Friday, May 29, 2020

Around the Coronavirus Horn, Murkily

We’re going through odds and ends this week.  Here we are, with interpretations to favor the pro-Trump and anti-Trump sides.  I’m not calling them Democratic or Republican since the real values of both parties are in flux, and certainly not liberal or conservative since our president is not a conservative:

First, in response to Mike Bebernes in the May 26th Yahoo News, “Is the $600 unemployment bonus helping or hurting?,” the rough answer is clear:  It’s helping.  It may be too high in many cases, but as I have written more there is nothing more economically stimulative than jobless pay, as it goes to people very likely to spend it.  As for any idea that they should be encouraged to work by being denied it, that’s straight out of A Christmas Carol, when almost all of the currently readily available jobs for which those who lost low-end ones are qualified potentially expose them to Covid-19.  We are the farthest we have been in many decades from consistent workplace safety – where is OSHA these days? – and nobody should be required to make that choice.

Second, there is nothing wrong with a president’s son crowing about a big stock market gain on the same day our cumulative virus deaths reached 100,000.  Many other things happened then, and we should be complimenting ourselves for doing social distancing so well that this total, as many people in early March openly feared, was not in the millions.  I don’t want to be reminded of the “AIDS quilt” made with a square for everyone who had ever died from that, when a similar “cancer quilt” might have been the size of Rhode Island.  There is also nothing immoral about businesses choosing to reopen – or to stay closed.

Third, “World economic prospects darken, rebound delayed:  Reuters poll” (Shrutee Sarkar, Reuters, May 26th) seems behind the curve – but were many people really expecting a fast recovery?  Jobs have gone away not only from pandemic precautions, but from the loss of unemployed people as customers.  Reuters-poll projected 2020 world economy shrinkages have gone from 1.2% on April 3rd to 2.0% on April 26th and this week 3.2%.  The last one still seems low to me; despite the number of deaths being lower than expected, I expect it will be about 5%.  Rapid normalization is not promising, as it was also announced this week that Sweden, of the “herd immunity” strategy, now tops the planet’s nations in per-capita fatalities. 

Fourth, I don’t think our current situation will kill off ride providing or room sharing, but it is giving de facto hotel and taxi businesses another severe blow, as shown in “California Sues Uber and Lyft, Claiming Workers are Misclassified,” by Kate Conger in the May 5th New York Times.  As before, once these two and Airbnb are legally obligated to the same rules as their established equivalents, including being unable to call obvious employees “contractors” with few rights, they will almost go away.  There will be niches in which they can survive, but eventually common sense in regulation will cut them vastly back.

Fifth, how about those maps showing total coronavirus cases by state giving us per-capita instead?  That would help when, as should be happening soon, we get good data on month-before decisions to reopen.  Ten days after them, as in “Georgia Went First.  And It Screwed Up,” by Keren Landman in the April 30th New York Times, is too soon for assessment, but in the next few weeks, we will know a lot, and it would be good to see that graphically and clearly.

Sixth, in a few eventful months the Times Editorial Board has gone from cellular phone surveillance being a huge national threat, worthy of a whole special section, to the devices being “particularly useful at this moment, when it’s crucial to know where infected people have been, and whom they’ve been close to.”  The same source, May 1st’s “We the People, in Order to Defeat the Coronavirus,” even seemed to laud “several countries around the world, as well as some American states,” for starting “apps that either encourage or require their citizens to check in regularly and report their locations.”  Whew!  These problems could challenge master philosophers, so how will we common folk resolve them?  And some wonder why democracy has so often been called a great experiment. 

Seventh, is it truly necessary that spectator sports resume this year?

Eighth, if the Democrats think they are on a path to win back the White House this fall, they are mistaken –, an offshore casino where it is legal to bet on elections, has Trump as a 5 to 4 favorite.

Keep safe – next week we’ll see just how bad American unemployment has officially become. 

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