There is no more providential time for America’s economic resurrection to begin than at sunrise on Easter morning. Given the choice, many Americans are by now doubtless more than ready to reemerge from their C-19 shelters and go back to work in an economic fight that must be won lest they never have jobs to go back to or small businesses to reopen.
The question is whether the government will allow enough Americans to go back to work in time to save themselves and the economy from additional unnecessary damage.
One size does not fit all. There are large areas of America where tens of millions of people can with prudent precautions go back to work with minimal workplace risk from C-19.
The federal government and the Federal Reserve Bank are by various means providing almost $6 trillion of direct and indirect assistance aimed at keeping the economic engine intact and ready to start running again when Americans are able to go back to work. So why not let them do so in the low-risk areas?
Calm cost-benefit thinking by the courageous is always better than panic and overreaction by the timid.
It was unprecedented panic that triggered the unprecedented C-19 economic crisis in the first place. People initially stopped work and stayed home not because they were sick with C-19 or any other physical ailment, but, instead, because they were en masse scared out of their wits to a degree not readily explicable.
By now, it is said that more than 2,000 people have died in the U.S. from C-19. Tragic, but why so much panic – either now or back at the beginning of the C-19 crisis?
What is so different from the 1957-58 flu season when there were 116,000 U.S. deaths or 1968-69 when 100,000 people died from the flu in America? In the 1990s, the average annual death rate from the flu was 36,000. In none of those years was there even the hint of a panic. People did not stop work and hide. There was no economic crisis.
Why the historic Panic of 2020? Was it because scientists knew C-19 was not the flu but did not know what it was or how to treat it and had no vaccine? Perhaps, but there were doubtless also mysteries about SARS and MERS in the beginning, vaccines are not always effective, and the Spanish Flu was the largest pandemic in modern history. Yet, to repeat, there was no panic and no economic crisis prior to C-19 in 2020.
Mass communication, even the old-fashioned radio kind, can promote calm, well-informed courage (as in the case of FDR’s wartime fireside chats from 1933 to 1944) or it can cause mass hysteria and panic (as in the case of Orson Welles’ too realistic “War of the Worlds” radio-play in 1938).
Perhaps the C-19 virus would not have caused so much instantaneous fear and panic had the digital-age media not acquired the Orwellian power to bend the minds of 300 million people in a matter of hours. Perhaps we would not now be in such dire economic straits had the media not chosen to exercise its power by scaring everyone out of their wits, scurrying for home, afraid to come out either to work or to shop and, thereby pulling the plug on both vital functions of the world’s largest economy: production and consumption.
We cannot at present know with assurance what caused the panic or whether the resulting “lockdown” was smart, dumb or somewhere in between.
We can be certain based on a growing volume of evidence that the media has enormous power over all political and public affairs and, when it chooses to do so, may be setting the national agenda and policy direction of the United States according to its own preferences.
The return to work will not be easy or quick and the return to the high-powered job-creating economy we had only a short time ago is by no means a certainty.
When Americans are heading back to work with prudence and innovative safety measures in place, the media may scare them out of it. Governors and mayors may by law prevent people from going back to work and businesses from reopening. As of March 24, 13 states had stay-at-home orders. Altogether, 43% of businesses and 42% of workers had already been affected by such orders.
Socialist Democrats may take over the federal government and use the C-19 economic crisis as an excuse for preventing the job-creating, prosperity-producing capitalist economy from ever returning to its old self.
The one absolute certainty is that if Americans do not go back to work and restart both production and consumption, the economy will crash, never to rise again.
Ernest S. Christian, a lawyer, served as a tax policy official in the Treasury Department in the Ford administration.