Daily Reformer: Is the world ending?

March 12, 2020 9:09 am

Good morning. 

Busy day at Reformer HQ. 

Scoop: Max Nesterak has tracked at least eight lawsuits around the country in which Target managers say they do the jobs of frontline workers but don’t get the overtime they deserve for it. The two most recent say they are holding out for class action status, which could mean bringing in thousands of Target “executive team leaders,” who typically work 50 hours or more per week without overtime. 

Sometimes someone says something that just really grates at me. In this case, it happened to be Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka. I wrote a thing about it and then, I gotta say, I felt much better.

I’m interested in the constitutional structure during an emergency, so Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s move to curtail public events with more than 250 people piqued my interest. I called up Rep. Pat Garofalo to ask about it, and I was surprised to hear him say, yes, it’s necessary, and yes the governor can do it without the Legislature’s approval. It was bracing, but Garofalo is a data-driven Republican, so I’m not surprised that he’s come to terms with the math on this pandemic. (Here’s a very persuasive piece on why we need to be cancelling everything. H/t Max Nesterak.)

This led to a bigger piece I wrote about what the governor’s powers are and how he can wield them. One experienced government lawyer told me the governor can’t prevent peaceable assembly. But also, it sorta doesn’t matter. 

U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar got married to her political consultant, Ricardo Lopez reports

What does Michael Corleone say in Godfather 3? That’s me on Omar coverage. 

My reporting on the governor’s emergency powers led me to this piece by a couple of political scientists on how autocrats like to use emergencies, real and invented. So that’s some uplifting reading. 

But not to worry, because our aspiring autocrat — I don’t mean Gov. Tim Walz! — doesn’t really seem to have it in him these days. If the markets are an indicator of reviews of President Trump’s nationwide address, well, they’re not real good. He restricted flights — but not trade, despite what he said in his speech — from Europe. (But not the UK, weirdly. Oh, and U.S. citizens can come home.) He also wrongly said insurers would waive co-pays for coronavirus treatment. Nope. 

Rarely has the world been more in need of a calm, collaborative, clever, compassionate leader at the helm. 

My Wednesday began with 1 a.m. reading about Washington state cancelling public events. At some point late Wednesday, I learned the NBA season had been cancelled. What? The day was filled with these kinds of hair-raising notices. Troops killed in Iraq. Tom Hanks has the virus. 

And I briefly — very briefly — pondered the cognitive overload of the human experience these days. As some writer observed once: The thing about life in a medieval village? Less stuff happened. 

What’s next: 

Walz will offer his supplemental budget picture this morning. Very difficult for budget director Myron Frans to forecast what the heck is going on now, but suffice to say we should be ready for reduced tax receipts and increasing social safety net costs. And, of course, public health expenses.

Now is the time to plow a huge amount into an infrastructure bill with borrowed money. Money is cheap and getting cheaper and our economy needs the investment because private investment is soon to tank. 

You know what we shouldn’t do? A bailout for oil companies and hotels, as is apparently being considered by the White House. Trump owns hotels. And … oil companies?

Bloomberg’s Joe Weisenthal, who helps people like me understand complicated economics, had a really insightful piece about what we should be doing. 

“Governments face a real resources constraint. Even if U.S. healthcare were to go to a 100% single-payer regime, there would simply be a limit on how many people can have a hospital bed at any given time. This is true under any system — public, privatized, or some combination of both. So what can our unlimited fiscal firepower buy us right now? In order to slow the spread of the virus, people need to stay in. Events need to keep getting cancelled. This will clobber swathes of the economy. This is where cash helps. Putting money directly into the pockets of the people mean they can still eat and pay rent when they’re not working. This would, in theory, slow the spread of the virus and prevent our real resources from hitting the breaking point. The economy consists of both money and things. And too often we think of affordability strictly in the monetary sense and we use crude measures to do so. So we look at things like “debt to GDP” or “trillion dollar deficits” to give us some indication of how maxed out we are. But those numbers don’t tell us anything about actual economic capacity and what we can afford. We can afford to spend a heck of a lot of money right now to soften the blow to the economy. We can’t afford to let virus cases all spike in a short period of time.”

We need to help people in service industries that will be affected by the virus. They are going to get hit hardest, both in exposure to disease and economic peril. Giving them money will help prevent the spread of the disease and prop up the consumer economy. 

Bear in mind: I said, people. Not firms. 

Correspond: [email protected] 

Have a blessed day all! JPC

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