Who Really Decides When America Reopens?

The powers-that-be have come to a decision. A ‘tremendous decision’ we’re told and shared with us yesterday in PowerPoint glory.

Good news, people! We now have The Plan.

The three-phase plan proposes a gradual state by state opening. Soon, we’re told, Governors will make speeches, executive orders shall be signed, and restrictions on normal behavior will be lifted. Gradually. Safety First.

Will this be enough to save our economy from the Greater Depression?

I suspect not.

There are at least three fundamental points these elected ‘leaders’ don’t understand:

Benefit of the Doubt

They have been given an undeserved ‘benefit of the doubt’ by the public. So far, folks have been willing to put up with ineptitude, grandstanding, and bailouts for wall street and poorly-led big companies. The clock is ticking as the little bit of remaining credibility evaporates.

Market Forces, Not Mandate

The choices of individuals and businesses - market forces - led to social distancing and huge slowdowns in economic activity. My company started working remote in late February. By early March, many companies - big companies even - had embraced social distancing and remote work. Americans knew something was going on and they knew they should take steps to take care of themselves. Yes, sometimes it went overboard, toilet paper hoarders, for instance. But, that’s not the point.

The important thing to remember is that all of that - the free choices of free individuals - happened before even 500 tests were done in America.

Reading the crowd, our elected ‘leadership’ rushed to the head of the social distancing parade. And, as they do, they made speeches to explain all the good they’ve done preparing. They signed official documents which mandated the responsible choices many were already making. And, in some cases, they added a little extra so that we knew who was in charge.

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Voluntary Compliance

Our society is based on a system of voluntary compliance. It’s robust glue for a properly functioning society. But, if you think the virus spreads fast - wait until you see the exponential growth in non-compliance when people start to suffer in mass… like when tens of millions lose their jobs.

And when authorities become authoritarian - like when a father is arrested for playing T-ball with his daughter in an empty park. Or when a man surfing alone is dragged away in handcuffs. Or when governors decide certain things are non-essential and, therefore, illegal like buying clothing.

Ubiquitous Testing And Confidence

Last month I made the case that the only way to Re-Open America was to roll out ubiquitous testing.

The only way America can start to open up is if we radically change our approach and capabilities for testing.

We need to look at testing not as a tool to determine treatment, but as a tool to determine carrier status so non-carriers can go back to work.

If you’re a carrier, do the responsible thing and self-isolate and get the care you need. 

If you’re not a carrier and not in a high-risk group, you don’t need to sit at home wondering and wasting away. And, if you were previously infected -whether you had symptoms or not - and beat the virus you likely have some immunity.

Testing is the answer.

I published this article trying to interject the need for testing into the larger conversation. Other folks were pushing this idea too and, a week later, it got picked up by some high profile people.

Daily testing was going up fast, but then it leveled off and even ticked down.

And as of today (April 16th), total testing in the US is well ahead of other countries

But, these numbers create the wrong impression. The US is, in fact, way behind other countries in the percentage of total population tested.

Among the Many Limits of Dictatorship…

China declared the all clear and told its people to get back to work. The order, apparently, was largely ignored according to a satellite firm that monitors economic activity.

It didn’t work in China because - even in China - the government doesn’t create anything, people do. And people won’t return to normalcy until some semblance of confidence is restored.

Why would anyone believe a government mandate to restart the economy would work here?

No government dictate will magically instill consumer confidence. And, at this point, no plan to reopen the economy will work if it hinges on citizen’s trust in the same institutions that bungled this thing to begin with.

Cheap, self-administered, easily available testing is what Americans need to feel confident enough to return to normal life.

Serological tests - which require a pin prick, a drop or two of blood, and 15 minutes to process - already exist today.

The many reasons why they aren’t everywhere is further evidence that our institutions have failed us.

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