Beginning To Recover

The list of businesses, schools, institutions, healthcare providers, governmental entities, and individuals clamoring for Coronavirus-related stimulus checks from the U.S. Treasury (and, by extension, U.S. taxpayers) is nearly endless.  This unprecedented economic catastrophe wrought by the equally unprecedented decision to turn America into a detention center for the newly unemployed has victimized much of our nation.

As unbelievable as it might sound, we could now be living in the “good old days” before the pain really starts in the months and years ahead.  If we persist on our present path, the eviction notices will arrive, the unpaid mortgages will result in repossessions, the corporate bond market will sink, government debts will default and—most importantly—the Federal Reserve will no longer be able to levitate the stock market, which will cause our comforting illusions regarding personal wealth and secure pensions to evaporate.  Our daily lives in America could get real ugly—really fast—unless we find a way out of this morass.

Blind foolishness rarely has a happy ending, and our elected leaders have somehow managed to turn a new form of wicked flu without a ready vaccine into an all-destroying Black Death by ruthlessly refusing to listen to reason.  Their misbegotten efforts to heroically “save” us have succeeded only in ratcheting up our national levels of misery, fear, and loss by implacably implementing policies that are breathtakingly irrational.  Having trashed our nation and put us all into a permanent state of paralyzing panic and paranoia, the next phase of this epic tale of idiocy is to attempt to placate the angry citizenry by frantically spraying cash (a.k.a. electronically-conjured money) in all directions.

Now that they have succeeded in sinking the ship, the captains of our fates are now left to decide which of the flailing survivors they will pluck from the shark-infested waters.  “Whom shall we save?” will be the most pressing question in the months leading up to the 2020 elections.  The search for answers will be particularly vexing because these rescues will involve setting priorities and making choices about whom or what to save—which is an activity that politicians love to avoid by disguising their cowardice with platitudinous virtue signaling.  

Bailing out businesses both big and small was a focus of the first big Coronavirus bailout bill, and direct payments to individuals as well as enhanced unemployment benefits were also welcomed by the many who saw their livelihoods vanish overnight.  However, this has proven to be but a small bandage on a large, bloody injury to our nation’s psyche and economy that will not be healed unless we take it upon ourselves to heal it.

Although we have seen amazing resilience from many industry sectors, the grim insistence of so many state Governors and city Mayors that the nascent recovery must be resolutely choked off in order to ensure humans do not come near other humans is as frustrating as it is inexplicable.  Deaths due to the novel Coronavirus have dropped for three consecutive months, the most vulnerable members of our nation’s population are now better isolated, and the fears that our nation’s healthcare system would be overwhelmed turn out to have been unfounded.  Given that the apocalyptic predictions that fomented so much of initial panic have been debunked by pesky reality, perhaps it is time to resume more normal lives.

This reasonable course of action is, sadly, easier said than done.

The politics of the response to this public health problem have revealed all that is toxic in our nation and culture today.  The collision of social media fear mongering, grandstanding leadership, activist media masquerading as journalists, and the deeply entrenched distrust between our two major political parties has resulted in an appalling train wreck of accusations, name calling, rumors presented as facts, and outright misinformation presented simply to foment fear and anger.   It is, of course, the case that some see profit and power to be gained by keeping us confused and frightened, but it is also true that our seeming willingness to be manipulated is a worrisome symptom that we are increasingly a nation of deep divisions and shallow understanding.

We now face three distinct problems as we search for a way to swim in quicksand.

The shock of the shutdowns and lockdowns exposed a reality that we have preferred to avoid.  Some traditional pillars of our economy and public life—education, retail, and hospitality in particular—were destined for an excruciatingly unpleasant shrinkage even before we were forced to isolate in our homes.  The problem with all three is basic: excess capacity has been chasing a shrinking market for their services.  

The birth dearth that has been growing worse each year is a catastrophe for every level of schooling, and ever increasing education costs coupled with ever diminishing returns have prompted decades-long demands for reforms.  Brick and mortar sales have, of course, been fighting a desperate losing battle with online retailers for years, and many shopping malls now echo with empty storefronts.  Hospitality is plagued with too many hotel rooms and cavernous meeting spaces watching lucrative business travel turn into videoconferences, and casual tourism has been more and more replaced by the “stay-cation”, which is perhaps itself a grim reflection of our growing dislike for our fellow Americans.  Will bailouts provide salvation in these instances—or simply delay an inevitable collapse?

In addition, our decades-long federal government spending spree, which has caused our national debt to skyrocket into the stratosphere, and the looming expenses associated with a rapidly aging population presage steep increases in taxes, devastating cutbacks in programs and services, or (most likely) a highly unpleasant combination of the two.  

This fiscal one-two punch is going to make it even more difficult to restart any semblance of our pre-Coronavirus economic life.  We might well, even under the best of circumstances, spend the next several years struggling to relaunch against headwinds that are bound to grow even stronger as the governmental debt hanging over our heads mutates into an onerous millstone hanging around our necks.  We must also remember that a federal government that insists on bailing out others with money it does not have will someday require its own bailout—courtesy of the already beleaguered taxpayer.

However, the biggest problem now facing America as we seek a path toward social and economic normalcy is as basic as can be: So many are now afraid.  Our economy—not to mention our mental health and happiness—is dependent upon human interactions, so every resolute refusal to connect, whether it involves a decision to not attend school, not work in an office or factory, or even not go out to dinner, further diminishes any hope that our jobs will return.  

The result of daily lives that are more akin to those of house plants than Homo Sapiens is a cumulative damage to body and soul that harms the strong and destroys the weak, but many are willing to continue to endure existences circumscribed by fear because they have been convinced that human contact equals death.  They transmit these terrors to their families and neighbors, insisting they be allowed to isolate themselves and their children until they feel safe—which will likely be never.  However, until that illusory day arrives, they will insist upon the right to public assistance—a guaranteed income bailout that is actually a self-imposed prison sentence—and strain both our understanding and sympathies.  

It is unsurprising that depression, anxiety, drug use, alcoholism, suicide, domestic violence, and divorce are now the constant companions of so many frightened Americans.  We need to change course immediately to begin reversing the corrosive impacts of a public health policy that translates into state-sanctioned terrorism—against our own nation.

In the final analysis, when you add up the public expenditures that are required to bail out every individual, school, and business that has been devastated by the worst public policy debacle in modern history, it quickly becomes apparent that all cannot be saved—and this is a sad fact.  The businesses and industries that were teetering before the onset of the Coronavirus panic should be left to sort themselves out rather than waste scarce public funds delaying the inevitable reckoning with a new economic reality.  Besides, a federal government already impoverished by previous out-of-control spending habits has a limited ability to borrow and spend yet more to satisfy every request for relief.  Most importantly, the goal of any relief granted to individuals should not be to enable the lunatic bunker mentality that has been the worst result of the overblown—and ultimately erroneous—rhetoric that was initially used to terrify people into submission to the lockdowns and shutdowns.

As difficult as it may be for those invested in hyper-vigilance to believe, more lives will be saved and improved in the long term by encouraging Americans to emerge into the sunlight, laugh with friends, watch children romp in the park, go to school and hang out with classmates, return to work, get a tan, go to the gym, hoist a beer at a bar, cheer lustily for favorite teams while eating an overpriced stadium hot dog, attend houses of worship—and just live our lives.

However, wear a mask if you believe this to be a prudent precaution, wash your hands frequently, help friends and neighbors who in high risk groups with groceries and chores, and take care of yourself while taking care of others.  Live a life that is sensible, balanced, and safe while remembering that you should also receive regular medical attention to guard against much more dire health threats such as heart disease, pulmonary disorders, opioid addiction, kidney disease, cancers, and high blood pressure.

Remembering to cherish yourself and everyone around you is a direct path to good health and enduring happiness, and this has not changed—nor will it ever—despite all the chaos and confusion surrounding us today.

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