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Conservative economist Stephen Moore has been busy these days.
A member of the president’s economic task force, he’s been pushing the administration and governors to loosen the stay-at-home orders as soon as possible. He’s been working closely with groups like FreedomWorks to nurture and promote some of the protests across the country. And he’s been on a bit of a media tour, warning Americans that the country stands on the verge of “economic carnage” if it doesn’t reopen soon.
A conservative commentator and Trump campaign economic adviser, Mr. Moore has long courted controversy. His nomination to a seat on the Federal Reserve board last year was pulled by the administration after Republican lawmakers criticized his past comments about women, economists questioned his track record and some conservatives said he lacked the “intellectual gravitas” for the post.
There’s no question about his partisan credentials. Mr. Moore was one of the founders of the Club for Growth, which advocates limited government and low taxes. In 2012, Mr. Moore helped design tax cuts in Kansas that exploded the state’s budget without producing a promised economic boom.
Mr. Moore offered his broad thoughts on the economic impacts of the coronavirus, noting that he’s not a public health expert — nor has he completed any studies of the effects as of yet. We spoke to him about the risks of reopening, what he’s advising the president and his predictions of a coming “economic civil war.” (As always, our conversation has been edited and condensed.)
Hi, thanks for speaking with me. So starting this week, some states are reopening; some states aren’t. These places that are reopening — like Georgia, Tennessee — are they right to do so?
We really are seeing the economic carnage cascade in a big way. And as an economist — I’m not a health expert, I don’t pretend to be, I’m an economist — we’re doing some studies on this now that there is a big, big difference in terms what the economy is going to look like six months and nine months and a year from now based on opening the economy, say, May 1st versus June 1st or June 15th.
You sit on the president’s economic council, is that what you are advising him right now?
For the good of the country, we have to really get things opened.
I said, “Mr. President, if you can get the economy open by May 1 and right from that date” — and by the way, that, of course, means that some states will open and others won’t — “that you could possibly see this recovery by the end of the summer, and we can really get through this.”
Why do you think we’re late in reopening?
Everybody can look at the map. And there’s a severe breakout in about 15 major metropolitan areas. And any pandemic is an urban experience, right? So the idea of having a policy in Lincoln, Nebraska, or Des Moines, Iowa, or Boise, Idaho, that’s the same as New York City is ridiculous.
What we should have done all along is really done this in a more surgical way rather than having a widespread shutdown.
I just completely reject this instant response — what I’m saying is, “Oh, this is putting profits and greed over saving lives,” and so on. That’s a false choice. After all, the people who are being hurt the most here are really the least among us, the poorest people, the middle-class people who really live paycheck to paycheck. And they are the ones who are experiencing the real deprivation and the ruination of their lives. The misery and toil that we’re putting on people at the bottom is extraordinary here.
What public health officials would say is that part of the reason those places haven’t seen the same level of illness is because they did shut down. And if you reopen the virus will spread.
Well, it’s a fair point. I can’t argue against that.
I’m not a public health official. Maybe I’ve got this wrong, but it’s because people get these diseases in congested areas. So in the middle of Little Washington, Va., you’re not having people crowded together. So you don’t need the same kind of measures in a little town like that as you do in New York City or Chicago or Detroit.
Do you think the public health officials are taking the economic issues seriously enough?
I can’t talk for everyone in the public health community but when people like Fauci — I know one thing that just set people off was when Fauci said, “We’re sorry for the inconvenience.” Look, this is no inconvenience. This is a trauma that we’ve never seen our country in 75 years. And this is life altering for people, and many people will never get their lives back to what it was before. So that’s insulting, frankly, to say that to the people who are — 20 or 23 million people, it’s probably going to be closer to 30 million by the end of this week, in unemployment lines. You have to calibrate that versus what are we doing to public health and our society, our societal well-being by impoverishing our people. And that’s what we’re doing.
There’s also a racial component, right, which is that the people more likely to get sick and die from the virus are more likely to be African-American. We’ve seen that data too. So how do you weigh the racial inequalities of this virus?
The people who are suffering the most are minorities. There’s no question about that. By the way, that’s in no small part because minorities tend to be living in major cities where they’re living close together. But they also are the people — I mean, look at the people in the soup lines and the people waiting for The Salvation Army trucks. I mean, they are minorities as well. They are the ones whose lives have been really shattered.
We can use really good public safety measures, social distancing the work force, disinfectants everywhere, masks. I was thinking this morning, and this is just kind of a thought experiment because I was thinking about this — why don’t we just put everybody in a space outfit or something like that? No. Seriously, I mean —
Well, we’d have to make the space outfits, right?
I know we don’t have space outfits [laughter]— I mean, just thinking out loud, and maybe this is a crazy idea, but instead of just locking down the economy, putting everybody in a kind of — you’re right. You have to make 200 million of these, but it wouldn’t have cost $3 trillion to do that. And you can have for months people just walking around in these kind of — I mean, I was looking online, and there are all these kinds of suits that they’re building now that you’re not exposed and you’re breath — kind of ventilator.
Speaking of lacking mass production, do you think the testing is there to reopen? There’s an argument that you can’t go back to work without more testing.
I have a strong feeling about that, which is I think that the people who are in favor of keeping the economy shut down, that testing has become an excuse to keep the economy locked down for more weeks.
That’s become the mantra, right? We have to have testing. Nobody argues that testing isn’t a good thing. But can we afford to wait three weeks or whatever it’s going to take so we have all the testing? No. We’ve got to start now. Look, the summer is going to be a catastrophe. It’s going to be really, really bad. We’re going to have long, long unemployment lines, and we’re going to see 15, 20 percent unemployment, just horrific. They talk about bending the curve of the disease, but we also have to bend the curve of unemployment, poverty.
Americans, I think, are just under this delusion that what’s going to happen is a month from now, it will all be — we’ll have hopefully conquered this disease, and we can all go outside again. It will be sort of back to what it was. No. It’s going to be like a nuclear bomb was dropped on the economy. People aren’t just going to go right back to their jobs and so on. It’s going to be really, really, really rough. We’re going to have effects that affect our society for a decade from this shutdown.
Why do you think the blue states have been more cautious about reopening?
This country is so divided along ideological grounds today that it is — it’s frightening to me actually. What you’re going to see is a kind of economic civil war over the next 10 weeks between red states and blue states. Red states are opening; blue states aren’t.
You’re going to have commerce going on in Nashville, Tennessee, but not in Detroit, not in Chicago, and not in New York City.
It sounds like the world you envision to start as soon as possible is one where we’re all wearing masks; some businesses are open; some businesses aren’t open; and it’s county by county. Or do you think everything should just sort of open up, and we go back with masks and social distance the best we can, or?
I’m just saying let’s be really smart about it. And maybe by a county-by-county basis. Definitely using disinfectants, using screening, using — when you go to the White House, you have to take your temperature. I don’t have a problem with if you go into a restaurant, you have to take your temperature, or if you go into any kind of public place — and opening businesses that don’t have people in close proximity or having tables apart from each other and that kind of thing and just doing it on a rolling basis.
Look, there’s going to be risks to this. The nightmare is if we start to reopen up things on a rolling basis, and then we have another outbreak. And that would be horrific. That would be horrific in every way, right? So I’m not insensitive to the risks here because we just don’t know what is going to happen with this virus. All I’m saying is that if we keep economy shut down for another month, we will have a kind of second Great Depression, and that involves untold human misery that we don’t even want to contemplate.
But isn’t the concern of the second outbreak part of what necessitates the stay-at-home orders? Are you saying because we don’t know when, or if, a second outbreak could happen, the health risk is worth taking because the economic costs are potentially so severe?
I don’t even like to put it in a trade-off. What I’m saying is we have no choice. If you don’t have an economy that’s functioning, you don’t have a society. I mean, we’re going to have people starving so we don’t have any choice here really. We have to get things up and running. We have to be really smart. We have to have a functioning economy. How are we going to do it in the smartest way possible with the best screening, best testing? So that’s my take.
Are you wearing a mask when you go out?
Oh, you are?
The reason I’m doing it is because I think it makes people feel uncomfortable if you don’t have a mask. So I’m not doing it for my own health.
Look, I think we should all be sensitive to people. There’s no big deal about wearing a mask. I mean, do I like wearing it? No. I don’t. It gets kind of smelly, stuff like that. But people should be sensitive to other people’s concerns.
But look, I have a problem now when I go out and play basketball with my kids and — with four, five kids playing basketball. And then the neighbors are calling the police on us. I mean, it’s like ridiculous. I mean, what is this? Russia? I have a big problem with that, with busybodies and bossy people.
All right. Well, thank you so much.
You too. Stay healthy.
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We’re sharing some of your dispatches from around the globe about life in the time of coronavirus.
Today, we have Nancy Tolson, of Indianapolis.
I am 84 with mild C.O.P.D. I live alone, and believe me, since late February, that is completely alone! I want to stay alive long enough to see my great-grandchildren again, and I have determined that it will take a year or more to do so. I will continue my social distancing until there is a vaccine. Fortunately, I drive, and can pick up grocery items outside the store. I get meds at the drive-through.
I spend my days reading, talking by phone with family and with friends I haven’t been in touch with until recently, watching some TV (never the White House briefings!), and keeping in touch with various groups by email. I am finishing the wonderful book by John Meacham, “The Soul of America.”
My biggest concern is that I am not able to visit my two CASA cases. I am a volunteer for Child Advocates, and our responsibility is to watch over children and youth in foster care, making sure that they are safe and secure. I would normally visit my homes at least once a month, but now cannot do so. I am speaking with them by phone, but this is not as satisfactory since it is important to get visuals about how they look, react, etc.
As for my mental state, I am content most of the time. I do tear up at some of the public announcements from stations, businesses and individuals when they send love and good wishes, but I have learned one thing in 84 years: This too shall pass.
Have you come up with a clever way to manage social distancing? How’s that distance learning going? We want to hear it. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Don’t forget to include your name and where you live.)
This is ridiculously impressive, especially to a terrible tennis player like me.
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