This morning, news broke that 6.6 million people have filed for unemployment over the past two weeks:
The “Back To Work Now!” crowd sees this as vindication for the dire warnings they’ve been issuing the past couple weeks, and understandably so. This is by far the biggest unemployment spike in the past 50 years, and probably on par with the economic calamity experienced during the Great Depression.
Now, it’s important to note that we don’t know how many of those unemployment claims are for people who are temporarily out of work, and how many are for people who have actually lost their job. I filed for unemployment because my employer told me to, but I haven’t lost my job.
This is still an important caveat in this data. So until we actually know how many people truly lost their jobs vs. how many people have been furloughed with eligibility for unemployment, we don’t know just how bad this situation is.
For what it’s worth, the stock market has largely shrugged off the news:
But then again, perhaps the market had already assumed this would happen long ago and priced it in when the S&P 500 declined by 35% between Feb. 20 and March 20.
What we do know, though, is that the “Back to Work!” crowd is taking this as validation, and they’re blaming Trump and his task force for all the job losses and small business closures sure to happen over the next month of CDC-advised social distancing:
One thing to keep in mind is that we don’t know how much economic activity would have slowed down even without the social distancing measures and government-mandated closures of “non-essential” businesses–i.e. naturally, out of widespread public fear of the virus. Before my work was shut down, we were already experiencing a significant slowdown in business simply due to people voluntarily self-quarantining. So let’s not act like the slowdown in economic activity is 100% due to government action–a lot of it would’ve happened anyway.
Now, is it true that we could be doing things differently in a way that would cause less economic harm and still “flatten the curve?” Sure. In my last piece I said I agreed with the idea of only quarantining the most vulnerable subsets of the population–i.e. the elderly and those with preexisting medical conditions. If we did that, and also urged everyone to simply wear a mask and gloves out in public, we would probably be okay.
But the problem is that most people in America aren’t going to wear masks and gloves out in public. It’s just not in our culture the way it is in Asia. I don’t think you can tell Americans life can go back to normal as long as they promise to wear masks and gloves whenever they leave the house. Americans just won’t do it. What are you going to do, ticket everyone seen outside the house without a mask and gloves? Jail them? It would never work.
So for now, “social distancing” and “shelter in-place” remain the most practical policies for slowing the spread of the virus. They’re not ideal by any stretch; I only said they are the most practical.
And no matter what the “Back to Work!” crowd says, it’s not as simple as “just ignore the virus and go back to work.” As bad as things may seem at the moment (25k new cases of the virus per day), things would probably be much worse had we not enacted social distancing measures.
The hard thing to grasp about prevention is that there is no way for us to see what would have happened had we chosen another course of action. We cannot simply peer into an alternate universe and see what would have happened had we taken a different course of action.
This is how life works in general. We make decisions based on incomplete information and amidst uncertainty. We can’t see into the future. Most of the time, we just have to go off instinct and best judgement. Our leaders often use “sophisticated models” to try to convince themselves they know precisely what would have happened had they chosen Path B over Path A. But as we know, models are faulty and often wildly inaccurate; anyone remember Al Gore’s “models” predicting mass calamity by 2015 due to Global Warming?
Prevention is a messy business. It really is impossible to know with certainty how many lives you saved by choosing Course A instead of Course B, because Course B never played out. And then when Course A does play out and there are still some negative consequences, people inevitably take those as the worst case scenario having played out anyway. They only focus on the bad things that did happen because of your decision, instead of comparing them to the even worse things that would have happened had you made a different decision.
What if 9-11 had somehow been foiled or stopped, whether by passengers on the World Trade Center flights retaking the cockpit Flight 93-style, or by the FBI intercepting the hijackers before they got on to the planes? Very few people would actually be aware today how big of a difference those actions made. It would have been a minor news story even at the time, and probably quickly forgotten.
In fact, the Flight 93 situation itself is a perfect example of this: the official story is that the terrorists were intending to fly that plane into the Capitol Building, but instead the passengers stormed the cockpit and wrestled control of the plane away from the terrorists, and flew the plane into the ground, making the ultimate sacrifice to prevent it from being flown into the Capitol. But Flight 93 is an afterthought when people think about 9-11. Most people just think about the image of the planes flying into the World Trade Center. We don’t have an image of a destroyed Capitol Building burned into our minds.
But Flight 93 wouldn’t be an afterthought if it had actually been flown into the Capitol Building as intended.
Similarly, it is impossible to tell how many lives have been saved and will be saved by social distancing and “flatten the curve” measures. We have know way of knowing for sure how many people would’ve died had we chosen to deal with this differently. It’s impossible for us to understand how fortunate we were because we don’t know what we avoided.
We would only know the worst case scenario for this virus if we simply did nothing and allowed it the worst case scenario to actually play out. Then we could look back with the benefit of hindsight and say, “If we had implemented social distancing measures and quarantines, then x fewer people would’ve died.”
I still think Trump made the right call in trying to flatten the curve. The worst thing for a President during a crisis is to be perceived as not doing anything. It makes it seem like you’re not in control.
Trump was put in a horrible situation with the media hyping this virus up as the End Of All Things. Had he done nothing and said, “It’s no big deal, just go about your business as usual,” then no matter how many people would have died, he would have taken the blame. Not taking any action at all leaves you open to easy criticism: “Trump did nothing and 100,000 people died! They would still be alive today had Trump taken action!!”
Trump was forced to choose between maintaining the economy and stopping the virus, and he chose to stop the virus. He can always hang his hat on the fact that he did everything he could to save lives, and that it would have been much worse had he not taken the actions he did.
And I think most Americans will more or less support him on that–poll numbers show the public gives him high marks for his handling of this situation.
But still: once the virus peaks and tapers off, and we go back to normal life, we’ll be left with the economic fallout of “social distancing,” and there will be a lot of angry, unemployed people on the other side.
Will the same Americans who currently approve of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus turn on him when they survey the economic damage “social distancing” inflicted? It’s possible, although that will depend a lot on whether they themselves lost their jobs.
But the thing is, we shouldn’t even be viewing it in these terms.
It’s not Trump’s fault people died. It’s not Trump’s fault people are losing their jobs.
It’s China’s fault.
Trump is doing the best he can to deal with a problem created by China.
China is why millions of people filed for unemployment. China is why 200,000+ people are sick. China is why over 5,000 Americans have died.
Everything bad that happens as a result of this virus is China’s fault.
China created this virus in a lab and it either got out, or it was unleashed.
Certainly the globalist free traders who have run America and Europe for the past several decades deserve a lot of the blame for putting us in a position where a virus in China becomes our problem.
But it’s still ultimately China’s fault.
China did this to us, and they should have to pay for it.
For all the people who lost their jobs, for all the businesses that have and will have to close down. For all the pensions and 401Ks that have been crushed. For all the medical bills and funeral costs.
When this is all over, China must be forced to pay reparations to the rest of the world like Germany had to do after World War I.
There must be consequences.
China cannot be allowed to get away with this.
They did this to the world.
If Western world leaders do not come together when this is over and levy punishing, crippling economic fines on China, then it’s over for the West.
If China is allowed to get away with this, then this is their world and we’re just bystanders. They will be the superpower of the world that can do anything and get away with it, no matter how much it harms everyone else.
Do we really want to live in a world where China sits at the top of the heap of world nations?
When this is all over, China must pay the price.
It will be trillions of dollars, and China must pay all of it.
The biggest outrage of this entire coronavirus crisis is that China did this to all of us.
If there is any sort of accountability at all in this world, China must pay a steep price for what is has done to the rest of the world.