Coronavirus, Domestic Policy

Wasting America’s Moment

At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, I called it “America’s moment” and urged a military-style response.  The American people’s acceptance of the initial lockdown and social distancing measures showed a community spirit that many thought lacking in today’s society. In the end, we met the moment in a uniquely American way – through technological innovation resulting in effective vaccines that would allow us to resume a normal life. Now the resistance to those vaccines risks wasting this moment because of a combination of political pique and selfish independence.

Anti-vaxxers like to seize on the inherent uncertainties of the “fog of war” to quibble with statistics while ignoring the obvious.  It is a fact that COVID cases and hospitalizations are rising significantly among the unvaccinated population for the first time in months due to the new Delta variant.  If you’re above 30 years of age, you have a significantly higher risk of hospitalization or death if unvaccinated.  Moreover, while breakthrough infections are possible, the evidence suggests that persons vaccinated with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines are less likely not only to acquire the original disease and its variants, but are also less likely to transmit it to others.

Unfortunately, former President Trump and some governors are catering to the anti-vaxxers by opposing or even banning mask and vaccination mandates by local governments and private businesses trying to protect their citizens and continue the return to normal.  A better response would be to encourage vaccinations by enacting a federal worker’s compensation system that would protect workers who have a fear (however much it’s been hyped) of a reaction to the vaccine.  Such a system would also insulate businesses from potential legal liability so they can continue to operate normally.  

Vaccination refuseniks espouse a warped sense of American independence to justify a response that endangers their fellow Americans. They seek to assert their “independence” by exposing themselves and their fellow Americans to painful and expensive hospitalization and even death.  They also jeopardize the normalization of everyday life they claim to crave. As TR said above, a free people must exercise their freedom responsibly.  I challenge all of the unvaccinated to look into Roosevelt’s eyes and tell him why they should be allowed to so endanger their fellow Americans and the American example to the world.   

Coronavirus, Domestic Policy

A Stimulus Plan Only a Pandemic Hero Could Love

President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus response plan is better thought of as a stimulus bill designed to lift the economy out of the recession caused by the pandemic. In that manner it serves the same purpose as the Trump economic stimulus plan of 2018. In contrast to the Trump program, the Biden plan stimulates the economy through government spending and redistribution of the wealth towards the poor and middle-class rather than tax cuts and regulatory relief.

A good way to understand and justify the over 500-page bill is to distill it down into four subject areas:

  • COVID-19 response –   These provisions include not only the marquee $1,400 per person stimulus checks and funding for vaccines and testing, but also increased unemployment assistance, extended food stamp assistance and housing aid as well as extending the temporary right to paid sick leave through September.  This article from CNBC is a helpful guide on how the recipients can best use these aid programs.  
  • Social welfare – The bill essentially implements Biden‘s promise to expand Obamacare coverage during the campaign, but also increases the child tax credit to $3,600 per child and allows those payments to be paid monthly rather than once a year. It also expands the earned income tax credit for childless individuals. In addition, $86 billion is earmarked for shoring up approximately 200 underfunded pension plans. This is essentially a rescue of the federal Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, which is currently insolvent because of past rescues of bankrupt employee pension plans.   
  • Education – The legislation grants $130 billion to K-12 schools and $40 billion to colleges and universities. The K-12 money could be used for long-overdue classroom expansion and capital improvements to schools. 
  • State and local government aid – Probably the most controversial provision of the bill is the $350 billion in aid to state and local governments to make up for revenue losses caused by the pandemic. These grants come with no strings attached. 

I criticized Washington last year for wrangling over political details and delaying help for those suffering from the pandemic-caused recession (see here). Despite the excesses of the bill, Roosevelt’s advice remains sound. Assisting the poor and lower middle class who have borne the brunt of this crisis is the best form of politics because it is decent thing to do. The remainder of the bill should simply be considered the fulfillment of a four-year set of Democratic and Biden spending promises in one year.  

It now falls on Congress to oversee these new programs and prevent them from expanding into new entitlements that institutionalize these huge expenditures and thus risk inflation and a collapse of the dollar. Today, however, we should concentrate on the aid to those in hardship due to the pandemic and the programs necessary to defeat it. This bill accomplishes this goal and is thus worth celebrating. 

Coronavirus, Domestic Policy

Strength Through Resilience

A nation-state’ s power has traditionally been measured by the size of its military and economy.  As the attached article points out, the COVID-19 pandemic highlights a new and crucial source of national power – a nation’s resilience.  Resilience is defined as the ability to sustain and adapt to a systemic shock, or, as the old Timex watch commercial put it, the ability to take a licking and keep on ticking.  It is based on adequate infrastructure and governmental legitimacy more than material resources. 

Resiliency, however, comes in many forms.  China’s centralized communitarian culture allowed it to bounce back faster from the pandemic, but only by using the same totalitarian governmental repression that caused the crisis in the first place. In contrast, the individualistic culture of America hobbled our ability to control the spread after it arrived, but our decentralized federalist system gave state and local leaders the flexibility to create the necessary controls when the federal government failed to provide leadership.  Our freedom to innovate also helped foster development of reliable treatments and vaccines faster than China. 

At the same time, the weaknesses exposed by the pandemic must be addressed, especially those in our manufacturing capacity and health infrastructure.  By prioritizing efficiency over resiliency in our economy, we ended up dangerously dependent on China and other governments for vital materials, and not just in the medical field. The article touts strong alliances as a solution, but they cannot replace onshore local capacity in a crisis. Building national vigor means identifying and protecting resources we need to survive a future shock, whether it be from a disease, cyberattack, or climate change.

Theodore Roosevelt advocated “the strenuous life” of exercise and outdoor activity as a way of achieving personal resilience.  Both require short- term sacrifice and effort to build the stamina necessary to meet future challenges.  Similarly, we Americans will need to be willing to pay higher prices for domestically-produced goods or higher taxes in order to create the national resilience to remain a great power and a shining example of freedom. The immediate pain will be well worth it in the long run.