After three months of relentless Stay-at-Home/Stay Safe messages, the major Anglo-Saxon economies are beginning to understand that these measures, while thoughtful, are simply unaffordable in today’s economies. Recently the US Treasury Secretary Menuchin admitted that ‘second wave’ or no second wave, there will not be another lockdown; why? Simple, it’s not affordable. Today the UK announced that April’s GDP was down a staggering 20%+! Do you think that they will lockdown again?
Both the UK and the US have long wagered their future on the service economy. While some have been continuing to work from home, this was clearly not enough to prevent a major shock. Keeping hotels, shops, airliners, and offices shut for three months has cost us a staggering amount. The only difference between 2020 and 1929, is that this time, a combined torrent of monetary (as after 2008) and fiscal stimulus (as after FDR’s election) have sedated the patient. But the patient is now waking up and the pain is beginning to be felt. Don’t forget that the Great Depression only ended because of and after WWII.
The unfortunate truth that governments don’t want to admit is that even the wealthiest economies simply can’t afford these lockdowns and have now shot their bullets. The protracted lockdown has most certainly saved lives, but it has come at a huge cost. Consider the damage being inflicted on children staying at home, on wives being abused, on seriously ill patients not getting their essential care. As Yonathan Rosenblum brilliantly said a few weeks ago, the trade-off is not necessarily between lives and money, as the Economist put it at the beginning of the crisis. It is rather between lives and lives.
Governments should prepare for the next wave, or G-D forbid, the next pandemic, in a much more clever and cheaper way. They should protect the older population and the ones most at risk, while investing in multiplying hospital beds. If you consider that it costs $13bln to build and fit another aircraft carrier which will probably never be used, while that money could be used to build nearly one hundred 200-bed hospitals (20,000 beds in total), you can get an idea of where the funding can come from…