There is a challenging topic being discussed within the highest levels of government and around social circles: Will the impact of shutting down the economy to prevent the spread of COVID-19 ultimately lead to a worse outcome than if we had let COVID-19 run its course?
We are arguing that shutting down the economy could lead to long-lasting economic harm contributing to societal instability, widespread poverty, increased rates of criminal activity, and so on. Assuming this were true, might it then be better to open the economy, let COVID-19 run its course, and potentially watch as millions die for the sake of keeping businesses and families afloat.
Let’s take a look at these options, and why this approach to the conversation might be the wrong way of looking at things.
Why Shutting Down is Good
The service industry makes up a large portion of the workforce. For those in these positions, working from home is not an option. People with these jobs are also working face-to-face with customers who come in and out of the business and might be a carrier for coronavirus.
Those who work these service-level jobs have always had a higher rate of vulnerability, due to low wages, lack of access to healthcare, and a higher risk for alcoholism, drug use, and early death.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, the service industry was already feeling pinched by a lack of available workers. This has led to a trickle-up effect that has impacted corporate growth and profits. While we might not give too much thought to the people who stock store shelves, deliver our food, or sit behind the counter of a business and help us to make schedules or show us the right way to go, they are most likely to be disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
This isn’t to dismiss the importance of white-collar workers. Illness can also spread in offices, too. But the point is that the economic impact could be staggering, and it is most likely going to start with blue collar workers.
While some may not like to put a dollar figure on human life, it is often the best way to have these discussions. At least, in this case, the value of human life is high. Analysts suggest that shutting down would protect around 1.7 million workers, which could translate to around $8 trillion in savings. In the long-term, this could help us to avert an even worse disaster if millions were to die suddenly.
Why Local Governments are Reopening
This contributes to a few problems. The first is that the unemployment insurance system is not well funded and can not support mass unemployment. Second, when people lose employment, they may also lose health insurance, meaning access to essential treatment or even basic care may be delayed or could contribute to massive debt. Finally, small businesses don’t have the privilege to ask the government for assistance, and banks may be unwilling to extend loans to companies that may continue to remain closed for an unknowable amount of time.
The ramifications of closures won’t just be felt in communities where people will no longer have a place to spend their money, but also for people who rely on these now-shuttered businesses to pay bills, save for future education, start a family, buy a car or a home, and so on.
All of this has played a significant role in the decision to reopen. There are few fail-safes for states and local governments in the kind of situations we are in right now – they are worried just as much as many of us. When the federal government allows extended benefits to lapse, states may be left to pick up the tab when their budgets don’t allow for them to support high rates of employment or loss of businesses.
Change The Economy Instead
Right now, so much of the talk is centered around “returning to normal.” This idea suggests that the economy we had before was good enough. As COVID-19 has revealed, crises such as what we face today, and those that could come in the future, are sufficient enough reasons to change how we operate. Where we are right now is a call to action. As the looming climate crisis increasingly disrupts those activities we consider normal, being able to adapt quickly might save us down the road.
Ensuring that there are systems in place to better respond to crises, specifically related to disease, is the most important step. A lack of available testing has been a significant contributor to not knowing how the disease spreads, how many people within an area are carriers, and whether someone needs to self-quarantine for 14 days to ensure they don’t spread it to anyone else.
Another step would be to have better systems in place to help small businesses and vulnerable people disproportionately affected by major economic disruptions. If someone knows that their bills will be covered if they have to leave work for 14-days due to testing positive for an illness, they will be more incentivized to stay home and lessen the risk of spreading the illness.
Other changes we are already seeing. Home delivery services that pick up groceries, medicine, or takeout food were already available before COVID-19. Today, this has proven invaluable for allowing people to stay home and not make physical contact. We might expect more of these services to arrive in the future. Increased contactless checkouts and curbside deliveries are other likely options, as are changes to public transportation, and how we work at the office or home.
Some people are also arguing that there needs to be a renewed focus on individual health, including managing stress levels, changing sleep habits, eating right, and supplementing with immune support products, like those from Metagenics, Douglas Laboratories, and Apricot Power.
A lot has happened in a short amount of time. There are no simple answers to the current issues we face. Treading carefully and making decisions that take into account the needs of workers and businesses and the overall health of the population, will be the only way we come out of this with the least possible harm.