The Corner

Health Care

The Catch-22 for America’s Leaders

Temporary closed signage at a store in New York following the outbreak of coronavirus disease in New York, N.Y., March 15, 2020. (Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

The best way to save lives is to minimize the contact that people have with each other — to effectively freeze Americans in place, and simply give the coronavirus fewer and fewer opportunities to spread from one person to the next.

But this more or less means slamming the brakes on our economy and inflicting devastating pain on all kinds of people — lost jobs, lost wages, lost tips. This morning, the stock markets are diving faster than Greg Louganis. Maybe this is a panicked overreaction, but it’s probably a lot of investors looking at a lot of industries — airlines and all related industries, hotels, cruise lines and everything else related to tourism, anything related to sports, all concerts, most movies, restaurants — and realizing that income for at least the next two months will be almost nil. Oh, and the oil industry is getting hammered by a price war and plummeting demand, too.

As noted in today’s Morning Jolt, this sort of widespread and intense restriction upon consumption means that there will be a lot of pent-up demand once the CDC gives the “all clear” signal. Americans will be itching to eat out, go to the movies, go to Broadway shows, go to sporting events, go to Disneyland, etc. If businesses can stay afloat until then, they’re going to enjoy a bonanza. But they’ve got to figure out a way to keep going without any customers until then.

Lawmakers are in this bizarre Catch-22: The harder they restrict Americans’ movements, the more lives they save, at the cost of the economy. But if they loosen the restrictions to help ameliorate the effect on the economy, they risk the virus’s spreading more and becoming a greater risk to the elderly and the immunocompromised.

Leadership means making tough decisions — maybe even impossible ones. Being an elected leader in the United States is not just giving speeches and holding rallies and smiling in photo opportunities. It means communicating bad news to people in a crisis because they need to hear the truth. It may even mean explaining to people, “We are about to endure a hopefully brief but very intense recession in order to help protect the most vulnerable among us.”


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