by GREGORY TRAVIS
“I see nothing in the present situation that is either menacing or warrants pessimism. Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate farmers. It will purge the rottenness out of the system.” —Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon’s advice to President Herbert Hoover on how to handle the Great Depression
“[The government should] fill old bottles with banknotes, bury them and leave it to private enterprise to dig the notes up again … no more unemployment.” —Economist John Maynard Keynes’ advice on the same subject
How would the Trump administration’s pandemic approach differ from that of a Biden administration? I think the above tell us all we need to know. One party is ideologically committed to a policy of laissez-faire and allergic to constructive governmental intervention. The other party sees government, in the right hands, as competent and effective.
In short, the difference is the difference between “do nothing” and “do as much as we can.”
The first approach is reliant on a broad range of magical thinking, free lunches, and luck. Coming in the form of things like herd immunity, quick vaccine development, and a virus that will just “magically disappear” once some opaque threshold is crossed. In short, it is a Hail Mary pass that puts efficiency ahead of resiliency and almost never achieves either.
The second is a pragmatic approach that understands how high-risk situations with a very great deal of unknowns require a public policy approach that maximizes risk mitigation. It is the opposite of the efficiency argument. It is an argument for resiliency.
An argument for a complex approach that demands immediate, tactical investments in research and policy measures designed to slow the virus’ progress.
It also demands strategic investments in our economy designed to lessen the economic impact of the next pandemic; things like wage replacement for workers displaced by a pandemic, cash to businesses displaced, mandatory sick days for all workers, and, yes, some form of universal single-payer health insurance.
The current administration, ideologically, wants to do nothing. It wants to let the virus liquidate the old and unwell; to purge the “rotten” out of society. It wants to take a long run on wishful-thinking vice action, the long run to fanciful herd immunity.
As economist Keynes also said: “In the long run, we are all dead.” In tempestuous seasons such as that which we now find ourselves, it is less than useless to tell us that when the storm has passed the ocean will once again be flat.
Gregory Travis is a health care consultant who has spent 20 years developing solutions for the health care industry—solutions designed to facilitate patient record interoperability and improve health care outcomes by increasing the quality of non-clinical interactions between patients and providers. He has maintained a COVID-specific website since February at gregorytravis.com/SARS-CoV-2/. There you can view daily reports on the virus from all areas of the world.