By Friday morning we had all of the feelings the lighthouse keeper must experience with the approach of a storm. It was abetted by driving rain in Durango, and was just another in a list of analogies we have tried this week to imagine what comes next for us. With the stock market crashing and the demand-side crunch that is social distancing, we have been bracing for the shock of recession or depression along with the virus itself, one feeding the other, the perfect storm – and bingo, we’re back in the lighthouse.
For a week we have said there are no cases in Durango or La Plata County that we know of. Realizing the virus likely is already here lets us brace for the short term, for the consequences of being stuck at home for a week or two should it come to that. Still, being out of work without pay for some people can be as harmful as going to work sick. It is a sudden sign of the fragility of this economy, a stress test.
And there is a great coincidence at work as the Democratic Party wrestles with how far left it can go in statism, intervention in the economy, central planning, socialism, and a vastly expanded welfare state, which it turns out we could use just about now. Those ideas seemed blue-sky in an upbeat economy just the other day.
Only a week ago, we pointed out that FDR’s New Deal, and especially his first 100 days, had socialist aspects. But what was so different about 1933 was the depths the economy had fallen then. The attitude was, whatever works.
On Friday, we heard economist Megan Greene of Harvard’s Kennedy School talking to NPR Morning Edition host Noel King about enhanced unemployment benefits for displaced workers. “So that should help,” Greene said, “but it’s nowhere near as far as we need to go. What we need to see is checks cut across the economy to everyone, so you can get money to everyone ... the small Uber driver and the coffee shop guy. You might get checks to people who don’t need them, but that’s OK, we need to get money out really quickly.”
You’re talking about me just getting a check in the mail? King said.
“Yup, that’s right,” Greene said. “And you can do it in about six weeks, in theory; so that’s the fastest way to distribute money and counter this demand-side shock we’re seeing.”
Apparently we’re supposed to buy things online with that money. Saving it for a rainy day would be redundant. We might be better off buying one or two shares of Amazon, but you will forgive us if this sounds like a dog chasing its tail. The best hedge against the virus is still probably a good night’s sleep.
We seem easily to be getting the information we need from various news media as well as state and local authorities. Our innate suspicion of power has paused. We know people are concerned the president is not up to snuff in a storm. His Wednesday night address felt hastily improvised. It is enough to make one glad civil power in this republic is also vested in the governors of the states and territories and the mayors and councils of cities and towns, people who will act on their communities’ behalf to order closures, to send us home if they must; and we will think of ourselves in our niche on that quilt, or in our lighthouse, hoping for the best and ready as we’ll ever be for the worst now on offer.