Congress just passed another bailout bill for small businesses, this time for $484 billion (that’s billion with a ‘B’) on top of the earlier $350 billion bailout for small business that somehow never seemed to get to any small business that I’m aware of—certainly not to The Malibu Times. Frankly, I’m no more optimistic that they’ll do any better this time than last time. The weakness in all these appropriations is that someone has to actually pass out the money. That someone, either in the White House or the treasury department, or who knows where else, will get to make the judgment as to who is and who isn’t “small business,” and who is first in line and who is last. The first $350 billion went to international hotel chains and some other hospitality industry handouts, and it happened so quickly that the money was gone before any of us even got our paperwork processed by our banks. Ultimately, we’ll find out who got it, but you can rest assured it will long after the November presidential election. Hopefully, Trump’s boys and girls will realize it isn’t in their political interest to just give it to their friends, but this administration has always been a bit short on farsightedness so I’m not checking my mailbox daily to see if the treasury check arrived, but I’m still hoping.
Meanwhile, as we all are sitting around going broke, the bigger question is, “When do we start opening up the country, and the business of the country?” The virus has stopped our economy dead in its tracks and the quicker we open up the country the more dangerous the public health risk. How much more, we can only just guess. We are faced with a very difficult decision: What level of loss (meaning Americans dying) are we willing to accept to get our economy moving again? It’s the kind of decision that generals have to make in wartime as to what is an acceptable level of loss to accomplish a strategic objective. We currently have had roughly 42,000 deaths from the novel coronavirus. Are we willing to accept double or triple that number of deaths to get our economy back into gear? I guess the answer is—that depends. If you’re the person dying, or the family of a person dying, that is a very high price for someone else’s prosperity. If you escape, then it was probably worth it. It’s not a very patriotic calculation but many will make it after the fact.
So, let’s see what risks we take if we open up now, like they’re contemplating in Georgia. Like most states, Georgia is a mix of urban, suburban and rural. My own sense is that, the denser the population, the greater the risk because in a city there are that many more daily interactions with other people. Look at us here in Malibu. We probably have among the lowest density in LA County and also a comparatively low level of virus. It’s far easier to stay safe and maintain separation among people in Malibu than it would be in Century City or downtown. Also, the affluent have the luxury of space; therefore, the non-affluent are at a much higher rate of risk. So, in Georgia, if you live in rural Georgia, I’m guessing your risk is lower than it would if you lived in the city of Atlanta and, for the suburbs, probably somewhere in between. Georgia is volunteering to be the guinea pig for the nation, which is both courageous and kind of stupid, which I suspect is also the definition of their governor. In time, we’ll find out the cost of the risk.
At some point, we are all going to have to make some personal decisions as to how much risk we are willing to take, so I’ve made a little questionnaire for myself.
Q1 Am I willing to keep wearing a mask and maintain a six-foot separation?
A1 Yes, no problem.
Q2 Am I willing to go to the newspaper to work?
A2 Again, yes, because most all of our people are working remotely and the building has three to four people at the most.
Q3 Am I willing to invite people to dinner at the condo?
A3 This is a little tougher because it’s harder to maintain separation.
Q4 Am I willing to eat out at a sit-down restaurant?
A4 Probably not for another month, even with separation.
Q5 Would I go to the beach?
A5 Maybe in July or August.
Q6 Would I take a vacation trip?
A6 Probably not until the fall.
Q7 Would I take an airplane trip?
A7 No way now. Maybe in the late fall.
Q8 Would I stay at a hotel?
A8 Not likely until late fall.
Q9 Would I visit my children and grandchildren?
A9 Probably not until I was sure I would not be endangering them.
When you add it all up, it seems to me that this economy, which is made up of millions personal decisions, is not going to come around until the end of this year, although I sincerely hope my crystal ball is wrong. What do you all think?