This article originally appeared on the Washington Post on April 11, 2020.
The federal government is doing what it can to stabilize the economy during the coronavirus shutdown, including passing a $2.2 trillion relief package. These extraordinary bipartisan interventions will help get people through the next month or two. But when the crisis abates, how will we restart the economy?
The truth is, no one really knows if it’s possible to shut down an economy such as ours and then successfully restart it. The situation reminds me of the scene in the movie “Apollo 13” where the astronauts had to shut off everything in the capsule and then reboot it from scratch. Nobody knew if the systems would restart.
So, what about the U.S. economy? How long do we wait to go back to work? How many people either have to be declared immune or decide they cannot afford to self-isolate anymore before the reboot begins? The longer we wait to answer those questions, the more serious they become. The medical threat isn’t the only problem covid-19 is creating. There is also an economic threat. As a recent article from the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center noted, “the virus is lethal; but so is poverty.”
I think the economy will indeed restart, thanks to the vast potential of enterprising Americans, but the real question is whether the recovery will be relatively rapid or some form of enduring stagnation.
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