Let’s consider some economics of the virus after a few general concerns.
· The community. Several people believe the media is sensationalizing the pandemic. These people are making it more dangerous for the rest of us.
· The nation. We need solid information from medical experts in the field of pandemic spread. President Donald Trump consistently confuses the message with ‘hunches’ and misinformation. He denies his earlier denials of the pandemic and disavows knowledge of his 2018 shutdown of our national agency for pandemic response. He still lies about test kits and shifts responsibility for medical shortages to the states. Trump is not competent to lead a nation in crisis.
· The world. All countries must communicate and coordinate their responses to the global epidemic. Instead, our president blames Europe and China for this ‘foreign virus’ and failed to inform European leaders about his abrupt European travel ban. Trump is not an effective global leader.
· Racism. Trump welcomes the term “kung flu” for the virus, though it reeks of racism and encourages hate crimes. Trump is not a leader of high moral quality amidst a crisis.
· Immigrants. Trump’s policies place tens of thousands of asylum-seekers in crowded and unsanitary conditions across the border and in detention facilities while awaiting adjudication, all of which spreads the virus. Trump is incapable of human empathy amidst a humanitarian crisis.
Now the economics of the virus
In some ways, COVID-19 has arrived at a fortuitous moment of politics and policy amid a political campaign. Family issues in a moment of crisis can reveal our nation’s faults and fissures and lead us to a far better management of our nation’s safety net.
We are headed for a severe global recession, and I say this not to frighten, but to encourage appropriate policies. We do need a very strong and extended fiscal stimulus.
A stimulus normally works by enabling increased purchases of goods and services, which draw forth production and therefore employment. However, a typical stimulus package is far less effective in a health emergency when people are self-isolating and buying little. This means the stimulus must be well-thought-out and properly targeted. Here’s what we need:
1) Health care is primary, so we need tests, masks, gowns, respirators, and hospital beds. Invoking the Defense Production Act is useless unless Trump uses it to require business production for our medical needs. Despite his insistence, this is not the same as nationalization.
2) Checks to households are essential and enable families to pay rent or mortgage, bills, and necessary expenses. Checks should be large and ongoing. The certainty of a monthly check will encourage longer term spending beyond immediate necessities.
3) Small businesses all need government grants rather than loans. They, their employees, and their communities rely on continued income.
4) We should not undertake government bailouts of corporations unless adequate regulations assure benefits to workers and not stock buybacks, bonuses, and higher dividends to owners and CEOs.
5) We need a broad-based safety net. Let me explain:
Our daughter is a medical researcher in Norway, and thus became a first contact for the coronavirus there. She is a single mother of young children but isn’t concerned about finances. She automatically receives unemployment compensation if unable to work, paid sick leave if she or her children are ill, single parent subsidies, and health care with no out-of-pocket expenses. This is always in place, and Norway doesn’t need to start from scratch.
We are starting from scratch. Even with recent legislation, our unemployment compensation and paid sick leave are extremely limited. We lack paid maternity and paternity leaves and single parent subsidies.
Health care is a bureaucratic mess of multi-payers, is difficult to access, and usually involves co-pays. About 44 million people in the U.S. have no health insurance, and for another 38 million, it is inadequate.
Before the pandemic, one side of the political spectrum had been proposing cuts in spending on social programs, including food stamps, Social Security disability, housing assistance, nutrition programs, the Affordable Care Act, and Medicaid. Politicians on the other side have been proposing the best possible safety nets. It is remarkable that this conversation about a safety net coincides with the pandemic and the need for a stimulus.
The social policy measures to mitigate a national emergency are the same policies we always need. After all, so many social issues, including homelessness and hunger, occur as a result of somebody’s emergency: the loss of a job, an injury or illness, the birth of a child, an addiction, an arrest, a divorce, and so on. Our national emergency presents the same difficulties as individual emergencies, but on a much broader scale.
We also need specific policies to protect people and families amidst this crisis, including
Holds on foreclosures and evictions and halts to utility cutoffs
Internet and cell services for everyone
Food, housing, and income assistance to the needy
Comprehensive and universal health care coverage with no out-of-pocket expenses
Special attention to vulnerable populations, including those in nursing homes, hospitals, prisons, homeless communities, and immigrant populations
The impact of the coronavirus, the discussion of a safety net, and the need for a fiscal stimulus converge at a unique moment in time. So, let’s do it right with a stimulus that provides a safety net now and remains in place once the pandemic is over.
Congress hasn’t yet voted on major legislation to address the virus. Once we have specifics, we can consider policy in more detail.
If we are feeling anxious and ineffective against the virus, we are advised to do something positive. We can contact Sens. Ron Johnson (202-224-5323) and Tammy Baldwin (202-224-5653), and your representative to the House at www.house.gov. Tell them if you want a broad-based safety net.
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