I lost business today from a person who was in fear of me having to enter her house. After all, she conveyed, she would need to let the entire place air out for 48 hours before she could set foot in it again herself, so I was told to come back sometime when the novel coronavirus has blown over. Even my promise of mask-wearing and diligent handwashing couldn’t allay her fears. And so another good chunk of revenue went out the door.
While I sympathize with this person’s reluctance to risk contracting the virus, the reality is that, as a society, we cannot afford to keep behaving like this for another year or even six months. My company, to which I have devoted all the blood, sweat and tears I was able to spare this past decade, would go belly up, and millions of others with it. This in turn might spur a banking crisis which would make 2008 look like a walk in the park. We’re going to party like it’s 1929 if that scenario materializes.
Will our constitutional system of limited government and free markets be in danger if the country gets crushed by another economic depression of that magnitude?
While today’s civil unrest has intellectual roots going back many decades, these also had a few accelerators fanning the flames along the way. One was the invention of the smartphone and social media. Another must surely be the COVID-19 lockdowns. There’s little doubt that the riots wouldn’t have been nearly as severe had the perpetrators not been on their couch at home collecting unemployment the day George Floyd died. Since it’s hardly a secret that economic hardship fuels political extremism, who can guess where the country will go once our collective finances take a real nosedive?
For the fact of the matter is that the economy has been on life support since mid-March. Mortgages have been deferred, partly shifting the losses from brick and mortar companies to the banks. Businesses have been kept afloat with SBA money and other bailouts, and the unemployment checks their employees receive have been padded by the federal government at the rate of $600 a week.
The real pain will hit the masses when this federal spigot is shut off, and when their employers slowly start handing in the keys to the bank. Hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, retailers, concert venues, and God knows what other businesses, are nowhere near ready to welcome their employees back full-time. It goes without saying that the bottom of the labor market will bear the brunt of the malaise.
The irony is that, until this happens, there is enough political momentum behind the continued lockdowns. Everybody is watching as COVID-19 cases in the South are spiking, and this is squelching any chance of reopening soon even in the North.
As a percentage of the total population, the current death rates from the coronavirus in Texas and Florida are respectively one hundredth and two hundredths of one percent. To put this in perspective: In 2019, close to .9% of all Americans died from any cause (none from COVID-19). When did it become unacceptable for anybody to die from anything any longer?
But, as they used to say about the war in Vietnam: Perception is reality. People have been scared out of their minds by the endless parade of bad news and fearmongering by the media. Which is why some cities in California have made the premature, if not wholly irrational, decision to keep their schools closed in the fall.
An unfortunate circumstance is that every problem in this country now becomes politicized. Progressives assume (correctly, I fear) that blame for the mayhem resulting from the continued lockdowns will be laid at the feet of President Trump. (To be fair, the president hasn’t helped this situation either.) There is a subsection among the Left, particularly within the Democratic leadership, which is cynical enough to do anything in its power to push the end of the lockdowns all the way to November 3.
There is an expectation among many Americans, rarely verbalized, that riots would blot the streets from November all the way through Christmas if Trump were able to pull off another upset. And also that America would be spared such a scenario if Joe Biden wins.
But in the latter case, the Democratic leadership would have to grant major concessions to the radical Left and alienate moderates, or alternatively risk being torn apart by the internal contradictions haunting its party today. The party establishment would find out soon enough it can no longer control what it spawned — or, at the very least, was too scared to restrain.
Regardless, the country would continue its tailspin while this battle is being hashed out, as Americans would be crushed by a deluge of regulations and taxes piled on top of an economy already mortally weakened. The national debt would spiral out of control.
There is really only one way out of this mess: Opening the economy and hoping it will be back on its feet quickly. And for our leaders to stand firmly behind our American values. No expert argued in March that we should all be locked up in our homes until it’s a hundred percent safe to go out again. It would be economic suicide. The economic damage from the lockdowns will be exorbitant even if they were lifted today.
But the real damage has been inflicted on America’s self-image, by the neo-Marxist nitwits on the streets openly taunting its very foundations: freedom, self-government, and individualism. The longer we keep the country locked up, the more these un-American extremists are empowered, and the more difficult it will be for us to heal our self-inflicted wounds.