The Corner

The Economy

On Reviving New York City

We now know a lot more about how to treat COVID-19. And the range of what’s available to treat this disease is, thankfully, improving. Operating our economy in slow motion until a vaccine is found, developed, and made easily available would, I suspect (and it’s not much of a guess) lead to disaster.  As I noted in a post on Friday:

[I]f we are to avoid an economic catastrophe, some way has to be found of ‘living with’ this pandemic considerably more intelligently than we have managed up to now.

On that topic, here’s an extract from a letter sent by David Bahnsen to some of New York City’s business leaders and published in the New York Post, calling for them to encourage a return to work in the office “not in January 2021, but in September 2020. Labor Day, not New Year’s Day, please.”

[M]y concern is the downstream impact that will result from the city not being open for business — with people not coming to work, with New York no longer being New York again.

Who is captured in this downstream impact I refer to? The dry cleaners no longer having men and women drop off their suits for weekly press. The shoe shiners no longer seeing men sit in their chairs for a morning shine. The deli workers without people on a lunch break to order a sandwich. The coffee-shop folks not getting tips to brew up iced coffee. The busboys not getting shifts because restaurants won’t open without businesses reopened. The bartenders not serving an evening drink before someone jumps on a train back to Connecticut out of Grand Central.

This is what I refer to — not merely the effects on our white-collar jobs and industries, but the withering of the invisible hand of the New York economy, which harms those who have been disproportionately damaged by the crisis.

My suspicion is that reports of the death of the office, like those of the demise of business travel, will, in the end, turn out to have been exaggerated, even if we allow for the greater range of alternative ways of working now made possible by new technologies. “In the end,” however, may be quite some while away.

And in the meantime, there can be no doubt that the destructive effects on New York City of remaining in the strange sort of limbo in which large parts of Gotham now seem to be held are growing worse by the day. We do need to learn to ‘live with’ this pandemic intelligently. And inertia is not intelligence.

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