in the delivery and healthcare space. Makerspaces are figuring out how to print new equipment, scientists all over the world are testing potential treatments, and people are making masks and ventilators in their garages and living rooms. The online space just became bigger; that means there’s more need for infrastructure there. There’s more need for delivery. Education technologies are now ripe for huge movement. Basically anything referenced by the Department of Homeland Security’s GUIDANCE ON THE ESSENTIAL CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE WORKFORCE document will be around in the near future.
Consumer markets are also ripe for potential adaptations. Anything that assists people in staying healthy, from exercise programs to equipment to dietary supplements, at-home treatment of any kind, all just became ripe for purchase by people with money in their pocket. So did anything in emerging markets. In particular, it’s going to be interesting to see what happens with marijuana markets. On the one hand, it’s bad to smoke marijuana when it comes to potentially getting Coronavirus. On the other, it is also bad to be stressed when it comes to potentially getting Coronavirus, and marijuana can be consumed in edible form. But that’s neither here nor there; the truth is people will still want it, and want it to be clean, and there are jobs there still be had in the majority of American states and territories.
Entertainment leaves another field open for adaptation. There are certain VERY specific engines, such as entertainment, that can be streamed out CAREFULLY and may be able to be adapted to this environment, too. It dawned on me today that if you could safeguard about 300–500 people in one space with a guarantee of cleanliness, theoretically you could turn on the NBA (NOTE: I AM NOT SUGGESTING THIS AND THIS IS THEORY THUS FAR; it is simply meant to prove a point about how a lot of this is a matter of logistics and redesigning how we think). Since cartoons are limitless in what they can represent, they may become a popular avenue for entertainment. On the other hand, maybe people will find creativity in the constraints of the virus and develop interesting cinematography through editing together individually filmed shots from a (social) distance.
I realize a lot of this sounds more hopeful than maybe it should. Some people think a Great Depression scenario is on the way. They may be right. I don’t really know.
What I do know is that you can’t just open up the salons and churches. That doesn’t work. But you can adapt. You may be able to do some retraining and severance while we’re at it (I know that’s never a universal answer; some union members call it burial insurance when their jobs get shipped).
The Governor and his gang don’t want to talk this way. They feel safer saying “let’s turn the economy back on” because they can wink and nod to animal-abusing egotistical casino/restaurant/hotel with a reputation for personal intimidation of people at all levels about how they’re going to be OK. They also want to imply to people that they’re going to be at a block party before summer is out. Basically, they don’t want to spook people, so they sell false hope and implied dreams. They oversimplify at best, and lie at worst.
But you can’t get the economy back “on” because it was never off. What you’re really talking about is adapting the economy. Not all industries or businesses will survive that. Hell, some will be washed out of their respective markets by an influx of new competitors. But thinking about how to adapt is the best at-large solution.
I’m all ears for adaptations you see and ways to implement them. Whether it is good judgment or not, I believe in humanity getting through this, and I believe in the power of collaborating to take on these challenges.