Taking it on the chin…

A few months ago I, somewhat tongue in cheek, told a coworker the best thing that could happen for my hopes of eventual retirement would be a few years of a bear market to suppress prices and let me “back up the truck” to buy shares at deep discount prices. As long as I can keep working and manage not to drop dead of the Andromeda Strain or whatever the appropriate name for this bug is, I suppose I’m technically not wrong… but boy is it a great big case of be careful what you fucking ask for.

The US economy is currently suffering through a system-level shock the likes of which almost no one alive has personally experienced. For those of us above a certain age, the closest we’ve come is listening to grandparents or family elders tell their stories – and wonder uncomprehending about why all those years later they still saved their soap slivers in a mason jar or insisted on getting three cups of tea out of each bag.

I like to think this isn’t the start of Great Depression 2.0. The fact that the economy was roaring along at breakneck speeds just a couple of weeks ago gives me enormous faith that it can be resuscitated… eventually. Once they’ve exhausted all other options, Congress will push through bailout plans to pour trillions of dollars through the front door of the Treasury. The Federal Reserve has committed to buying government debt with reckless abandon.

Even with herculean efforts, a host of businesses will fail. No economic recover package ever passed through government can prevent that. Cash flow is the life’s blood of business and with that flow stopped, even temporarily, many won’t have the deep reserves it will take to emerge once we’ve arrived at the new normal. The best we can manage in the moment is likely following a “harm reduction” strategy – of propping up what we can and finding as soft a landing as possible for those in the workforce who are displaced.

It seems that President Trump is determined to take a short cut through the amount of time science says we need to keep the clamps on the economy. That’s a foolish and stupid take, but in some ways, I can understand the instinct. Even those who get through the pandemic with little or no ill effects will feel the unnatural consequences of an economy gone to hell in a handbag.

There’s a point where declaring business as usual will make sense. I don’t think that’s this week. I don’t think it will be next week. If you believe science, and you should, it’s not even likely to be in the next month.

As you know, I despise the media obsession with calling this the “war against COVID-19.” Even so, I take a degree of comfort in knowing that historically, the United States almost always loses the first battle of every war we’ve ever been in. We take a punch right to the chin, get knocked down, and then get up off the ground angry and looking for payback.

Today we’re still on the ground, but we’re going to get up, and when we do, we’re going to be collectively pissed the hell off and ready to do what needs to be done.

New Deal Revisited…

A member of Congress with a famous family name is proposing a simple solution to the bringing down the unemployment rate: Put approximately 15 million people on the federal payroll with a $40,000 a year salary. The proposal would revive concepts that saw a Civilian Conservation Corps plant trees, build dams, and forge roads and a Works Progress Administration that built airports and paid authors and photographers to ply their trade on behalf of the US Government. As fanatical as I am about the proper role of government, even I have to admit that the CCC and WPA probably represent the best instincts of government. Maybe I have a soft spot for the concept because I grew up swimming and camping at a place built by the CCC in the late 30s. Say what you will about it having been a “make work” project, but their efforts have held up pretty well under 80 years of continual use.

Maybe more importantly, the CCC and WPA made constructive work part of the requirement to receive federal assistance. In the 30s, your options were pretty much work or starve. I wonder, though, if those concepts would still hold up. How many people receiving federal assistance would be willing to go to work camps in the wilderness, to sweep their cities streets, or to lift a hand to earn what we now think of as entitlements? As a result of their experiences during the Depression, my grandfather saved soap slivers that he eventually pressed together into a new bar and my grandmother used the same teabag for cup after cup of tea despite the need for them to do these things being long past. When’s the last time any of us even thought about doing something like that?

I never in my life thought I could be convinced to line up with Representative Jesse Jackson Jr on an issue, but I think this one at least has academic merit. I don’t necessarily agree with all his reasoning or the total numbers he’s talking about, but I have to admit I really like the concept. Let’s face it, we’re going to pay unemployment, welfare, and a raft of other “entitlements” anyway, so why not make productivity a requirement for receiving unemployment and other funds from the government?

This is probably the point where someone is going to come to my door to collect my Republican Party membership card.