It became necessary to destroy the town to save it

Supposedly an unnamed American Army officer made this famous quote in Vietnam in 1968.  He aptly described the fruitless military strategy in mostly rural South Vietnam.  It would be years until the strategy substantially changed, but too late to avert losing the war with more than 58,000 American soldiers dead.

“Question Authority” is another trite saying popularized in the 1960’s. Americans need to question their governmental authorities, which make life-and-death decisions in time of war – and pandemic.

The United States is currently on an economic path that will destroy the economy to prevent more people becoming infected at once by the Covid-19 virus.  There are at least 10 million Americans unemployed – which is increasing daily.  If this pace continues much longer, the damage to people’s health from a self-inflicted economic depression will outweigh the negative public health impact from the coronavirus.

The $2 trillion economic relief bill recently enacted by Congress (“CARES” Act) has a shelf life of several weeks in terms of sustaining the public in a declining economy.  Adding to this with another massive bill or trillions more in “liquidity” from the Federal Reserve would risk massive inflation, which is the “cruelest tax of all,” especially harmful to low-income Americans.

The Trump administration and the nation’s governors are acting in good faith and on a nonpartisan basis (with some exceptions), and using the best information they have to make daily decisions. They are facing the media to answer questions. Scrutiny is especially important, especially about the ever-changing virus models.

At least 30 states and D.C. have issued stay-at-home orders for all but the most “essential” businesses. If you own a cigar shop, as an example, you don’t count as “essential;” except remaining open is essential to the shop owner, his or her employees and families, the bank holding its debt, and other businesses in the supply chain.  Such indefinite widespread closures will cause an economic ripple effect that no government CARES bill can mitigate.

If people can still go grocery shopping or visit a hardware store, why can’t they sit at a diner or buy from a cigar shop, as long as “social distancing” is maintained? How much higher is the health risk to Americans if more “non-essential” stores can open?  Senior citizens and those with underlying health conditions should be advised to mostly stay home, and otherwise receive assistance. Must everyone else working in a “non-essential” capacity remain cloistered?

Meanwhile, what kind of a society are we becoming?  Local politicians now encourage people to snitch on those violating the stay-home edict, arrest such “violators,” threaten to “permanently” close houses of worship, and release violent criminals early from prison.

It is time to consider the wider economic implications in the fight against Covid-19, before the economy collapses.  As to the mantra, “listen to the health experts,” we should; but they must not be the only voices at the table.

Government experts do not always get it right, while multitudes pay a steep price as a result.  It was the “best and the brightest” and “whiz kids” of presidential administrations who got America involved in a land war in Indochina in the early ‘60’s, and in Iraq in the 2000’s.  Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara was a brilliant and accomplished man until the failed Vietnam war policy he developed and implemented for seven years made him “the most disastrous public servant of the twentieth century,” according to military historian Jeffrey Record.

We do not have seven years to get it right on fighting Covid-19. We may not have seven weeks before the economy collapses.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and a senior advisor to President Trump on the crisis, said on January 26th that the coronavirus “isn’t something the American public needs to worry about.” He was mistaken then; is he now?  Many physicians also are disregarding his dubious view against using hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malaria drug, to treat Covid-19.

This is not to attack Dr. Fauci, who is a respected, dedicated public servant (and not another McNamara). Rather, he’s not infallible and should not be fawned over.  His and many other voices must weigh in whether and how governments should open the economy.

“For by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in an abundance of counselors there is victory,” says Proverbs 24. We elect presidents and governors to weigh information and risks. In this case, about how to sustain the economic life of the country, including during an unprecedented pandemic. The buck stops with them, and time is running out for millions of American workers and business owners.

Author

  • Peter Murphy, a CFACT analyst, has researched and advocated for a variety of policy issues, including education reform and fiscal policy, both in the non-profit sector and in government in the administration of former New York Gov. George Pataki. He previously wrote and edited The Chalkboard weblog for the NY Charter Schools Association, and has been published in numerous media outlets, including The Hill, New York Post, Washington Times and the Wall Street Journal. Twitter: @PeterMurphy26.