The economy is locked down and headed toward a state of suspended animation in which the vital function of producing goods and services slows and finally stops. There is lots of huffing and puffing in Washington and elsewhere about sheltering in place, other efforts to keep the COVID-19 sickness rate from exceeding the capacity of hospitals and spending trillions of dollars to ease the pain of massive unemployment and business closures.
All those virus-related preventives and soothing after-the-fact balms are okay and to be expected, but the marketplace realities of a locked-down nonfunctioning economy are inexorable, absolutely deadly and unsustainable:
(1) No matter how much money consumers have in their pockets, they cannot purchase what the economy does not produce;
(2) The economy cannot produce anything when people do not work;
(3) People either do not work or work less productively when the government has instructed them to stay home and paid them to do so, when they spend much of each day caring for their children because frightened politicians have closed the schools and when they must spend the rest of the day searching for ever-scarcer food and essentials as sellers’ inventories are drawn down near to exhaustion.
What sense does it make to isolate people at home away from their jobs and to thereby create shortages that force them to stand in line at stores in close proximity to hundreds of untested strangers?
If the C-19 lockdown of America’s economy continues, there will be no goods to purchase except possibly imports from China, businesses will go bankrupt, loans will be defaulted, banks will fail, people’s life savings will be lost and civic and constitutional crises will follow.
Spring Break is over. Patience is running out and many pockets are getting empty. It is time for Americans to mobilize for war against both C-19 and fear, retake control of their own lives and go back to work armed with good hygiene, common sense and determination not to do stupid stuff. If we do not go back to work and, instead, continue on the road toward economic suicide, the damage to millions and millions of people for generations to come will be far greater and more certain than the “projected” casualty rates from C-19.
Getting back to work will not necessarily be easy. The well-meaning science bureaucracy in Washington will say that staying home longer will “flatten the curve” and reduce the casualty rate. Restarting the economy will not be easy either. Much damage has already been done and it may be a long time before the economy again becomes a fully productive machine. Likely it will be even longer before our social and personal lives return to normalcy. With C-19 still around and the risk of infection significant, common-sense restrictions on travel, theaters and other crowd-type events will continue to make sense.
To avoid economic suicide, it is immediately essential for factories to reopen and start producing again, for construction projects to go forward, for the agricultural sector to respond to the advent of spring weather in the usual way and for retail stores, wholesalers, industrial suppliers and everyone else up and down the production and supply chain to reopen and go about their businesses either in the usual way or with innovative cost-effective modifications designed to limit C-19 exposure.
Human decency requires that the media cease beating the drums of fear, doubt, suspicion and mistrust, which can only divide Americans in a time of crisis and do unnecessary harm.
It is a moral crime to weaponize C-19 and use it for political advantage. Socialists must not shame themselves by using the C-19 crisis and the wounded capitalist economy as an excuse for taking control of it and creating a welfare state.
The most important thing now is to stop the deterioration of our economy, preserve our civic and constitutional norms and to have free and fair elections on time and in a regular manner. Thereafter, there will be plenty of time to decide whether America’s damaged economy can best be restored to health by the free-market capitalist principles that were working well before the C-19 crisis or, in the alternative, by the authoritarian command-economy principles of welfare state socialism.
Ernest S. Christian, a lawyer, served as a tax policy official in the Treasury Department in the Ford Administration. He was a frequent contributor to the IBD Editorials page.