Some Americans are angry. On Wednesday, thousands of Michigan residents — in their vehicles — brought traffic in Lansing to a standstill. A spokesperson for Operation Gridlock said there’s a clear message for the governor who has locked down the state: “Instead of talking about what’s essential and nonessential, let’s talk about what’s safe and not safe.”
Some Americans are simply saddened. Dallas’ beloved Khao Noodle Shop will close its doors and stop serving its acclaimed Laotian meals. Owner Donny Sirisavath explains, “We’ve exhausted our minds, our bodies, and we’ve exhausted our bank accounts.”
Throughout the nation, Americans are ready to get back to work. We’ve upended our lives in recent weeks; we’ve adopted the habits, from hand-washing to social distancing, that will help ensure that the coronavirus takes as few lives as possible. And it has worked. All signs say we are flattening the curve.
But new data isn’t resulting in new approaches from our elected officials. Indeed, in some places, the lockdowns are getting even more restrictive. When residents of Raleigh, N.C., objected, the Raleigh Police Department broke up a small and socially distanced rally, dismissively saying on Twitter, “Protesting is a non-essential activity.”
The economic hardship being inflicted now will be lasting — and every day we keep our shops and manufacturers shuttered, we prolong the suffering.
It’s time to reopen the U.S. economy. Let’s enact sensible policies — made at the state and local levels — based on safety and the very best data available.
As economist and George Mason University Professor Tyler Cowen points out, “The lockdown is the No. 1 feature of just about everyone’s life at the moment — even in states not officially or completely locked down.”
The first step is to change our mindset — let’s flip our assumptions. From the early days of this crisis, we have operated under the assumption that all activities and gatherings deemed “nonessential” are unsafe. Yet throughout these long weeks of staying at home, there have been notable exceptions. Grocery stores, some big-box retailers and fast-food joints have been open (if only for drive-thru), and we have dutifully tried to maintain our social distances.
And we’ve all made our own risk analyses for things like trips to the craft store and walks in the park. For the most part, we’ve made the adjustments we’ve felt were necessary — and that we’re comfortable with.
So now, let’s make the logical and supportable assumption that most activities, when combined with our well-practiced social distancing and hygiene measures, are safe. We can make allowances for certain regions (looking at you, Manhattan), populations (such as the immunocompromised) and activities (no stadium concerts yet, Mick and Keith).
In other words, instead of shutting it all down, and making exceptions for essential goods and services, we should be ready to open up the economy, making exceptions to protect those who are truly at risk.
What would that look like? We’d reopen the struggling retailers who are losing ground every day to the online giants. We’d open the stores and shops and offices and manufacturing plants that all have next month’s rent looming over them. We’d let restaurants host gatherings of families and friends again.
Americans can be trusted to practice those habits we’ve all learned so well in recent weeks. It’s time for government to get out of the way and let us get back to work — when and where the best data confirm for us it’s safe.
Some of us are angry; some of us are sad. We have all suffered in recent weeks — not least because lives have been lost to this illness. But we need not prolong suffering through a painful, self-inflicted recession.
America is ready to move forward.