It has been said, “Opinions are like @ssholes, because everybody has one. But after weeks of holding back throughout this whole pandemic crisis, I can no longer do so. Here is my checklist of observances and opinions that keep me awake at night.
- Masks. I am sickened and outraged about the lies our government has purported upon us regarding the use of masks in the general population as an effective defense against COVID-19. We were told that they were not necessary and that their usage should be limited to health care workers. But now that the shortage of masks for health care workers seems to have abated somewhat, we are now told that everyone should wear facial coverings. But the messaging stops short of advising use of approved N95 or common surgical masks as that would further impact the supply for health care workers and entice general hoarding even more. If anyone questions the efficacy of masks as a tool against contagious disease, look no further than Japan, South Korea, or even Hong Kong as evidence.
- Corona Task Force Daily Briefings. I appreciate the information presented at these briefings by the respective experts in their field. But the sideshow created daily by the stupid and politicized questions from the press from the likes of Jonathon Karl, ABC (aka The Mickey Mouse Club) and Jim Acosta, CNN (aka The Communist News Network) and Trump’s generally off -topic and incoherent responses makes me cringe.
- States vs Federal Government. Sprinkled throughout the Briefings discussed above, Trump likes to imply that the individual states need to solve their own problems. He chastises them for not having medical stockpiles in place to fight this pandemic. He doesn’t seem to get it that the states are stepping all over each other and the federal government to procure limited medical supplies. He responds naively that the government will simply pull back its bid if they discover that they are bidding against a state. It is just absurd to think that the federal government could manage this. Well herein lies the reality folks. States do not have a printing press with unlimited access to dollars. Further, many states have credit ratings close to Junk while burdened with hundreds of millions of dollars of unfunded pension liabilities. California alone has over $90,000 in unfunded pension debt per household.
- Universal Basic Income. Well over a year ago, I penned an article for the consideration of adopting a Universal Basic Income for all citizens and legal residents in the United States. https://wjexchange.wordpress.com/2018/07/14/the-case-for-universal-basic-income/ This initiative was the cornerstone of Andrew Yang’s bid for the Democratic nomination for President. As an unintended consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, it looks like we now have such a measure in place. The government has pledged $1200 per month for all residents that meet the income threshold. Additionally, the federal government has agreed to top off state’s unemployment benefits by $600 per week. While I have no beef with the $600 weekly unemployment subsidy, the $1200 monthly program seems a little misguided to me. I fail to see how a married couple making a secured income up to $150,000/year should be entitled to an additional $28,800 annualized equivalent from this stimulus package ($1200 X 2 = $2400 X 12 = $28,800). Wouldn’t the national interest be better served if that money earmarked for the presumably well-off went to those at the poverty level? For the stimulus to work as intended, the grant money would be circulated back into the economy. However, it is my belief and conviction that this extra “found” money for those with secure unaffected incomes will merely be saved and not spent.
- Then there is the public outcry over Navy Captain Brett Cozier who was relieved of command for his letter exposing positive Corona Virus testing among crew members of the aircraft carrier, USS Roosevelt. While I am sympathetic to his intentions, I have a newsflash to share. “The U.S. Military is Not a Democracy.” The core of military readiness is discipline. Without it, you have an ineffective fighting force. To maintain discipline, you must adhere to the chain of command. Members of the military are governed by the UCMJ, Uniformed Code of Military Justice. Like it or not the UCMJ trumps individual liberties granted under the constitution or elsewhere.
- Now, a few words about the Food Supply Chain. This is an area that I know something about having served over 40 years in the business. Headlines abound about farmers dumping milk and eggs, and plowing fields of fresh produce. Half of the food supply is dedicated to foodservice, ie., restaurants, hotels, institutions etc. That business has virtually disappeared. It is very difficult to convert that foodservice output to retail. Among the obstacles is the conversion to packaging acceptable to retail and just gaining access to the system. Obtaining a vendor code alone, takes weeks and more. The concern now is will farmers reduce their spring planting because of the demand shift. This could create severe shortages in the summer months even if we defeat the virus.
- Finally, a last word about the Politics of the Time and how we work our way back to prosperity. Narratives should not be structured to fit into a blue or red box, but unfortunately that is the reality. Just listen to the opening line on the nightly news. If the latest model shows a range of 100,000 to 240,000 anticipated deaths from the pandemic, ABC news will lead with the 240,000 number to fit their politics, and not with the lower number. If the estimate is revised downward to 60,000, they will lead with the total deaths and downplay the progress of a reduced forecast. On the red side, Fox News will quote Trump boasting that the economy will come roaring back stronger than ever. That may happen and I hope it does, but it will take months or even years for that to happen. By the time it is all said and done, we will have added another 6 Trillion dollars to our deficit. There is no other way. It had to be done. But with the world awash with newly minted dollars, what will it do to the future purchasing power of our currency? I don’t claim to be smart enough with the answer.But it seems to me that we will have to grow our way out of this mess. This means repatriating manufacturing and production back to the USA away from the likes of China particularly with pharmaceuticals and other critical goods. Automation and Artificial Intelligence must play a key role in all of this to make it happen. The chief reason for outsourcing to China has always been lower labor costs. As automation and artificial intelligence takes hold, the cost gap should narrow. Before this crisis, the unemployment rate was around 3%. With this reboot of repatriating manufacturing and a renewed emphasis on rebuilding our infrastructure, it is doubtful that our labor force will be sufficient to handle it. While the transformation takes place, we will still need customers to purchase our increased output, so we there may still be a need for subsidies to the under employed and unemployable in this new era economy. This goes back to some version of Universal Basic Income.