I’LL SAY IT AGAIN: AMERICA, WAKE UP!
In a choice between the economy and public health, I choose life. So should we all.
by Alexis Glick
Last week I published a piece entitled AMERICA, WAKE UP!, in which I stressed the need for us to “push for a pause.”
I joined New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, financier Bill Ackman, and others in calling for an “extended spring break” as the only way not only to stem and suppress coronavirus contagion, but to give us the breathing time we need as a nation to think through next steps.
This week, we’re hearing what to many seem like dangerously early calls from Washington for a “return to normal,” as early as the first week of April, just when medical experts suggest a peak in coronavirus cases. What are we thinking?!
We have got to wake up to the fact that a full U.S. 50-state shutdown, except for essential services, is the only thing that’s going to halt the spread.
As I write this, New York infections are soaring. Spain’s death toll from the virus is now 3,400 — surpassing China’s. India has locked down for 3 weeks what The New York Times has described as “a fifth of humanity” — 1.3 billion people. Russian president Vladimir Putin is delaying key votes as the situation becomes serious in Russia. And as of this morning, front-page news in The New York Times cries “U.S. Jobless Claims Are Highest On Record.”
And yet, almost unbelievably, in Washington some are talking about Easter as a goal for lifting stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders.
The scientific community is uniformly opposed to this, with The Washington Post reporting that experts feel “easing coronavirus restrictions would be disastrous.” But frustratingly science doesn’t seem to matter to some for whom the state of the economy is paramount — more important, it seems, even than human life.
It would be the ultimate tragedy if this crisis, in our kind and compassionate nation of all places, devolves into a battle between Wall Street and the public health community.
Believe me, no one is more cognizant of the importance of a healthy economy than I am. Before becoming CEO of a youth-wellness nonprofit, I ran a trading floor for Morgan Stanley at the New York Stock Exchange; spent a decade as an institutional equity trader; was a founding VP at Fox Business News; and hosted two Wall Street-focused cable-news shows, “Money for Breakfast” and “The Opening Bell.”
Wall Street is in my DNA. But with the health of the public at stake in this pandemic, I promise you we can weather a period of fiscal malaise, even a serious one, if that’s the price to be paid for conquering this scourge. The economy can rebound. The dead cannot.
On Tuesday Bill Gates termed the desire on the part of some to reopen the global economy “very irresponsible.” We can’t simply restart everything and say “ignore that pile of bodies over in the corner.”.
On Anderson Cooper’s Coronavirus Town Hall last night on CNN, Gates explained with great insight, “We’re entering into a tough period where if we do it right, we’ll only have to shut down for 6–10 weeks — but it has to be the whole country.” State-by-state or county-by-county just doesn’t work. As for the states and counties that only have 100 cases now, “that grows 33% a day,” Gates pointed out, “it’s exponential.” In other words, if you’re not stopping the country as a whole, you’re not stopping it.
And no, I’m absolutely not saying “the economy be damned.” I have been lobbying for serious relief — for small business especially — for weeks. So I say bravo to a bipartisan Congress for the $2 trillion stimulus package just passed. It’s a huge step in the right direction, both for American business and consumers (although the word “stimulus” is perhaps a misnomer in an economy where money can’t actually be spent in stores. I prefer to call it a lifeline, and an urgently needed one).
Supporting my argument that the sky is not going to fall if we keep focused on overcoming the coronavirus, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell who vowed that the central bank is “not going to run out of ammunition” in the coronavirus fight on NBC’s Today Show. Ceding that there may well be a recession as people “intentionally withdraw from normal life to protect their health,” he reassuringly reminded us that the economy would indeed rebound, and that in the meantime, “stepping back from activity is meant to ensure public health.” Urging caution and patience in this battle, he stated logically and coolly, “At a certain point we will get the spread of the virus under control and at that time confidence will return.”
This kind of growing good sense is increasingly being seen in the debate between “stay at home” vs. “end the shutdown.” Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff applauded the massive shutdown in India, which The New York Times called “the biggest and most severe action undertaken anywhere to stop the spread of the coronavirus,” and urged “We [the U.S.] needs to do the same.”
Meanwhile, spontaneous acts of corporate generosity are emerging daily. Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson committed to paying his employees for the next 30 days as they’re out of work, and CNBC’s Jim Cramer challenged other CEO’s to do the same.
I’m confident that this kind of big-heartedness and common sense will prevail. Even Treasury Secretary Mnuchin reassured Americans that they should receive direct deposits for financial aid within three weeks, and that the record jobless claims on Thursday “are not relevant” to the long term.
Most importantly, a particularly disturbing line of discussion in all of this involves the elderly.
Since they are among the most vulnerable to the virus, a good deal of commentary has involved the realization that, if we lift the stay at home orders, it is our parents and grandparents that we are putting most at risk. One Lieutenant Governor even suggested Monday that “he and other older Americans should be willing to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the economy . . .”
Are you kidding me? That’s outrageous. The idea that the lives of a “greatest generation” of Americans are less important than a robust economy is tasteless at best. We are far better than this.
Join me in raising your voice to “push for a pause.” Corporate America gets it. Some governors get it. Scientists and medical experts certainly get it. Let’s say it loud and clear. The economy will recover in the long term if we do the right thing. Lives lost from a generation who made countless sacrifices on our behalf is unacceptable. We need to be loud and clear, America, and wake up to what is really at stake for all of us, after all this is the UNITED States of America.
Alexis Glick is chief executive officer of GENYOUth, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating healthier school communities through programs in partnership with the National Football League and the National Dairy Council. She is a frequent national television commentator on topics related to global business, the financial markets and CEO leadership trends.