Debbie M asks:
Why are businesses and government officials doing things that are bad for business in response to coronavirus (when they wouldn’t in response to the climate crisis)? I like it, but I don’t get it. It’s not like they suddenly have morals. I don’t think they were pressured by their customers or citizens. Now that it’s started, there’s plenty of peer pressure. But I don’t see what inspired the first people to start doing the things (like canceling events and closing down bars) that previously would have been considered crazy.
This relates to a more general question that drives economists CRAZY. For example, we have known that there’s an upcoming problem with social security since at least the 1980s. We’ve also known at least a dozen different plans that would “fix” it with minimal pain if any of them had been implemented back in the day (all small cuts and small tax increases). None of them happened. Social Security fixes only happen at the last minute (as with the last fix) with much more pain than is needed. It takes a lot of political will to do difficult things, but if the pain is now and the rewards are in the future, it’s not going to happen. Political will usually only happens when the emergency is now. When people see the reason for painful cuts. Politicians don’t get credit for making small slightly painful cuts now to remove the chance of big gashes later. So they sometimes try, but they don’t succeed. It’s far easier to vote no, we can’t hurt this group of people even a tiny bit now until there’s actually a crisis that forces us to hurt people a lot in order to avoid catastrophy. And then they can blame the people who didn’t make those tiny cuts in the past.
How do we fix this problem? Well-functioning governments are great– when governments are run by good people we can get multi-national accords where some of the blame can be shared in the interest of global harmony etc. The EU did a lot of stuff to fix long-term things (not enough, but they’d be much worse off without their accords) when they got together. Similarly big climate change agreements have helped a little, though Trump really destroyed that. For these to work, you need to not have the dominant party running on xenophobia.
So we could have taken steps against Corona-virus back in January (bringing back the CDC pandemics people, working internationally with test kits, upping ventilator/mask/glove/etc. production, rapid response grants, increasing customs employees, bringing people back to the US in an orderly and controlled manner, etc. etc. etc.). But the Federal government opted not to. Only when people in the US started dying did anything happen, and it’s mainly been happening at state and local levels, which is really not where the main leadership should be coming from for an infection disease that spills over to the entire country and beyond. We have managed pandemics better before, and we learned from those pandemics… but Trump fired all those people pretty early on and just threw away all of our knowledge. Instead of using known systems and experts, he gave the response to his son-in-law. It’s infuriating.
Now I need to watch some cat videos.