Hold on here a minute. The other day I was on in front when I heard a neighbour refer to "the United S--tshow of America," and it shook me up a bit. As an ordinarily partisan person, I was taking a certain amount of unholy pleasure in the egg on Donald Trump's face, but this has gone way, way too far. I'm glad to see that my friends here on the Hero Boards aren't going as crazy partisan as some, and observing that since the deaths in the United States haven't gone as high as some have predicted, the whole social-distancing/shelter in place thing was unnecessary. But. . .
i) The United States has already seen 813,000 COVID-19 cases and 45,000 deaths. A reasonable extrapolation takes this forward to deaths in the six figure range, but only if social distancing measures remain in place. So far, no jurisdiction has been so bold as to end social distancing prematurely --and, make no mistake, it would be premature to do this in the United States right now-- but Italy, which implemented its lock down too late, has seen 60,000 deaths. By simple extrapolation, that would correspond to 350,000 dead Americans. I hope that we can all agree that that is completely unacceptable.
ii) Comparisons with the East Asian countries, which had institutional experience, cultural adaptation, favourable geography, and a timely response, is idle fantasy. Even had the United States had those advantages, the moment when this could have been Singapore, even assuming that Singapore's late spike is contained, is long gone.
iii) Texas, today, is reporting 20,200 cases and 517 deaths in the familiar pattern of exponential growth beginning to damp off after two weeks of lockdown. The distribution of cases is statewide. This is uncontrolled community spread. The only reason that the death totals seem reasonable is that this is comparatively early in the pandemic. Many more of those 20,200 will die, and more will catch the disease, and more will die. Tracking and monitoring is impossible in this situation. The only way that a jurisdiction can move to a managed reopening is by first getting new cases down to the point where each one can be identified and the contacts traced. That is not possible here, and won't be possible for several weeks, at least. Any scaling back of the lockdown will just throw away the gains already made. Again, the Italian case shows what can happen. You don't need complex models to understand what is going to happen to any jurisdiction so foolish as to try to ride out a COVID19 pandemic on the scale of Italy's. You just say to yourself, "Like Italy, but worse."
iv) When the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbour, the result was, in the short term, massive unemployment. This ended as labour shifted to war work. But it also shifted because a full 10% of the American population was drafted, and was essentially paid to do nothing productive for five years. All of this was paid for by the familiar mechanics of war finance, and the United States came of the experience the stronger for it.
I'm not seeing why the coronavirus has to be different. I can see why one might choose for it to be different. The immediate postwar era was the golden age of what Keynes called "the euthanasia of the rentier, year after year of inflation higher than interest rates and high taxes to contain inflation. And yet it is also remembered as a period of prosperity for the middle and working classes --an era in which wealth inequality fell to historically low levels and in which we saw unprecedented social and technological progress.
I say we choose that future. Since it also happens to be the future in which many fewer people die, it strikes me as a no-brainer. That being said, I don't have $10 billion in the bank subject to the insidious wealth tax of inflation-above-interest-returns, so maybe I'm just a special interest.