I’m no expert, but sometimes Bearing Drift lets me pontificate as though I were one. I am not an expert in government policy, infectious diseases, or economics, but I read a lot, study history more than is probably good for me, and have worked around politics, government, and small businesses for about twenty years. If I make a scorecard of my strengths and weaknesses, I feel like I squeak by with just enough credibility to have an opinion on our current situation.
For most of my life, I have held the firm belief that the government should be bottom-heavy; that is to say larger at the local level than the state level and smaller still at the federal level. However, this COVID-19 pandemic has broken down so many of our norms, and this structure of government is no different.
This is a national emergency and therefore requires a national response. I think that the feds should be coordinating their efforts closely with the states. Each state has different needs, but no state is equipped to handle this crisis on their own, and certainly, no local government has the capacity to deal with this rapidly evolving situation. It is too fluid to be contained by a patchwork of policies and responses. We need a true partnership between all levels of government to coordinate an effective response.
Despite the fact that it will no doubt add to our already explosive deficit spending problem, we need to be putting money into strengthening the social safety net. The truth of the matter is that a lot of people are about to go a month without a paycheck; many will go even longer. We are watching in real-time as all the economic gains that we’ve made over the last few years are being erased.
However, we do have a small scale example of the effect that this sudden and unexpected change will playout. Northern Virginia is a model for this very situation as we went through the government shutdowns and the furloughing, without pay, of thousands of federal workers. We have seen what works and what doesn’t and what the trickle-down effect is. This situation is obviously much larger and more impactful, but I think the reason so many NOVA residents are standing in lines around Costcos is precisely because we know what could be coming.
The economic fallout of this virus will probably have a much larger effect than the health fallout. Small businesses are going to bear the brunt of this effect because they have the smallest margins to work within. Forty-eight percent of Americans work for a small business, and eighteen percent work for a business with fewer than twenty employees. These local companies are the real backbone of our economy and their collapse will be just as catastrophic if not more so than the collapse of large corporations.
So instead of giving the largest businesses bailouts, there needs to be a bailout system for small businesses. It needs to be in effect basically now, because these folks can’t hang on 6 months for the government to get around to them.
We are in triage mode right now, but there should be a two-pronged approach: short and long term. Based on other countries, we know about how long the life cycle of this virus will be in the short term, but we can not wait for it to pass in order to deal with the long term effects. Those plans need to be created and implemented now.
The last point is that this needs to be done in a bipartisan fashion. No one gets credit and no one gets blame. There will be time enough for that later, but the moment someone says, “How can we use this to our advantage?” be they from the political or corporate worlds, they have just become part of the problem instead of part of the solution.
Every one of us in this country should be doing what we can to be a part of the solution, and part of that is working on our own to take the politics out. Don’t cross-pollinate your political posts on social media with reaction to COVID-19. Work at not making policy personal depending on who proposed it. Don’t belittle scared people for being scared just because they hold a different political view than you. We should become the examples for our leaders; we should show them how we can put politics aside for the good of the country.
The single most important thing is that we work together to get through this ordeal. If that is priority number one, we can deal with all the rest that comes our way.