The podcast is back, and we’re taking on one of the biggest issues impacting 2020. Yes, we’re talking COVID-19. As a divided nation, what’s our pathway forward? With infections spiking, is the cat already out of the bag? Should we be looking to South Korea or Sweden for inspiration? We’re here to broaden your thinking.
show description & select links:
Why focus the first podcast of 2020 on COVID-19? It’s because we’re in a bit of a pickle. Actually, we’ve managed to get ourselves into quite the clusterfuck. As of the time of this episode, the US is nearing 2.6 million confirmed infections and 128k deaths from the novel coronavirus. NBER has also released a study estimating that over 100,000 small businesses have already permanently closed. This is the juxtaposition that politicians, business leaders, families, schools and whomever else you can think of is trying to manage through. These are not easy times, and we’ve seen a significant dearth of leadership. History will write all about what we did right and wrong in time, but there are decisions that are being made now with imperfect information and changing landscapes that seem to shift by the hour. How do we manage through this crisis? Should we be trying to slow the spread with these bazooka-style policy actions? What else should we be considering?
In this episode, we lay out the two paths that are most evident: 1) ask people to stay at home (at the risk of economic fallout), or 2) keep the economy open while protecting the most vulnerable amongst us (at the risk of more people getting sick). Both options bring really difficult trade-offs. In reality, our country of split ideologies has tried both with mixed results. This episode explores the approach that Sweden is taking along the idea of option 2, which is presented as a common sense, longer-term solution for fighting a virus that they think is going to be around for quite a long time. This approach has been criticized from organizations ranging from the WHO to citizens inside the country. It’s also a lesson in leadership. Going against the groupthink mentality that dominates news cycles is very tough. Having conviction in your decision, which is also steeped in science, takes guts. Who is right and who is wrong? I don’t think we’ll ever have a clear answer to that question, just like there is not a really clear answer on how we move forward.
This is a very unusual time. For many of you, this is a time when you have been impacted at a personal level by COVID-19. For others, this is a very scary moment. There is a lot of information out there, and some of it is written to conjure emotional outrage. Outrage spreads just like a virus. Take the news stories of more and more young folks falling ill to the coronavirus. This is certainly true, as is the fact that most of these folks are being treated and sent home. It feels like it is common sense to expect that folks of all ages will get this virus. It continues to mutate and likes to spread. It is also correct to assume that we get smarter about fighting this virus each and every day. The big question is can we find some (any) balance in our approaches to fight the virus and run the economy? Are we looking for short-term solutions to a long-term problem? Have our behaviors caught up? Are we willing to let policy actions inadvertently pick winners and losers economically?
For me, we’ve never truly “closed” our economy. What we’re seeing is the real divide between the kind of America different folks live in. Some of you are blessed to be able to sit at home and work (like me). We still expect grocery stores to be stocked. We expect to be able to go the hospital if we get sick. We demand that our packages of “stuff” be delivered in the same timeframe as before the “new normal.” For others, they are out there every day in meat packing plants, at distribution centers, in grocery stores, inside doctor’s offices and on airplanes making sure that what’s left of the economy continues running. I say we need to continue to show these folks our deepest gratitude. These are the folks delivering for the economy, and they can’t stay home. We also have built this massive service economy of restaurants, bars, retail stores and Top Golfs (of course). While these folks may have been deemed non-essential, that doesn’t suddenly halt their needs to pay the bills. Should we continue with focused economic packages for them… while we also find ways to smartly re-engage with our service economy businesses as citizens? What I hope is that we find a common sense approach that fits each of our communities very soon. I don’t know if we can stomach another massive economic shutdown. That cannon was already fired. Given where we are now, how do we move forward? Ideologies aside, this is a time for pragmatic solutions to a problem that doesn’t have perfect answers.
Our approach has never been to tell you what to think. This is a platform to explore issues and to debate them as a community. It is your responsibility to think for yourself, and we thank you for allowing us to be one of the many tools in your arsenal to help you do just that. Enjoy the show. We’re glad you’re here.
Select links to help with your thinking: