The Coronavirus Pandemic: the Remote vs the Exposed

Every week lately I begin a new post with the latest chart showing the number of new daily coronavirus infections in the U.S. There is now a slow but steady decrease in this number.  This is good news, of course, because it means that the curve has been flattened and is turning downwards.  This means that we can cautiously begin to open up the economy.

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It has been reported that 37% of jobs in the U.S. can be performed from home.  These are “remote” disproportionately knowledge workers, mostly well-educated and well-paid.

The other, roughly two-thirds, of the employed are “exposed”.  This includes everyone such as shop owner, waiter, cab driver, sales associate, factory worker, flight attendant, and so on, for whom physical presence is a job requirement.

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For the remote, social distancing and shutdowns are at most a mild irritant.  A few more weeks or even months of this response to the pandemic is easily bearable. For many of the exposed the economic shutdown has instead been a catastrophe. Their livelihoods and social sanity are at stake.

The Governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf, says that those pushing against the shutdown are “cowards”.  The Governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, has called the shutdown protesters “racist and misogynistic.”

Michigan and Pennsylvania are so-called “purple” states where the governor is from one political party (in these cases, Democratic) while both legislative chambers are from the other party.  These two states, along with Wisconsin, all went for Donald Trump in 2016 which swung the electoral vote in his favor.

The people making key decisions on how and when the shutdowns will end are not themselves members of the exposed class.  “Those who think the world can be run by remote control may well have their folly exposed as failure by those who know it can’t.”

Summary.  Prolonging economic shutdown any longer than absolutely necessary, in order to be extra safe against coronavirus infection, is a risky economic and political strategy.

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