Trying to Save the Economy Is Killing Us
The worship of money above all has made it impossible for us to get a handle on the pandemic
A close friend of mine in Washington, D.C. recently told me he won’t be following any health experts’ continued warnings still to steer clear of retail stores or indoor restaurants, even as Covid-19 fatalities in the United States creep up again. It’s the economy, stupid, he said: America just isn’t America without maximally vibrant consumer activity. The longer we shy away from going to our crowded offices or shopping malls, he remarked portentously, “the more imperiled our descendants will become.”
Yet when I mentioned that $15,000 worth of my fees for freelance work have been delayed indefinitely — not due to lockdowns or public-health advisories but because several New York-based colleagues got sick — he offered that, difficult as it was, he thought declaring personal bankruptcy might “build my character.”
A significant number of Americans insist that any act that curtails economic activity is essentially un-American, and these people are influential.
There are so many reasons why the United States has become the firm epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic. It receives nearly 80 million international tourists a year. It has the largest domestic-travel market on Earth. Its testing capacity and medical-supply chains were wildly underprepared. President Donald Trump’s leadership has been abysmal. But one under-discussed reason is a peculiar postwar American attitude towards wealth and money.
A significant number of Americans insist that any act that curtails economic activity is essentially un-American, and these people are influential. The spread of this view has prompted governors around the nation to reopen before containing the epidemics in their states.
I hate the phrase “OK Boomer,” in general. But there is at work in these acts a distinctive mindset forged in the Baby Boom years: A conviction that the precise economic conditions that reigned in the decades just after the Second World War are the only conditions that call forth the best in the American character — combined with…