Texas Lt. Gov.: I’m willing to risk my life to save the economy for my children


I wrote three posts yesterday about the insanity of going back to work soon but a Twitter pal, watching this clip, cut to the heart of it in one line: “Every cult eventually becomes a death cult.”

To say that we need economic activity to restart as soon as possible is common sense. Economic downturns have human tolls; major economic downturns have major human tolls. No one, including the doctors, disputes that. We need a plan to gradually reopen the economy once it’s safe to do so immediately. (Some people are already floating plans of their own.) The argument against telling people to go back to the work isn’t that lockdowns don’t come at a human price. The argument is that sending people back to work now, before the spread of the disease has slowed, before testing has increased to the degree we’d need to contain new outbreaks, will make literally every problem we have much worse, including economic deterioration. There’s no meaningful economic recovery to be had while the virus is spreading. It can’t be rushed to make the president happy just because his attention span lasts four seconds. If everyone outside of New York and Seattle goes back to work, in a month they’ll just have to shut down again as the disease spirals out of control locally. Or, alternately, businesses will shutter on their own as the virus spreads and consumes their staffs.

The social-distancing strategy which Trump embraced a week ago requires patience. But he has no patience, which is why he’s already touting hoped-for miracle cures like hydroxychloroquine as a pretext to declare “mission accomplished” and get that Dow average that he cares about so much moving again.

The point is this: Everyone understands rationally that sending people back to work right now risks utter catastrophe, human and economic. In the very near term, there’d be signs of recovery. Hiring will begin, GDP will rise. Then the virus will spread. Then it’ll begin to rage out of control in metropolitan areas, and then massive disruption will begin. Thousands will die, millions will be sick and unable to work. There’ll be no “quick start” option for the economy at that stage. Deaths and sickness won’t just be due to corona infection either; anyone who’s managing an unrelated condition will have difficulty getting drugs and finding care as the health-care system melts down. There’ll be plenty of deaths and lots of misery indirectly caused by the crisis as well. Trump cited higher suicide rates yesterday as a human cost in an economic downturn, which is true but doesn’t factor in how many people will kill themselves amid the despair of an unchecked epidemic that’s taken some of their friends and family. The final death toll, and likely economic toll, from the “go back to work” plan will be many times what it would be if we’re patient now, and not “just old people” either, as the more sociopathic among us like to pretend.

Rationally, that point — going back to work now will do more harm than good — is easy to grasp. I’m sure Dan Patrick, Texas’s lieutenant governor, can grasp it. I’ll be charitable and assume that Jerry Falwell Jr can grasp it too. So when you see something like this, it’s not a function of stupidity. It’s a function of a cultist attitude that places Trump and his fondest wishes above the basic welfare of people in one’s care.

As the coronavirus threatens to spread across the Lynchburg region, Liberty University officials are preparing to welcome back up to 5,000 students from spring break this week…

Meanwhile, hundreds of professors and instructors without a valid health exemption will come to campus to hold office hours.

“I think we have a responsibility to our students — who paid to be here, who want to be here, who love it here — to give them the ability to be with their friends, to continue their studies, enjoy the room and board they’ve already paid for and to not interrupt their college life,” Falwell said.

I’d be surprised if he can find an epidemiologist anywhere right now who thinks that’s a good idea. But he doesn’t want students back because it’s a “good idea”; he wants to show support for Trump, just as Patrick’s “I’m willing to die for my economy” idiocy is. That’s how far gone solidarity with the president has reached in some precincts of the right: Every cult eventually becomes a death cult.

I don’t normally repost long Twitter threads but this one, from the head of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, should be circulated in full because the president’s about to thrust the country into a grossly premature debate about scaling back social distancing early. Every doctor in the country will sound like this next week.

Note his point about the death rate. The death rate for coronavirus isn’t written in the stars as 0.5 percent or 1 percent or whatever, a number that’ll obtain under any condition and at all times. It’ll change depending upon the quality of care available. It’s not going to be 1 percent if hospitals cease functioning.

I don’t know of any country in Europe that thinks it’s safe yet to start relaxing social distancing measures, and they’re weeks ahead of us on the timeline. Boris Johnson warned his country yesterday that their lockdown would go on for three weeks at a minimum; one poll shows that 93 percent of Brits support that. Our country, almost uniquely, has a leader that either can’t grasp why his “strategy” would cause a cataclysm or is frankly indifferent to a mass die-off over a span of many months because he’s convinced himself somehow that that’ll be better for the economy than four to six weeks of a lockdown would be. But Trump is Trump, and he’ll always be Trump. What excuse do his enablers, who know better, have?

One more quote for you, this from economist Nouriel Roubini. Roubini is worried that we’re staring at something potentially worse than the Great Depression. Does he think it’s time to send people back to work immediately to solve that problem, then? Of course not. He’s not insane.

Not even during the Great Depression and World War II did the bulk of economic activity literally shut down, as it has in China, the United States, and Europe today. The best-case scenario would be a downturn that is more severe than the GFC (in terms of reduced cumulative global output) but shorter-lived, allowing for a return to positive growth by the fourth quarter of this year. In that case, markets would start to recover when the light at the end of the tunnel appears.

But the best-case scenario assumes several conditions. First, the US, Europe, and other heavily affected economies would need to roll out widespread COVID-19 testing, tracing, and treatment measures, enforced quarantines, and a full-scale lockdown of the type that China has implemented. And, because it could take 18 months for a vaccine to be developed and produced at scale, antivirals and other therapeutics will need to be deployed on a massive scale.

That’s exactly what scientists like Fauci have been saying. Use this period of economic “pause” to prepare for more aggressive testing. The idea that doctors and economists are saying two different things simply isn’t true. An economic restart is utterly urgent — but slowing down the virus is an absolutely necessary precondition to it. Simple as that.

As I’m writing this, India’s prime minister just ordered a country of 1.3 billion people to stay in their homes for the next three weeks. Why would he do that to India’s economy? Because: He knows what’ll happen to India’s economy, not to mention its population, if he doesn’t. Exit question: How many kids will be orphaned when the parents or grandparents who are raising them end up dying in the great “get back to work” cull? Should we count that human cost too relative to the costs of the current economic freeze?

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