The sooner everyone realizes, the better. The Labor Department just announced a record 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment this past month, an amount several orders of magnitude larger than the previous record. In addition, another ominous stat was announced today, the United States has surpassed every other country including Italy and China in the amount of COVID-19 cases by country. If this doesn’t convince people of the magnitude of the situation, I’m not sure what will.
This is only the beginning though. These numbers are low compared to what they could be in three to six months.. As of this writing, there are over a half a million cases worldwide in a little over three months, and every graph has the curve growing steeper and steeper as this thing explodes exponentially. The sobering truth that everyone needs to realize is that this pandemic will fundamentally change things. The question is whether it will be for the better or for the worse.
Even now, President Trump, implored by a cadre of bad-faith, armchair analysts, is talking about having the United States open for business by Easter, which is in about two weeks on April 12th. I can not stress hard enough the insanity of this proposal in the midst of a testing regime that is nowhere near where it needs to be for the U.S. to even consider relaxing restrictions.
Right now, we are flying blind. It is generally believed that both our case numbers and deaths are low due to a catastrophic failure of testing by the Trump Administration. Because of this, there’s no way to truly map the spread of the virus in the country. There’s no way to know how many asymptomatic people have it currently or have had it in the past. There’s no way to know how many people are truly dying of this disease, the areas where herd immunity could be effective, the people most affected by the disease, what kind of effect current restrictions are having and the most appropriate restrictions to enact in order to combat the virus.
Opening up the country in two weeks will only exacerbate these issues and most likely cause an explosion of cases that will make it even harder to come back from. The highest priority for Trump right now should be ramping up testing as fast as possible and ensuring our medical professionals have everything they need. Anything less and many people will die. To quote Los Angeles mayor, Eric Garcetti, “It will kill a lot more people than we’re used to dying around us.”
It’s going to take a herculean effort but solidarity will be more important than ever.
There are two paths before us. We either do irreversible harm to the economy coupled with a significant and most importantly preventable loss of human life that will be a stain on our country’s history for a long time, or we think big, save the economy and save human life as well.
If Donald Trump loosens guidelines on April 12th, essentially opening the U.S. back up for business again, a couple of things must happen.
First, Democratic governors must be prepared to stay strong and do as much as they can to still impose shelter in place orders and any other restrictions that will help keep the cases low in the states where they have jurisdiction. A significant amount of the population lives in states with Democratic governors. Now is the time to step up as some are already very much doing.
Secondly, workers must face reality. I fully recognize the gravity of the situation, and the fact that anyone should have to choose between their livelihood and their health is unexcusable. All that being said, if guidelines are loosened, then a massive, general strike unlike anything seen before must be considered. A message must be sent to those in power and all the stock market bros, who are sheltering in place from the safety of their home studios and who are more than willing to offer you and your grandparents up at the altar of capitalism.
The fundamental question is…
Are you willing to die in the name of capitalism?
My hope is the answer to that question for many is an easy “Fuck you for even asking!”
Finally, — and this one is directed as much at myself as everyone else — the people who have been lucky so far in this crisis, and by that, I mean the people who can effectively do their jobs from home with comparatively minor hiccups, these people must be prepared to sacrifice. That may mean walking out of our jobs as well, volunteering to support those who can’t, donating to those causes who service the most vulnerable. It’s going to take a herculean effort but solidarity will be more important than ever.
I realize this can be scary, because what is being talked about isn’t traditionally thought of as “American”.
On the other hand, if Trump does ultimately listen to reason and truly finds it within himself to step up and do at least a modicum of leading, then a similar massive effort will be needed by governments, companies, and consumers to ensure two things: that are economy survives and the health of our country stays strong.
I want to reiterate that, while in my view I believe this is the far better option, the amount of effort and political will that will be required will rival or even surpass what is needed for the other option I outlined above because of two things: our economy will fundamentally need to change and the role of government will need to change as well.
I realize this can be scary, because what is being talked about isn’t traditionally thought of as “American”. The government is used to being led by the hand and now some serious leadership and some serious reevaluation about how the government should act and what the government is capable of is required.
But if you want an example of what can happen if the consequences are dire enough and the country forgets ever so briefly why they were mad at each other in the first place, look to the relative speed at which Universal Basic Income, an idea seen as fringe at best even by most of the Left, is being adopted by mainstream players. A modest form of it even passed the Senate of all places this week and is expected to pass the House and be signed by the president very soon.
While it’s appropriate to applaud our Congressmen and women as well as tip our hat to Andrew Yang for a moment, the work is not even close to being done. Much more will be needed to stem the breach in the economy, a task that can only be accomplished by the full-throated partnership between government, the private sector, and consumers.
First, the government will need to seriously step up and start throwing its weight around. This means strengthening our social safety net to support those most in need, it means transforming itself into a massive jobs creator and seriously acting on and employing everyone they can to help produce everything from medical equipment to hand sanitizer to anything else our valiant doctors, nurses, and anyone else may need.
This may mean creating a market for creatives and commissioning thousands of art pieces of all varieties and styles. We live in a world where just because you currently can’t showcase your art in person does not mean you can’t display it on the internet and get paid for it. The point is that art has value, especially during hard times. Government must make it and its millions of practitioners of all kinds a priority.
This also may mean a moratorium on bills of all kinds including utilities, rent, and credit card payments. It can mean a pause on paying all student loans or if they are ballsy enough, completely forgiving all student loans. This could mean temporarily nationalizing certain services and doing everything in their power to make sure vaccines and treatment for COVID-19 when they come are free available to anyone who needs it.
Secondly, corporations must also step up. Some are already doing so, but there are still plenty who are being shamed into only doing the bare minimum as well as many others who aren’t doing anything at all. Corporations must step up to use the considerable amount of resources at their disposal to partner with the government and help use their incredible collective brain trust to help solve this crisis.
This will absolutely will require a fundamental shift of what work could look like for many corporations. Everything from going to a bar, to getting food, to exploring nature, to seeing a movie, to traveling, to everything else will have to be reevaluated. We have an economy that has worked largely the same for the last fifty years. It’s gone stale and if there is any silver lining to this, it is this. Our economy is vulnerable. Now is the time to make serious changes to make sure its shored up in the future for catastrophes such as this as well as to make sure that the economy functions much better for everyone, not just rich people who own stocks.
We, the consumer, must think differently on what skills we have and how we can make them work in a time when in-person human interaction is limited. Trust me if each and every one of us from the CEO all the way down to the janitor does the self-reflection, we will come out far better for it even when the COVID-19 quarantine ends.
I’ll tell you this, now is the time for original content. People are hungry for it being cooped up inside all day every day. There is a huge demand now and it will only grow once this is over.
I want to conclude by saying that if we do this right — a big IF, I know — , we can fundamentally change our economy and our society for the better. We have an incredible opportunity to reorient our economic focus back to working for workers instead of exclusively for those on top. The two weeks will be crucial.