Setting a Course Correction

Since the two-week lockdown from mid-March, I have been convinced the country, meaning our national government, has been on the wrong course. The disastrous because it was wrong decision to extend this ill-considered course for 30 days on April 1 sickened me. My wife encouraged me to write to our Senator, but that struck me as a waste of the time even to compose it. The pressure increased in me like a pressure cooker, until I did finally write what I thought and searched the internet to discover that Fox News has a site that accepts efforts to communicate with their shows. I wrote my thoughts, sent them with the request to forward to Tucker Carlson Tonight, and received an acknowledgment with no promises on Sunday April 5.

I am reasonably sure that the many people between me and Tucker Carlson view their role as keeping me from him when my view of business would suggest their role is to bring me to him. Nevertheless, I did not and do not expect to hear from him. The disastrous direction continued and nobody was discussing the right course of action. Then I remembered, I have a website (that I have attended poorly to these past five years) and I have my own blog. So even with no expectation of anyone who might read what I write, I realized I could articulate my concerns and policy proposals and I didn’t need to wait for anyone.

What follows is the note I sent to Tucker Carlson on Sunday, April 5th. As with anything done in realtime, facts I have subsequently learned would have brought a slightly different treatment of certain points, but I will write about those facts in subsequent posts. It is perilously close to Monday Morning quarterbacking to publish this post, I am not going to change it to incorporate subsequent facts learned.

Dear Tucker (I know I should call you Mr. Carlson, but you are the age of one of my sons),

First, I am one of those people you, so correctly, scoff at: Yale, Harvard, McKinsey. I am not, however, in charge of the world. I am simply a seventy-eight-year-old man who writes novels. Given the country’s response to the COVID-19 epidemic, I should be in charge of the world. Hence, I write you.

I am a Trump supporter from the moment he took the escalator because our country needs someone who harks back to the Cincinnatus model. I continue to support him today when we simply have no alternative that measures up.

Nevertheless, he has not provided the kind of leadership that I expected from him and that we need in this crisis. To keep it short and minimize the political points of view, we need a Churchillian vision and devotion to mission that define his call to action and his action

President Trump should announce immediately that we are adopting a World-War II-style full-employment economy assault on the virus. While I would prefer that he announce he will have the policies, programs, and steps in place by April 15, if he insists on maintaining this ill-considered shutdown until April 30th, I can live with that so long as he announces immediately and definitively that leadership is taking charge of leading our nation. To those who persist in criticizing him for not having all the answers or all the magic wands, he should simply repeat: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.

He should have one vision and one mission to ensure that we are all working to conquer this virus: Both the productive work of producing goods and services and the emotional work of pulling together and supporting the goal. Nothing in this mission ignores science, scientists, or current insufficiencies. What it does require is that they are all turned to achieving the goal, not describing nor decrying our predicament. Every single person who has ever actually worked has made a mistake. While we want to do better with each passing day, we will not dwell on mistakes but use them to foster improvement. To do this and deal with the fear of death, we will implement three core, programmatic thrusts:

First, every single person is responsible for their own health. The government will use its enormous resources to educate and encourage individuals to take care of themselves.  Visualize Uncle Sam Wants You To Protect Yourself posters with the top ten self-protective steps itemized.  Every single policy and program for individuals to protect their own health should be explored and put out to the public. If stay at home is the most powerful tool the CDC can recommend, individuals should be allowed to judge for themselves and decide.

Second, every single person is responsible not to harm the health of another: Again the government uses its resources to educate and encourage people not to take personal actions that harm or may harm others: Uncle Sam Says No to: itemize the top ten causes of spread. No one should go trivial on this point. This includes such concepts as no mass meetings (no Armistice parades in Philadelphia in 1918) right down to meetings of ten or even five.

Third, the government should use its powers to enforce and protect. State and Local government action that does not violate the Constitution should be encouraged and supported, but in this note my focus is on the national government. It has enormous police powers and it has enormous production and logistical powers. They should all be focused on supporting the work toward a full-employment CV-19 contained, and best, free day. Again, I go to the WWII model; we did not urge our citizens to flee inland because the enemy would tire trying to cross the oceans to invade our shores, AND we did not shirk from a goal of Total Victory. Unconditional Surrender may be the vaccine, but it took us forty-five months to achieve that goal during which time we waged total war and, yes, we sacrificed many lives.

The current approach is governed by two damning characteristics: first, an unabating commitment to 15-minutes of fame. There never should have been a discussion of we could have had 1.7 million deaths if we had done nothing because by the time that self-proclaiming declaration was put in the air, we already had taken numerous steps that mitigated against ever having that outcome. In turn, we should not be discussing 100,00 to 240,000 deaths based on our current models. The measure that is relevant is the increase in total deaths in society and the comparison that is relevant is that number with the current lockdown v. that number with a full-employment economy attack. If it is already 100,000 to 240,000 what if the full-employment attack were 105,000 – 250, 000.  (I use those numbers for illustrative purposes because my suspicion is the true comparison of a full-employment attack would show fewer deaths, not more.). Second, I recognize this is a bit political, but note that the fear-mongers and policy influencers who are pushing this lockdown are all among the 10% who either have the wealth or the private sector job that protects them for life or the 30% employed by government. The 60% who are vulnerable have no voice.

I fully recognize that nothing in this note has the gravitas that a 10,000-word exploration of the available facts and models would have, but it provides the correct policy approach. With the resources available to your program, assuming you can find the objective and open-minded people of competence, you can prove it.

Edward (and I included my full mailing address and telephone number.)

2 thoughts on “Setting a Course Correction

  1. Well, I never thought I’d see the day where Edward Massey would be an advocate for FDR-style liberalism, but the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in even stranger things than that. You call for a “World War II-style full-employment economy” which implies a major intervention by the federal government in our economy, something that would have been an anathema to you just weeks ago. In WWII, the government was the end purchaser of over 50% of US GDP. And I agree, it would be great to see the government buy up all the farm and dairy products that are now being destroyed because there is no market for them. And, just as Keynes suggested that paying workers to dig a hole and then fill it would be expansionary, it would be wonderful to see the government actually pay workers to stay at home until we get a handle on this virus. In fact, at least a minimal attempt was made at doing that with the additional $600 in unemployment benefits and the original concept of the small business loan program before it was raided by the bankers and conglomerates. So it’s good to see you on board with all of that.

    I have to say, however, not even a Bernie Sanders socialist has been advocating for the wage and price controls that FDR put in place during WWII. I guess the closest you could get to that is claiming that a $15 minimum wage is some sort of wage control and the Medicare for All is some kind of price control because Medicare sets a cost range for procedures. There was also government-mandated rationing during the war, but we apparently don’t even need government for that these days as stores will only allow you to buy two packs of toilet paper. Instead, what they government is doing is rationing medical supplies to favored parties to advance Trump’s personal and political interest. FDR also used the power of federal contracts to force companies like Ford into recognizing its first union. I’m sure all progressives would be happy to see the government require union representation in the firms that it contracts with now. And Sanders’ supporters would certainly love to see a tax an excess profits that was also instituted during the war.

    You continue by saying “First, every single person is responsible for their own health…If stay at home is the most powerful tool CDC can recommend, Individuals should be allowed to judge for themselves and then decide…Second, every single person is responsible not to harm the health of another”. These wonderful libertarian tropes are just ivory tower maxims that don’t recognize the real world. Front-line medical workers and even grocery store cashiers cannot be responsible for their own health simply because they are probably dealing with infected people every day. And it’s impossible for every single person to not harm the health of another if they are walking around spreading the virus but don’t know it because of the lack of testing. Before they became just another hired gun to provide the answer they are paid for, McKinsey used to be data driven. The problem we have today is we don’t have the data. Because of a massive government failure, we don’t have the testing we need; we don’t have the contact tracing we need; and we still know very little about how the virus spreads or even whether we can develop immunity from it.

    You continue, writing, “Third, the government should use its power to enforce and protect”. Again, the real world intrudes. To take a recent example from Kentucky, is it constitutional for police to record the license plates of people who violate the state’s orders under a public health emergency by attending an Easter service just so the cops can then deliver a notice to their home asking them to quarantine for 14 days?

    Finally, I hate to say I told you so, (though I have to admit it does provide some perverse pleasure), there were many of us, including significant Republican and conservative leaders, who warned you that Trump was constitutionally incapable of actually leading the country during a time of real crisis.

    Anyway, it’s good to see you have finally come over from the dark side, Edward, and are finally advocating an important role for the national government in our economy and our lives. Tom Wolfe once wrote that “If a conservative is a liberal who got mugged, then a liberal is conservative who has been arrested”. Perhaps we need to add “and a socialist is a libertarian facing a pandemic”.

  2. First, I thank you for commenting on my blog. In case the rest of the world does not know, I will crow and exclaim that Ed Eggert is a Medium.com designated top economics and politics blogger. I am perfectly happy to be smacked down by a real pro.

    Nevertheless, I do have two comments. Aside from your exaggeration by 25% on the role of the federal government in the GDP during the war years, my point was to call for a full-speed ahead approach to defeat the enemy, instead of this disastrous and ill-considered lockdown. Your rejoinder was to take your favorite hammer and see in everything the opportunity to argue for the nail of greater government intervention. Of course, the federal government grew to 41.56% of our economy. We waged war and only the federal government is empowered to do so. No surprise and no disagreement that it was appropriate for 89.49% of federal spending to be defense spending. (Like all unremitting partisanship, it missed my point, but I do not disagree that I wish the damn money would be spent on buying up food and giving it to the homeless and poor, or buying haircuts and manicures for that matter.)

    One other point bears mentioning. I don’t even know what a trope is, except to recognize it as a ready at-hand word when careful and deep thought is to be abjured. “Front-line medical workers and even grocery store cashiers cannot be responsible for their own health” any more than invading forces can be when a beach is assaulted. That does not argue for telling the public the enemy will not hurt us if we just don’t take on the assault on the beach. Many people have shown heroic performance in attempting to and taking care of patients in this crisis. The only relevant issue is whether the number would have changed had the lockdown not been pursued. I certainly know the number of healthcare workers terminated, to lose compensation and maybe even benefits, would have been smaller without this ill-considered lockdown.

    I truly appreciate your comment on my blog and I hope to see many more, but it did not address the issue that is causing my despair. This lockdown was a colossal public policy mistake and still, today, almost no one is moving fast enough to reverse it. You’ll recognize the next blog on the subject, and I hope to see another Ed Eggert comment.

    The blog post software does not support a table format. Here are the salient facts in text format. In billions, constant, 1940 dollars, 1941 U.S. GDP of $120.67 reflected 10.77% federal spending, of which 47.15% (up from 17.5%) was defense spending. 1945 U.S. GDP of $173.52 reflected 41.56% federal spending, of which 89.49% (up from 86.68%) was defense spending.

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