“U.S. stock futures surged early Friday morning after a trade report said a Gilead Sciences drug was showing effectiveness in treating the coronavirus,” an early morning headline on a CNBC story proclaims.
Well, yes, the potential drug from Gilead is very good news indeed, but stock futures actually began surging early Thursday evening at the exact time that President Trump was unfolding his plans for re-opening the U.S. for business.
It looks like Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, the two most publicly revered members of the President’s coronavirus taskforce, are supporting President Trump in this.
Re-opening is the U.S. economy is not going to be easy; it will be segmented, with states leading the way. People remain fearful as we are going through something unprecedented in our history. Not everybody thinks the time has come to re-open.
What is both predictable and unfortunate is that the re-opening will, like everything else in American life right now, be politicized. The important thing has always been getting out of this mess in the best shape possible, whether that is sooner or later. But partisan rancor is brewing.
Kimberley Strassel writes this morning in the Wall Street Journal:
The shutdown came. The shutdown conquered. Long live the shutdown.
That’s the line congressional Democrats and liberal journalists are now adopting, as they set new battle lines in the pandemic debate. The Trump administration might have thought the hard call was shutting down the U.S. economy. The left intends to make reopening it far harder, lacing it with political risk by raising the bar for “success” to fantasy heights.
“Speaker Nancy Pelosi lashed President Donald Trump during a private call with her caucus Monday, saying he was putting Americans in grave danger if he rushes to reopen the economy at the end of this month,” reported Politico this week.
The article laid out Mrs. Pelosi’s requirement: Until a robust “testing and contact tracing” system is in place, “it would be impossible for the president to guarantee Americans a safe reentry into their normal life.”
Democrats are developing their own counter plan for re-opening:
By [the Democrat’s standards], no lockdown may end until the Trump administration can “guarantee” a “safe” world in which people return to “normal.” The feds must stand up a testing system capable of hunting down and snuffing out each new infection. There can be no more outbreaks, and reopening cannot “significantly add” to existing counts (and the press reserves the authority to define “significantly.”) The unsaid corollary is that Mr. Trump will be held politically responsible for reopening in any way that fails to meet these baselines—on the hook for each subsequent death.
Talk about moving goal posts. A month ago, the administration announced its 15-day plan to “flatten the curve” and “slow the spread” of the virus. Examine those phrases. The goal of the shutdown was never to eradicate the disease—an impossibility absent a vaccine. The lockdown was designed to buy the health sector time, to make sure all the cases didn’t hit at once in a crush that would overwhelm hospitals, à la Italy.
In that regard, the Trump administration has become a victim of its own success. The guidelines did flatten the curve. As ugly as the outbreak has been, even New York City and other hot spots have had enough ventilators. Numerous emergency field hospitals ended up sitting empty. The lockdown has been so effective that it has allowed Mr. Trump’s political opponents to lay out a false narrative of what counts as “victory.”
The political cynicism is extraordinary. The liberal cognoscenti can read the scientific data as well as anyone; all of it makes clear this battle is far from over. While widespread testing may help, it won’t eradicate the virus. They also know even another month of lockdown, much less the year needed for a vaccine, would mean severe stress for the economy.
In November, Strassel argues, Trump will be judged on his ability to bring the economy back and essential to that is that the country doesn’t experience another peak in the infections that leads to a frightened public’s calling for another shutdown, damned the economic consequences. Strassel suggest that a key part of this is managing the public’s expectations.
In re-opening the country, it is also important that politicians be candid about what is at stake for us economically. In a piece on Real Clear Markets, Betsy Fisher, whose family owns the landmark women’s clothing store in Washington, D.C., explains what the stakes are for her business:
Our family business may or may not turn 32 this fall. My husband and I have survived for more than three decades in specialty retail, selling women’s clothing to professionals who work in Washington, DC. Changing dress codes, the rise of online shopping, and even the emerging ethos of owning less are among the challenges we face and surmount through hard work, taking risks and endless refinement of products and business practices. None of those obstacles compares, however, with the DC government’s sledgehammer decree that non-essential businesses must close.
No amount of work, investment or risk-taking serves any business owner when the means of making a living are unilaterally denied. My seasonal worry about whether our investment will resonate with customers disappeared with the new reality that public officials, pandering to panic over prudence, stopped the economy and made rent payments for owners and employees alike an imminent disaster. Too little thought is given to the economy’s on-the-ground realities and the essential role that businesses play.
Fisher employs people, as do other businesses that could go under because of a prolonged shutdown.
When talking about re-opening the U.S., we must also listen to people who ask nothing more than to be able to have jobs to support their families.