by Mark Scheinbaum
MIAMI (April 1)--Everything will automatically be great! “April Fools!”
For the past week or two, I have responded to clients, colleagues, and my undergraduate students asking for some wisdom about understanding past, present, and future governmental and personal behavior policies regarding the Corona pandemic.
Truth-in-advertising and intellectual honesty require the usual disclaimer that these views are my own and not those of my firm, my clients, or any institutions I am connected to.
These are macro recommendations for a global macro transnational crisis but they also consider the intimate “micro” issues of fear and death. Perhaps the decision to finally put down these thoughts—was most inspired by Pope Francis. As a Jewish kid from Brooklyn, I was moved not just by the Pontiff’s call for prayer and reflection but by his alluding to the sad truth that people are dying alone, and in fear, and without the touch of a human hand.
As a “survivor” of the Cold War, urban and foreign violence as a journalist, of the Crash of 1987, the dot com bust and Y2K fears of 1999-2000, the murders on Sept. 11, 2011, the Great Recession of 2007-2009, the Corrections of 2015 and 2018, and as a caregiver for a terminally ill family member I’m still, a dad, a grandpa, and a concerned human like you.
Here’s the recovery menu:
1. IMMEDIATE FORBEARANCE- This must be instituted in the USA or any other country (Singapore already announced consideration) by executive orders or emergency legislation. There is immediate forbearance of all consumer debt, rent, loans, mortgages for 90 days. If needed it can be extended by another 90 days. This means your rent, or mortgage, or car payments for April, May, and June are delayed. A one-time administrative fee of perhaps $15 would be allowed, but otherwise, there is no late fee, the penalty fee, or interest charged for these 90 days. Your contract is simply EXTENDED by three months with regular payments and interest as before. Thus must be across the board. Your landlord has bills to contractors, local property taxes, vendors, employees, etc. Your insurance company has to pay underwriters and clerks and re-insurance hedges on your coverage. Doctors have to pay their own office people. Basically, everything is frozen. This is not a new idea. After droughts, floods, hurricanes, etc companies such as Ford have extended contracts by 90 days for years. Ranchers with truck, tractor, or car payments need flexibility when livestock or crops are impacted by disasters.
Here in Florida the large Publix supermarket chain this week announced at least a 60-day moratorium on commercial rents for tenants in their strip malls. This has to be the new norm. We all start over in 90 days.
It is my belief that stir-crazy folks will one day choose the local pizzeria over deliveries, a Mall over online ordering, and a big movie theater with popcorn over Netflix. The economic rebound will be faster than many anticipate. These loans and payments will be paid via the extensions at a rate equal to or only slightly higher than normal default rates.
One or two guesses might be lucky and correct.. But for the rest of us, the war must be personal, the social distance must be serious, and the separation from Grandma is mandatory.
I have no way of knowing if the Five O’clock Follies from Washington will talk about the recent Japanese research posted last night. You decide if the Japanese news media performed a public service by running this 6-minute story. If you think they are whackos or crackpots, that is your right. But it is NOT your right to IGNORE these reports on the grounds that your town or country or family are not likely to be impacted. Here is the link dealing with “micro-droplets” spreading around our homes and public places
What the USA and emerging markets need for serious recovery is a new look at infrastructure repair, construction, re-design, and re-thinking. President Jimmy Carter put many Americans to work with his CETA program in which “shovel ready” public works projects got off the drawing boards and into the highways and byways. Even with the usual charges of corruption, inefficiency, and nepotism, it was mostly a positive step. After his election, President Donald Trump seemed to surprise some members of Congress on both sides of the aisle when he was receptive to a Democratic plan for $1 trillion of infrastructure reform. President Trump went a step further and said his staff thought a gigantic $1.5 trillion was more likely to repair the neglect of decades. As Americans watched portions of an Interstate highway collapse in Atlanta or levees evaporate in New Orleans, the fact hit home that not since President Eisenhower backed the Interstate Highways in the 1950s has there been a massive funding of roads, bridges, sewage treatment plants, airports, etc in the USA.
Remember, Ike was not giving us a gift to speed to Aunt Molly on Thanksgiving or an OK for a GPS system for flower delivery but a critical national defense expenditure. In a Cold War of nuclear missiles, lots of weapons, personnel, and machines might have to get from Fort Benning to Fort Lewis or Camp Pendleton to Camp Lejeune.
A swift approval of infrastructure recovery and reform puts people to work immediately in many outdoor construction and survey jobs where, yes, social distance is not a problem.
The added bonus is that infrastructure is more and more “designed in the cloud” with folks at home or in IT labs cutting cost and engineering safety and productivity. From Intel to United Technologies to local consultants, there is lots of upside here. Support for these projects is needed in the BRIC (Brazil, Indian, Russia, China) universe, and in emerging markets—Colombia, Egypt, Turkey, Mexico, Indonesia, and others—where clean and efficient public projects with real demonstrated public need will serve as a catalyst for post Corona recovery.
THE CONGRESSIONAL EQUIVALENT PLAN. Every member of Congress is MY EMPLOYEE. I pay for their salaries and benefits, and so does everyone else I know. Period. I want them or their administrative assistant to open the little desk draw with the dusty HR booklets. I want the world frozen on, say 12/15/19. For the rest of my life and that of all other Americans, we want Congress to draft and approve and the President to sign into law a bill which gives every American exactly the same medical, prescription, hospitalization, catastrophic care, disability income, and retirement benefits received by every Member of the House and Senate. If there is a “grid” for longevity where a freshman gets less than a three-term Senator, fine. We will pro-rate the benefits for ourselves on the basis of the number of years we have been paying taxes. But we have to fight hard for this demand with no o discussion of ObamaCare vs. Trumpcare. Each American will be guaranteed the highest level of health care available to any member of Congress. If VIP amenities and extended care are allowed for Senators at Bethesda, MD, the federal government has a choice of building centers for comparable care within a reasonable drive from Eagle Nest, NM, Two Egg, FL or Erie, PA or transporting patients to the location where such coverage exists. I don’t want to know the impact on the budget or taxes until the bill is drafted. Just like $ 2 trillion approved 96-0 in the Senate for a 100-plus page bill few Senators ever glanced at, this new health care reality set up new and innovative mindsets and priorities for the next inevitable pandemic.
Did an anti-intellectual, anti-academic, anti-global warming White House really denude an entire public health hierarchy built with civil servants trained to protect America? Were a collection of former Fox newsies, personal bodyguards, golf caddies, and totally unqualified Cabinet members left to influence Executive Branch public health policy? Were troubled Italian politicians and bankers sucking up to every trade package, incentive, and cultural exchange from China creating the biggest Sino-Italian connection since Marco Polo returned with fireworks and spaghetti? Did this Chinese desire to invest, influence and one-day control institutions in Venezuela, Nicaragua, or even Italy force an “open faucet” of tens of thousands of Chinese—some of them carrying Corona 19—in and out of Italy and then the rest of Europe with literal and figurative impunity? What about price gouging? What about front-running members of Congress trading stocks on inside Congressional information? Or the 50 cents face masks that are now $9?
By the end of this year, with or without a virtual elimination of the pandemic the International Court at The Hague, or the World Health Organization, The Vatican, the International Red Cross or Anderson Cooper and a resurrected Bill O’Reilly need to convene a second Nuremberg-style trial. Instead of half-proven, inflammatory and often unfounded charges of what should have been done three weeks or three years ago, an independent international panel of experts needs to have the power to arrest, try, fine and/or imprison individuals and corporate or governmental leaders who caused the epidemic to become a pandemic? Let’s just call it the world’s ultimate errors and omissions insurance policy.
Conclusion: Although the essence of these five points might seem to be pointed at the United States, they are not. Smart economists and public administrators can, will, and should punch deep holes into each point above. But saying one, some, or all of my points “can never happen” is irrelevant to my motivation for sharing them with you. I keep thinking about the feelings of Pope Francis preaching to an empty plaza.. because it’s my guess…. that at some time in your life you held the hand of a loved one when they died, and that was important to you both.
MARK SCHEINBAUM,. is a former United Press newsman; managing director of Shearson Financial Services, adjunct professor of International Relations and Political Science at Florida International University, Miami, and the editor of The Media and International Relations, (March) 2020, Cognella University Readers, San Diego, CA.
All that means nothing compared to what is coming to the economy .the everything bubble was popped by the virus pin .1929/32 but worse