Published at 14:35 on 27 March 2020
If we don’t get one, we’ll continue to have what we currently do: patchwork measures. The problem with that, is that the areas that aren’t taking this thing seriously will then act as centers of contagion. Eventually, they will get the point of taking things seriously, but not until after: a) a significant amount of perventable death and suffering, and b) a great deal of wasted time.
Maybe that means we get to a national lockdown eventually instead of promptly. That means lots of wasted time to arrive at the inevitable.
Or, maybe we’ll never get to a national lockdown. Instead, the parts of the country that acknowledged reality sooner will eventually bring things under control, at the same time they are raging out of control in more backward regions. At that point, the less-backward regions will start relaxing controls, but likely with travel restrictions to protect themselves against the disease still raging in more-backward regions. Those restrictions (and the continuing disruption in the more-backward regions) will of course come at a continuing economic cost.
Either way, there will be a delay in getting things back on the road to more normal conditions, compared to what there would have been in just swallowing the bitter pill of a nationwide lockdown early-on. That delay will hurt the economy, of course.
That’s right, the very desire to not hurt the economy will end up hurting it more. As the classic TV ad goes, you can pay now or pay later.
We’re in a similar situation right now, of course. Had Trump prioritized testing and openness early on, the resulting bad news coming out of the testing labs would have tanked the economy. No doubt about it. But we’d be dealing with the cost of strategic regional lockdowns, and other even more finely-targeted measures, instead of the costs of the nationwide pandemic that we are now facing.
Think I’m making this up? It’s the gist of why über-capitalist Bill Gates is advocating aggressively taking economically painful measures ASAP. And Gates is not a random capitalist going off half-cocked with unsolicited advice; his foundation has been concerned with the threat of pandemics for years. He gave a famous TED talk about this threat in 2015.
We’re already paying more later. The only question is: do we now want to pay even more, even more later? (Keep in mind that any avoidable extra cost will be measured in human lives, not just dollars and cents.)