There’s Really Only One Way to Reopen the Economy

The way forward in the coronavirus crisis keeps getting framed as a choice between saving lives or saving the economy. It’s a false choice. The only way to save the economy is to take the steps that will also save lives.

A number of states are declaring that their economies are open for business. What they’re really doing is saying that it is permissible for many businesses that were closed by regulation to achieve adequate social distancing to open once again. It’s likely that many will. Small businesses have been devastated by this lockdown, and they’re eager to get going once again.

But businesses do not exist in a vacuum. They need employees, some of whom will not be able to come to work because they are in a high-risk population — they are older, have chronic health conditions or care for someone that does. Others are parents whose children are still at home because schools and child-care facilities are still shuttered. They won’t easily be able to get back to their jobs.

More significantly, an economy depends on consumers just as much as producers. Businesses need customers. It’s not clear they plan to participate.

If a nail salon or tattoo parlor is open but no customers show up, those businesses will suffer. If restaurants are open but no one shows up to eat, those restaurants will suffer. When movies, concerts or sporting events open up, people aren’t going to show up, no matter how much performers and sports teams would like them to.

Despite the many news stories covering the protests demanding that governors lift restrictions, the number of Americans who agree with the protesters is very small. Surveys show that a vast majority of Americans support strict shelter-in-place policies that are intended to limit the spread of the disease. Fewer than 20 percent of Americans think they are unnecessary.

Read the full story from The New York Times