The federal government needs to make a decision about when we are going to free up the economy, and it needs to have done it yesterday.
Government action in response to the coronavirus is crippling our economy, destroying jobs, and risking a prolonged recession. The only thing that will stop the destruction is for our leadership to give Americans a very clear mission — and a quick date certain by which to carry it out — to get the health-care situation under control and get our economy back to normal. We need a coronavirus “D-Day” in a matter of weeks, not months, to beat the virus and save our economy. The clock is ticking.
Our respective governments — federal, state, and local — are asking us, with good reason, to practice “social distancing” in order to contain the spread of the virus. In particular, we are distancing ourselves and taking other measures (hand-washing, sanitizing, etc.) to protect our seniors and those who are immunocompromised.
As with any goal, we should look to examples of what has worked to get the job done. South Korea has been successful at keeping its economy going because it took immediate steps to suppress the spread of the coronavirus through testing, identifying the sick and quarantining them, and establishing rules for social behavior to prevent further spread. What they’ve been able to do is mitigate the spread of the virus while keeping their economy afloat. That should be our goal immediately.
In America, our government’s response has put thousands of American businesses on the brink of insolvency, and millions are now jobless. We have effectively turned our economy upside down. Restaurants, hotels, and retail establishments are shutting and laying people off. Thousands of businesses are hemorrhaging. Second-quarter GDP expectations are tracking to fall 10 percent in the coming weeks. The stock market is shedding trillions. Everything I’m describing will only continue unless the government provides certainty of action.
I can’t put down my phone for five minutes without small-business owners — the anchor of the U.S. economy — reaching out to tell me they are being crippled and need help. They tell me that on top of the government effectively closing them down, we passed legislation (the Pelosi–Mnuchin “relief” bill) that makes it even worse. They will either have to lay folks off or close up shop entirely. To be clear: You cannot get paid leave from a business that does not exist.
We need an immediate answer to three questions: (1) When will we have the tests, masks, ventilators, hospital beds, medicines, personnel, and ability to quarantine in place to manage the virus? (2) What are we going to do to help workers and small businesses bridge the gap for the losses they incur as a result of government-mandated social distancing? (3) When are we going to end government constraint, and adopt testing and quarantine guidelines that give our economy the full green light?
The first two questions have been the focus in recent weeks. On the first, we need to ensure robust hospital capacity and a fully functional supply chain for all necessary items. Assessing these needs is a question for the experts, and we can look at the South Korean model for some guidance.
On the second, Congress unfortunately has wasted almost two weeks passing relatively unhelpful legislation. But hopefully we will soon pass legislation with the right focus: injecting massive capital and liquidity into businesses and workers to help them bridge the gap. We have been too slow, and the measures passed so far will take too long. This is not “stimulus.” Congress needs to take immediate action to offset the harm government action has caused to businesses and the people who work for them.
The most important thing we need to do — right now — is to announce a date to signal our economic restart, get folks back to work, and build the confidence we need to get capital flowing. Perhaps that date should be around April 1. Perhaps it should be April 15. In consultation with our nation’s health experts, the federal government must announce a date within the coming weeks, no later. Then, cautiously, we can let our kids finish the school year and graduate, and sprint into the summer.
All our national leaders need to work to ensure that we have the medical challenges of the pandemic under control and that we can quickly bridge the financial gap before us. We cannot achieve success without declaring a D-Day for the coronavirus, and marshaling all our collective energies toward restarting our economy. Together we can and will do this, just as we defeated Nazism, put a man on the moon, eradicated polio, and rebuilt Manhattan after 9/11. It’s what Americans do when we are given a specific mission.