Here is what I wrote on March 26:
I don't much care about the small failings of the [COVID stimulus] bills or the process and am not interested calculating the exact apportionment of blame: The big problem is that neither side's proposals were big enough.
Not even close to big enough.
This is not a $2 trillion problem we are facing. It's probably not even a $5 trillion problem. The entire American economy, more or less, needs to be backstopped because we cannot begin an economic recovery until the pandemic is at a place where it can be managed. And we are not yet close to that point.
So here's the real problem with both the Democratic and Republican plans: We're going to be back here doing this again, soon.
There is a weird fallacy in people's thinking where there seems to be a consensus that the economic problem is the social-distancing and the lockdowns.
That is incorrect.
The underlying economic problem is the virus.
Any attempt to "fix" the economy before we've gotten control of the pandemic will fail. And it will fail not because of lockdown orders or social distancing, but because a free society cannot sustain a high-energy economic order with a pandemic raging in the background.
The point of the stimulus isn't to stimulate the economy, but to act as a tourniquet that keeps families and businesses alive until we get the traumatic injury under control.
And this tourniquet isn't big enough.
And here we are.
Because the federal government mismanaged the pandemic and failed to backstop the economy, we are again in desperate need of bailout money, for both individuals and many businesses.
Julia McLean took decades of music lessons, spent thousands of hours practicing and coped with constant grueling competition, and in January it all paid off. She became a full-time viola player for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.
She wasn’t yet out of grad school, but “suddenly I was on the roster, playing with this wonderful orchestra that gets amazing conductors—good pay, beautiful hall and a beautiful following,” she recalls. “It felt like this is it. I did it.”
In March, “Poof,” she says. “I achieved all of my career goals and then lost my entire career in five weeks.”
She played just two of the orchestra’s major concerts before the pandemic forced Indianapolis and other orchestras around the world to close their doors for what would become the rest of that season and the next. “No one expects an entire field to disappear,” says the 24-year-old graduate of New York’s prestigious Juilliard School. “It wasn’t just my job or my orchestra. It was everything.”
When people think about the fallout from the pandemic, they tend not to think about the string section, but in economic terms a violinist isn’t much different from a bartender or a waitress: Their livelihood depends on the ability of large numbers of people to regularly congregate in close quarters. COVID-19 does not curtail their business. It stops it.
Chris Hayes has a back-of-the-envelope three step plan for dealing with COVID that is not rocket science: Get the entire country on board with masks. National test and trace. And this:
This isn’t an in-depth policy proposal, obviously, but it gets to the heart of what is needed. There are some sectors that can operate in at least a semi-functional way during this period: Retail, construction, logistics, farming, finance, education, manufacturing.
But there are other sectors which cannot. These businesses—and the workers they employee—ought to be propped up by the federal government.
Because here is the choice:
(1) Spend the money to backstop these businesses now, and by doing so help reduce the spread of the virus and make the rest of the economy more function.
(2) Leave them alone, putting pressure on them to open. Many of them will still go under but will contribute to prolonging the spread of the virus as they do.
The federal government has tried to cut corners at every stage of this crisis. It failed to prepare. It downplayed the risks. It argued against best practices. It rushed to reopen. And it spent too little money. The thinking seemed to be that if the government didn’t act as though the coronavirus was a serious problem, then it wouldn’t be.
But some problem can’t be wished away. COVID is one of them.
And the longer we wait to step in and protect economically vulnerable people and businesses, the more we’ll wind up spending in the long run.
2. What Is the Media Supposed to Do?
In today’s Popular Information, Judd Legum notes that this week the president of the United States circulated a conspiracy theory: That Joe Biden orchestrated the murder of Seal Team 6.
The president did this not once, but twice.
And here is how the major mainstream media covered it:
Associated Press: No coverage.
USA Today: No coverage.
The Wall Street Journal: No coverage.
ABC News: No coverage.
CBS News: No coverage.
NBC News: No coverage.
The New York Times limited its coverage to a brief mention in its live coverage of Trump's rally on Tuesday night: "Mr. Trump spent part of his evening amplifying a false conspiracy theory about the Central Intelligence Agency, President Barack Obama and the terrorist Osama bin Laden." Notably, this summary does not mention that the conspiracy theory Trump was amplifying accused his opponent of orchestrating the murder of members of the U.S. military.
The Washington Post, in a piece posted Wednesday afternoon, included a more complete summary of the conspiracy theory in a round-up of various conspiracies promoted by Trump in recent days: "Trump was promoting the idea that the Obama administration, including Joe Biden, had members of the U.S. military murdered and that the official story of Osama bin Laden’s killing was a hoax."
So what is the optimal answer here?
On the one hand, we want media gatekeepers spreading and amplifying insane conspiracy theories being spun out by the president? Or would we rather they not give this misinformation oxygen?
I can see this question both ways.
On the one hand, you would like Trump’s behavior to be exposed to mainstream readers. As Legum notes, by not reporting on it, the media allows Trump to communicate craziness to his base without paying any price with the mainstream.
On the other hand, this type of conspiracy thinking is so pernicious that amplifying it could wind up growing the audience for it, even if it also added marginally to the opposition to Trump.
I mean, ask yourself this: How many voters out there do you think would be 100 percent for Trump unless they saw these tweets, in which case they’d be off the bus?
This is another one of the problems with putting a man like Trump at the head of the government. Our system of self government is imperfect and constantly in tension with itself even in the best of times and when most of the actors are rational and operating in good faith.
When you put a man who is manifestly unfit in charge, the downstream effect is to corrupt all other institutions as they try, imperfectly, to manage his madness.
3. Spring Break (British Style)
Say goodbye to these, Michael?
The coach finally swerved into Kavos, and I stepped through the evening heat into what looked like a bespoke theater set for a morality play about Western decline. Pop-up bars, clubs and restaurants, all eerily two-dimensional and exactly alike, lined a single, mile-long beachside strip, around which hundreds of British holidaymakers (there as if delivered directly through a wormhole from Swansea), were cavorting in dumbfounded ecstasy, swilling all manner of chemicals, huffing balloons filled with nitrous oxide and staggering with arms round one another. “I ripped me arse in Kavo!” a young lady sang as she waltzed down the street, trampling over crumpled beer cans and discarded NOS canisters. Over a loudspeaker, a DJ at a club urged revelers to comply, however briefly, with anti-coronavirus measures. “All right, boys and girls, it’s 11:20 now,” he said, in Breakfast Radio-style, BBC English, “so please take a seat because if the police come, we’re going to need everyone in their seats and socially distanced, prontoooooooooo!”
Strolling into the first bar I came across, which gave the impression of having been assembled from a flat-pack, I introduced myself to two twentysomething lads from Bristol who were drinking at a small round table. “Hello there, gentleman,” I began, smiling benignly. “How are you enjoying your time here?”
The dark-haired one regarded me with suspicion, then, nonetheless, opened up. “Not bad. My mate here” — he gestured at the other lad, a redhead who at that moment was obscured by darkness — “he had two birds last night.” I gawped, unbelieving. At once? “Nah,” the dark-haired one said, beaming. “One after the other.”
When I asked how he did it, he quickly responded, “Well — just look at him.” I squinted through the haze and made out a pale, goat-like face set upon a squat, flabby frame, and agreed he was indeed a fine specimen.
I began to explain why I was in Kavos, a town at Corfu’s southern tip and a Mecca for young, dumb, spring-break-style British partygoers. I had come here, I told him and the redhead, for one reason and one reason only: to find out how the legendary Himbo was surviving with coronavirus travel restrictions threatening his natural habitat.