Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Does Trump really want to open the country - at the cost of millions (dollars and lives)

Quote of the Day: “There really is no middle ground, and it’s very tough to say to people: ‘Hey, keep going to restaurants, go buy new houses, ignore that pile of bodies in the corner. We want you to keep spending because there’s maybe a politician who thinks GDP growth is all that counts.” - Microsoft founder Bill Gates (via Heather Cox Richardson)

So did Trump say that?

Yep. Here’s the story from WaPo: Trump says he wants ‘the country opened’ by Easter, despite warnings from public health experts.

President Trump said Tuesday that he wants to have the country “opened up” by Easter — April 12 — as he continued to press the case that the U.S. response to the coronavirus outbreak is more damaging to the economy than it’s worth.

Trump continued to express concerns that federal guidelines for social distancing, including the closure of some businesses, and other steps to mitigate the outbreak could go too far, despite warnings from public health experts that the restrictions may need to stay in place for weeks.

“I would love to have the country opened up and raring to go by Easter,” Trump said during a Fox News town hall broadcast from the Rose Garden at the White House. Easter falls on April 12 this year.

“Our people are full of vim and vigor and energy. They don’t want to be locked into a house or an apartment or some space,” Trump said. “It’s not for our country, and we are not built that way."

During the broadcast, Trump said he reluctantly gave his blessing to the White House strategy of social distancing to “slow the spread” of the virus for 15 days and reiterated that he’ll be reevaluating the wisdom of that approach in coming days.

Speaking of the economy, Trump said, “The faster we go back, the better it’s going to be.”

That is coming from a one-man death panel. Even monarchs, who claim to derive their power from God, would not be so cavalier about the deaths of their citizens.

Now its time for a sobering analysis of why and how Trump is so very wrong - again. I subscribe to the morning emails from The Bulwark. (Yeah, I know. It’s populated by arch conservatives but it’s one of the few Never Trump assets and these folks are principled.)

Following is the analysis by Jonathan V. Last (JVL).

Here is the crux of the argument as charitably as I can put it: The economic pain which is here already is real. More is coming. If you lift all of the health restrictions, maybe you get some dead people. But maybe not. And if you don’t lift them, you know you’re getting massive economic dislocations, for sure.

I get this. Because the economic pain is real. Hell—not only is what we’re seeing right now real, it’s only the start. It’s going to get worse. People need help and not the half-measures that are in either the House or the Senate bills. They need the full force of the U.S. government backstopping the entire economy.

Here is the problem with the argument that it’s time to restart the economy: It assumes that all we have to do is flip a switch and then we’ll be able to go back in time.

We can’t. Because we live in a new world. The old reality—and by old, I mean the reality as of December 2019—is gone. The idea of going back to it isn’t a plan. It’s a fantasy born.

We cannot return to the economy of three months ago by simply “restarting,” as if it was a machine we just happen to have idling.

We will have to rebuild the economy. This will take a great deal of time and effort. And cannot even begin to set ourselves to this task until the underlying problem has been managed.

Here is the plain fact: You cannot reconstruct the economy until COVID–19 is under control. Period. Full-stop.

This does not mean that you have to wait for the virus to be eradicated.

But understand that at this point we still don’t even have a handle on what the scope of the contagion is in America because we still don’t have enough tests.

There a number of milestones that need to be passed before we can seriously begin rebuilding the economy:

(1) We need to have a clear epidemiological picture of the scope of infection and transmission rates.

(2) The healthcare system needs to be in a place where it has the resources to manage the demand load.

(3) We need to have the capacity to rapidly test (and immediately process) an hugely elastic number of people.

Once those tasks have been met, we can start to slowly rebuild. To attempt to “restart” the economy before they have been met will give us the worst of both worlds: An out-of-control pandemic plus a ravaged, non-functional economy.

Think about how small the external shocks are that have hobbled economies in the past: Regional wars in the Middle East; real estate bubbles; banking scandals. Now imagine how the economy would function with large numbers of Americans hospitalized; with many others sick; with people afraid for the lives of their loved ones; with some large percentage of children pulled from school; with workers calling out sick for fear of infecting their workplaces; with international travel severely curtailed; with supply chain disruptions across the globe; with demand—especially international demand—decimated.

To believe that you can have a robust—or even functional—economy with a pandemic raging in the background is a fantasy. And it’s a dangerous fantasy, because acting on that belief will cause both more death and more economic pain.

What’s more, the rates of increases - cases and deaths - are mind-blowing. Here are two facts from JVL.

Where we are today doesn’t matter.

As of this morning, we have only 46,481 confirmed cases of COVID–19 in the U.S. and 593 deaths. When people say, “Oh, it’s just a few thousand people, it’s no big deal” they are not wrong, exactly. If we were only talking about 46,481 cases, we would be in manageable territory.

But the problem is not the number of cases. It’s the rate of increase …

Yesterday’s new-case total was double the number from four days ago. The four-day ago new total was almost four times the number from four days before that.

That’s a very small doubling time.

So again: Today’s numbers are not alarming if today was the end point. The worry is, what happens if four days from now we double, and four days after that, we double again. That puts us as 40,000 new cases per day in eight days’ time, with a total addition of somewhere in the neighborhood of 180,000 news cases during that period.

And the curve would still be active.

Until the new case curve begins to flatten we can’t have any sense of what the steady-state looks like.

Same thing with the death rate.

That’s right: Our number of deaths is currently doubling every three days.

So is 500-some deaths worrisome? I mean, sure, in the sense that every life is precious. But that number isn’t what’s really scary: What’s scary is the curve and were that projects out to 8 days, or 16 days, or 32 days from now.

Until you have control over these curves, any attempt to “restart” the economy will fail because the underlying economic problem—a global pandemic which has the United States in its grip—has not yet been brought to heel.

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