COVID-19: Cold Calculation

In addition to the toll the virus has taken on peoples’ physical and mental health, it’s exacted a huge economic toll. Around the world, stock markets have cratered and business has ground to a halt: putting many millions of people (small business owners and workers alike) at risk.

To provide short-term relief for Canadians, the federal Liberal government has stepped up with a $82 billion package to support business owners, families and workers who have had their employment impacted by the slowdown.

South of the border, U.S. Congress agreed Tuesday night to a $2 trillion stimulus bill after several days of political wrangling. The Democrats were concerned the bill focused too much on corporate interests and didn’t do enough to help ordinary Americans and provide support for much needed healthcare services.

The bill gives a one-time payment of $1200 to every American earning less than $75,000, and $500 per child. There is also $367 billion in support for small businesses to help make payroll, and $130 billion for hospitals.

The primary area of contention between the Democrats and Republicans was a $500 billion subsidized loan package for big business. As originally proposed by the Republicans, the hotels and golf resorts owned by U.S. president Trump would have been eligible for assistance. But the Democrats won a concession that businesses controlled by members of Congress and top administration officials — including Trump and his family — would not be eligible.

Naked self-interest aside, politics are also in play with this stimulus package. With November’s election looming, Trump is desperate to kick-start the economy to boost his re-election bid.

How desperate?

Well, recently Trump has mused about lifting restrictions that are in place to limit the spread of COVID-19. People perceived to be at risk would remain isolated but everyone else would be encouraged to get back to work to save the economy from going down the sewer.

Obviously, there are logistical concerns here. Safe ways need to be found to ensure necessities continue to move through the supply chain. But when peoples’ lives literally are at stake, should that extend to non-essential economic activity?

To begin with, even if people aren’t in an identifiable risk group, the virus can still pack a wallop. Plus, the more people move about, the more likely they are to get the virus and pass it on to someone in a vulnerable group.  Were a flood of people to become infected at the same time, health services would overwhelmed, and people who might otherwise survive with proper treatment would die. That’s the whole idea behind the flatten the curve strategy that governments elsewhere in the world have embraced.

With those countries all in lockdown, Trump’s plan to restart the economy by Easter probably isn’t even doable. But it would put many millions of American lives at risk. Still, one high-ranking Texas Republican says it’s worth considering and that (I’m paraphrasing here) Americans who are COVID-vulnerable should consider it their patriotic duty to put themselves at risk to save the American economy.

Realizing the health risk Trump’s plan poses, state leaders are speaking out against the idea. Through a foundation with his wife, Bill Gates has been active on the pandemic file for a few years. Here’s his assessment .

It’s a nice sentiment from Bill Gates. But from where I sit, the U.S., as a country, has never had much trouble ignoring the bodies piled up in the corner. So whether that will deter Trump and his Republican allies remains to be seen.


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