President Donald Trump’s controversial assurance that the national economy would be up and running again by Easter has received significant criticism from both sides of the political aisle as well as from health experts who argue that loosening social distancing would result in even more deaths and greater economic turmoil.
Now, 32 prominent economists, including Henry Paulson, Treasury secretary under George W. Bush; Timothy Geithner, Treasury secretary under Barack Obama; and Janet Yellen, former chair of the Federal Reserve, say in an open letter that saving lives would save the economy the president is trying to restore.
“Our paramount concern at this moment should be to slow the spread of this virus and equip our health care system to effectively respond,” they write. “Saving lives and saving the economy are not in conflict right now; we will hasten the return to robust economic activity by taking steps to stem the spread of the virus and save lives.”
The economists recommend that sectors both public and private “must work together to provide more tests, more ventilators, more personal protective equipment, and more support for hospitals and health care facilities.”
“Only when we have made progress on these fronts will US businesses and consumers be able to resume normal economic activity without inducing a resurgent spread that leads to even more severe health and economic effects,” they added.
Noting that they “are deeply troubled by the prospect of a sustained recession that would erode the economic livelihood of millions of Americans,” the economists argue that it’s up to policymakers to “put measures in place to support households and businesses through this difficult period.”
“These collective efforts will allow more businesses to get up and running again as soon as possible and minimize the severity of the economic hardship on the American people,” they concluded.
Democratic and Republican governors have rejected Trump’s proposal to reopen the economy by Easter, arguing that it would cost many more lives.
“I understand what the president’s saying, this is unsustainable, that we close down the economy and we continue to spend money. There is no doubt about that, no one is going to argue about that. But if you ask the American people to choose between public health and the economy, then it’s no contest,” said Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic governor of New York. “No American is going to say, accelerate the economy, at the cost of human life. Because no American is going to say how much a life is worth. Job one has to be save lives.”
Mike DeWine, the Republican governor, has also come out against Trump’s proposal.
“When people are dying and people don’t feel safe, the economy is not going to come back. We have to #FlattenTheCurve so that when the wave comes, it’s not as big as it would have been and we are prepared for it,” he said. “We are going to get our economy back, but we have to get through it, protect as many lives as we can, and then move forward. I’m looking forward to that day, but it’s not here yet.”
Many of the nation’s governors say they would keep their restrictions in place even if Trump decides to go ahead with his plans.
The novel coronavirus has claimed at least 909 lives in the United States, according to current statistics.