A business state of emergency

It’s amazing in a way to think that we’ve only gone a week and change since the NBA suspended its season in an effort to stifle the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus. Since then we have endured a week of drastic bad news the likes of which we haven’t seen since 9/11 and perhaps longer. What was shaping up to be a pleasant spring routine has now been destroyed, along with the hopes and dreams of anyone who wanted to participate in the NCAA basketball tournament, their senior proms, and graduation ceremonies for the Class of 2020, among countless other annual and special events.

On Tuesday night we resumed our bowling season under different rules, splitting the league squads into two shifts to keep the number in the bowling alley below 50. Unfortunately, that change was short-lived as Governor Carney expanded his previous State of Emergency order the next day to demand the closing of bowling alleys, among other businesses.

While I get the necessity of the closings to “flatten the curve” my problem is the open-endedness of such an order. While there is CDC guidance suggesting this will last about eight weeks, the reality is that many people and businesses can’t survive an eight-week shutdown, at least not without some sort of mitigation. I love how the private sector has moved into action in a lot of cases.

Now let me make a confession: I was sort of stuck as to how to continue this post, at least until I got a comment to Wednesday’s Patriot Post commentary that I shared by Mark Alexander. This response is from a person I’ve known for awhile who is well over on the other side of the political fence, and is quoted verbatim:

Jesus christ ppl are losing jobs, dying, mass hysteria, and hoarding of vital medical supplies. I am working as so many other low paid workers in constant contact with people of high and low risk of severe illness. This is not political. The facts are this we are not prepared and a clown is running the circus. I dont want people to lose their homes, jobs, lives. Or leader need to put their big girl panties on and do what’s right for the millions of Americans and not ask first what party or income bracket they belong in.

Reaction to social media post

This whole situation has been a balancing act I wouldn’t wish on anyone because you have two bad choices: go about normal life, leave the disease essentially unchecked, and overwhelm our health system, OR, shut down everything and place people out of work. President Trump has advised for the latter course but has left enforcement up to state and local officials. To me that’s the proper way to address this because they are more familiar with conditions on the ground, and besides: you can’t completely shut everything down because people have to eat.

And I have to ask: how do you prepare for something like this, a once-in-a-century disease? If we had somehow stocked up on respirators, medicine, and so forth ten years ago, say, as part of the stimulus, wouldn’t someone have complained that we were spending money to store supplies that might have deteriorated to the point of being useless by now anyway? It’s one thing to fill an oil reserve but quite another to stock up on testing kits for a disease that doesn’t exist at the time. Leaders can be prescient but I don’t think they’re often psychic.

So I will grant that we weren’t prepared, but then again that’s the nature of a crisis. We can only prepare ourselves so much for any particular risk so we go with what we know about risks we have experienced at the expense of other ones. (Cases in point: terrorist attacks begat the PATRIOT Act and Department of Homeland Security, both of which have survived nearly two decades now, and school shootings have necessitated upgrades to school buildings which do not necessarily improve the educational process.) After this Chinese virus has run its course we will probably go overboard with products and procedures that will be infringements on our wallets and liberty. (If it brings pharmaceutical manufacturing back from China, though, that would be a benefit.)

On the other hand, I don’t think we have a clown running the circus. A President Hillary Clinton would have dictated a more bureaucratic and more politically correct solution – in my opinion it would have paralleled Italy’s and sadly, that’s been a disaster for the Italian people who are sharing their misery with a huge Chinese national contingent within their nation. The experts have agreed that clamping down on travel from China when President Trump did may have saved thousands from getting the virus and overwhelming the American health care system. And, unfortunately, I don’t think slow Joe Biden would have fared any better than Hillary had this crisis occurred next year after his election. To a greater extent than we are already saddled with, the folks in a Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden administration would have seen this as a crisis they could have used to permanently secure more federal government power.

(That’s not to say those under Trump are immune – I’m somewhat leery of how we will address the financial end by setting a precedent of government payments. One can argue, however, that this direct payment would be compensation for the taking of one’s livelihood since many places of business were forced to close. Perhaps a complementary way to address this, though, would be to bolster state unemployment accounts.)

So thanks to my friend for giving me the inspiration to revise and extend these remarks – I started this on Wednesday but hadn’t felt the need to return to it until that response.

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