There are a couple of things the experts agree on: The pandemic will get worse before it gets better, but it will get better. It will end, or at least greatly diminish. We can come out of this as a better society and with an enhanced sense of priorities.
Let’s start by better understanding just how much we need each other. We are getting a stark lesson in the fundamental fact of human interdependence. Selfish or irresponsible behavior by a few impacts us all. Why have we indulged so much antisocial division? What really matters is the virus’s impact on all our lives and livelihoods.
For too long we have indulged the hyper-partisan voices, on the right and left, with their conspiracy theories and contempt for science, an independent media, anyone who disagrees with them and just about anything governmental. Some of these people, like Rush Limbaugh, still call COVID-19 “a scam.” In fact, it is not the angry partisans now working to protect us; it is the establishment of experts and scientists.
I hope we will all realize that we need an effective and functional government based on facts, science and the truth. No one in leadership is above being questioned. We need leaders who can bring people together, show some humility and have empathy for others’ suffering.
I especially hope we recognize the important contributions of low-income working people, many of who are being asked to keep working during the epidemic. Over the past 40 years or so they have gotten screwed financially — with the rich growing much richer and the working poor getting much less. They need a livable income. People cannot live on a national $7.25 minimum wage, not to mention $5.15, which is Wyoming’s minimum. They also need to have some sick leave.
And, let’s be honest with ourselves. We did not do what we should have to prepare for this — either nationally or locally. We knew the U.S. was not ready for a pandemic, but little was done. Obviously, America should have stockpiled protective equipment. China claims that the 42,000 properly protected health care workers in Wuhan showed no cases of infection.
Teton County recently voted for a $70 million specific purpose excise tax for various projects — none of which are as essential as emergency preparedness. Today, I bet we all wish we had earmarked some of that SPET money to buy protective gear for our emergency and medical workers and maybe a few more ventilators for St. John’s Health. I hope our local elected leaders make this a priority going forward.
We need to understand how irresponsible it has been to accrue massive federal deficits during a time of strong economic growth. That makes it more difficult and risky to deficit spend when we really need to — like now. Eventually, those bills will have to be paid.
Since the 2008-09 recession, despite huge profits, much of Corporate America has splurged on debt — currently at a record $10 trillion. Delta, American, Southwest and United have been very profitable for the last 10 years. They booked billions of dollars in profits as a result of the 2017 tax cut. They are low on cash now because they spent $39 billion over the past five years repurchasing shares of their own stock. Boeing, now begging for a bailout, spent $35 billion on share buybacks. Buybacks put money in the pockets of executives and investors by raising the value of the remaining shares.
We should not bail out large companies that did not keep some of their enormous profits in cash reserves. The help needs to go to people who need it most — to small business, the poor and the 57 million self-employed — where it will also help the economy the most because it will be immediately spent.
I look forward to the time when we celebrate the end of the epidemic, with an enhanced appreciation of what is really important and a newfound resolve to work together to make a wonderful nation and community even better.