There are two realities that confront us with the coronavirus; the first is the need to do whatever is necessary to find and fund a working vaccine that can be produced quickly and in sufficient quantity, the second is the need to reopen our economy as safely as we can but more aggressively than we are.
The first happens as a nation, a full on commitment that will require tens of billions of dollars. The second happens state-by-state with a rational process that acknowledges we’re hemorrhaging $150 — $350 billion a month as a nation.
The case for a more aggressive effort to develop a vaccine was put forth in a New York Times op-ed by some of the brightest minds in the world. It’s an “Advance Market Commitments” process that assures firms that if they find the vaccine and price it close to what it costs to manufacture it that AMC donors would “top-up” the price per dose. We’re also going to need more than one vaccine, the experts think the number will be closer to 15 or 20. The production of the vaccine and its eventual distribution will need to be worldwide, which will require a massive manufacturing and distribution effort. The authors believe the investment will need to total upwards of $70 billion, which is a lot of money, but peanuts compared to what we’re currently losing.
If the commitment is made to this process, every nickel guaranteed, then it would make it infinitely easier for states [and other nations] to open up their economies. It would create a sense of stability and promise, neither of which is currently in place. It would be something to help us rise above the political recriminations that bedevil us as we try to reopen businesses.
And open up our economy we must. Right here in St. Albans. Right here in Vermont. And soon.
As the appropriate steps are considered it’s also a mistake for decision makers to separate the economy from our health. They are not mutually exclusive. A ravaged economy yields a ravaged populace. If people don’t have jobs, they suffer; heart attacks soar, mental health issues explode, domestic violence increases. If people lose their businesses, they often lose their life’s savings and the effects cascade through the family. Every week the economy remains dormant is a week we’re deeper into the economic gloom that will prove difficult to escape with any degree of speed or success.
It’s also important to trust those responsible for pushing the economy along. To them, this is survival. They’ve figured out what the protocols are and are not so blind as to go back to business as usual, understanding the worst fate they could suffer would be to go through another shut down in the fall should the virus make a comeback.
Here’s the challenge: As a state, we’re staring at the possibility of a $400 million plus shortfall in revenue next fiscal year. The ability to generate that revenue, at one level or another, hinges upon the health of each of us as consumers. That’s what pays for our schools, our prisons, our health care, our affordable housing, the repair of our roads and bridges. Everything. The consumer is responsible for about 70 percent of the gross domestic product. Remove the customer and you remove the revenue.
That’s where we are. The consumer is missing. We can open our businesses — which we must — but the next challenge is to get the customers back.
So here is a suggestion: An enormous amount of money has been spent educating people about the seriousness of Covid-19. We succeeded. We’ve scared people into a paralysis. They’ve stayed home. In droves. And that was a good thing. It worked.
So how do we restore the consumer’s confidence, how do we get them back into the marketplace and into our local businesses?
Well, Vermont received $1.25 billion from the federal government for Covid-19 related costs. How about apportioning part of that $1.25 billion to help promote our businesses back to a state of health? A creative, stem to stern marketing campaign could do wonders, and if concrete time lines were established, it would give businesses the confidence to put their own plans in place. Summertime in Vermont typically generates a half billion dollars in revenue from tourism, and bookings are already down significantly. What arrows do we have in our quiver if not the government’s “stimulus” money? How do we get ourselves ready for the fall, and Christmas?
Here’s what Vermonters must understand when ideas like this are proposed: If the economy is not restored to health, and relatively quickly, then all programs suffer. At all levels. Again, that’s why it’s misguided to separate concerns about the public’s health from the state’s economy. They are not separate. They are, in large part, one and the same.
Now that we’ve passed the crux point in the fight against the virus, and now that we have the knowledge and the infrastructure to respond accordingly, it’s time now for our leaders to talk to us about a more aggressive reopening strategy.
by Emerson Lynn