Here’s some stuff you might like.
Business: Government’s response to the coronavirus includes what I think may be the most intensive intervention in the economy in American history. The New Deal dictated agricultural production limits and various other rules designed to prop up prices; World War II brought rationing. To the best of my knowledge, the government has never forced the closure of previously lawful businesses on the scale that Oregon and other states and localities are doing with restaurants and bars. California has ordered residents not to go to work unless they work in “critical sectors.”
I do not envy the governors and others making excruciating decisions that upend numerous of their constituents’ lives, and I am sure they are doing the best they can with the information available to them. Moreover, they should be given significant grace as they probably are hedging against the worst outcomes among many outcomes that may arise out of this crisis.
However, at some point, and I suspect that point will come soon, there will be increased pressure on government to explain to its citizens why harsh measures and the economic calamity they cause continue to be the best approach. What are the reasonably likely trade offs between increasingly severe measures and less onerous measures, in terms of human lives and the economy? If, in fact, the need for harsh measures may exist for 12-18 months , people are going to start wondering about alternatives.
The biggest hurdle in defining the risk and the trade offs and possibly in better targeting measures at those populations most affected, and thus relieving those populations less affected, is the woeful inadequacy of testing capacity in the U.S. The lack of testing prevents more accurate projections of transmission and death rates, which leads to such a wide variance in possible outcomes. Which forces officials to make policy mostly in the dark, and hedge against a worst case scenario the likelihood of which we don’t really know with good certainty. Testing is key for knowing where we are, where we’re likely going and, critically, when policy makers can relax their grip. A lot of the economic problem now is the uncertainty of the duration of all of this.
Fortunately, localities are stepping in with new approaches to testing, and so are philanthropists.We Americans have a history of reacting to crises slowly but eventually with overwhelming force and effectiveness. Let’s all hope that pattern is repeated here.
Law: It’s not often that I get to use my French minor. My wife and I spent part of our honeymoon in France years ago, during which on numerous occasions I tried speaking in French to French people and each time they just started talking to me in English because my French was, uh, bad. Anyway, there’s this concept in contract law called “Force Majeure” which I think is one of the coolest terms in the law but one that almost never is a real issue. Basically, a Force Majeure clause typically excuses one or both parties to a contract from the obligation to do what they promise to do in the contract if some big surprise outside the control of the parties makes performing impossible.
Something like a pandemic and government closure of businesses and events, for example. Something tells me we are or will soon break a record for exercising force majeure clauses.
Politics: So the politics has become predictably stupid. Basically, people appear to be broken into about four categories based upon their political response to the pandemic:
1. People who insist upon calling the virus the “China virus” or something similar to that because it makes other people mad. I personally don’t care what one calls the virus, but these people should stop doing this because it gives those other people a reason not to look seriously at the role the Chinese government had in destroying evidence of the coronavirus early on and otherwise concealing from the world the truth of the threat posed by it. Now China is on a PR binge trying to blame the origin of the virus on the U.S. military, and otherwise avoiding blame. One of the many things that need to be re-assessed in the wake of this crisis is our relationship with China, and fighting about what to call the virus makes that more difficult.
2. People who are insulted or pretend to be insulted by calling the virus the “Chinese virus” or similar. They should stop because the virus did originate in China and it is not racist to say that and they’re just serving to rile up category 1. The Chinese government is using and magnifying this impulse to cover up its own role in the crisis. One can at once place blame on the Chinese government AND place blame on U.S. officials for a poor response, especially when it comes to testing.
3. People who happen to serve in Congress and happen to have received a classified briefing about the severity of the pandemic and happen to have sold millions of dollars of stock soon after that briefing and well before they or others signaled to the public just how bad this would be and before the market tanked. Unless these folks have a really good explanation, they should resign now.
4. The vast majority of people who don’t think about politics in times like this and are worried about making the rent or mortgage payment and keeping their families safe and healthy. These people should probably keep doing that.
Et cetera: My God, that was depressing. Nothing that some Oregon vodka made from cow’s milk can’t solve!
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Have a great weekend!