Point: Why It’s Important to Completely Open the Economy
Tens of millions of Americans are fully vaccinated and tens of millions more are halfway there. For the first time in a long time, things are looking up. There’s no shortage of experts warning about the dangers of being lulled into a false sense of security, but plenty of others think that enough has long been enough. The real danger, they say, can be found in “closed” signs, empty cash registers and workdays spent making Zoom calls in pajamas.
There Was a Time When a Full Shutdown Could Have Saved the Day
Difficult but decisive action could have made all the difference early on, but that window is long closed.
“If we wanted to take the view that any interruption of the economy ultimately causes more harm than the virus could have posed, then we should have remained open and dealt with its potential consequences,” said economic and financial analyst Chris Motola of MerchantMaverick.com. “What we ended up doing instead is fail to control the spread of the virus while completely disrupting people’s lives and livelihoods–in other words: the worst of both worlds.”
The reality is that the country might have few alternatives at this point beyond either fully opening or more of the same half-measures.
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“It may be that a full lockdown is politically impossible in the U.S., in which case we’re really just dragging out the social and economic pain with a partial lockdown and should move toward reopening,” Motola said.
The Immune Population Is Big and Getting Bigger
Janet Alvarez, a personal finance expert at Wise Bread, is one of the millions of Americans who see the mass immunizations of the last few months as the all-clear they’ve been waiting for.
“Now that nearly 20% of the population has received at least an initial dose of the COVID vaccine, it may be time to consider re-opening long-closed sectors of the economy deemed higher-risk to the fully vaccinated,” Alvarez said. “For example, sporting events, concerts, bars, nightclubs, indoor dining and activities, etc. can all now be safely opened to those who are vaccinated.”
This is especially true, Alvarez added, given the updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance from March 8 that the fully vaccinated can now congregate indoors without masks or social distancing.
The Original Intent of the Shutdown Has Been Met
Sean van der Wal, managing partner at Silicon Valley private investment firm Drawing Capital, is a bit more adamant.
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“The economy should be reopened as soon as possible,” van der Wal said, using statistics from Johns Hopkins and The New York Times to back up his case. “Now, in fact. The original intent behind closing the economy was to ensure that hospitals and ICUs had enough capacity to meet demand. We can safely open the economy now, knowing full well that hospitals have plenty of capacity to help patients.”
Also, according to van der Wal, it’s mom-and-pop businesses and vulnerable populations who stand to suffer the most from a continued shutdown.
“Dragging out closures any longer just ensures that small businesses continue to lose money and the wealth divide continues to widen,” he said.
People Have Learned, Evolved and Can Self-Police
Dr. Tenpao Lee is a professor of economics at Niagara University with a Ph.D. in economics from Iowa State University. He’s confident that the last year has been a learning experience that taught at-risk individuals how to navigate safely through a newly opened economy.
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“The pandemic has changed everything,” he said. “Most people have learned and adjusted to living with COVID-19. So, even if we open the economy fully, the economy will not be back to normal fully. Travel demand may take years to recover, work at home may become permanent for some industries, masks may be a part of our daily lives, large gatherings may not be desirable in the near future, etc. Hence, opening the economy fully only means letting people make their own decisions and allowing flexibility for efficiency. The economy will open slowly at its own pace shaped by the invisible hand. Therefore, with vaccines being gradually available to everyone by the end of May, we should open the economy fully and people will behave cautiously for their self-interest. The risk to have a second pandemic should be low.”
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