I was struck by something in this Paul Waldman column, quoting Washington Governor Jay Inslee, about shortages of medical supplies:
Inslee noted that he recently asked the CEO of a private company that is manufacturing the transport medium for tests if it could ramp up production with double shifts.
“She said, ‘Well, maybe — we have to find a way to finance that,’” Inslee told me. This surprised him, because it seems like something the federal government should already be communicating with such manufacturers about.
It struck me that if the law of supply and demand is that compelling, why wouldn’t the manufacturer step up and start double shifts without being asked? Clearly the demand is there. But apparently, in this situation, people making the component parts of the much-needed coronavirus tests can’t or won’t crank up production without government intervention.
Here’s another example:
One major problem is that the federal government’s haphazard approach has created a vast mismatch in availability among disparate parts needed to make testing possible.
For instance, Inslee noted, the state has unused testing capacity right now in large part because it lacks one thing: the swabs needed to take samples.
“It seems ridiculous that the United States can’t produce enough swabs to solve this problem,” Inslee told me. “I have 50 or 60 long-term care facilities that have infections in them that we literally have not been able to do the testing we want of remaining residents and staff.”
Yeah, that’s ridiculous. No question. I can understand that it takes time and money to tool up to produce ventilators, but swabs? I thought that the all-powerful and perfect Free Market just automatically adjusts to produce whatever the public wants. It’s like magic, right? (She said, snarkily.) In this case, the market is government, but why wouldn’t the government’s money be as good as the private sector’s?
In the case of tests, we’re going to be needing them for a long, long time. Assuming the virus is contained and the number of new cases begins to recede, we can’t just all stampede back to work and out to restaurants and ball parks without starting the spread up again. We’ll need to test the heck out of everybody and isolate the infected to get back to anything approximating normal, at least until there’s a vaccine. Which likely won’t be until some time next spring, if then.
Some local officials are disappointed the federal government will end funding for coronavirus testing sites this Friday. In a few places those sites will close as a result. This as criticism continues that not enough testing is available.
Yep, you heard that right. Trump expects states to pick up the tab and pay for their own tests, in spite of the fact that states have to live within budgets and a lot of them probably have no money to pay for tests unless they take money out of other parts of the budget that have already been cut to the bone. Ironically, red states will be hurt the worst, but Trumpers are too dim to realize that.
And, of course, the Trump Administration is defunding testing now. Trump says states should get their own stuff and only rely on the federal government as a “last resort.” It’s been “last resort” time for a few weeks now.
So, in spite of the fact that there’s a big, honking, life-or-death need for tests — and more hospitals, and more ventilators, and more PPE, and a lot of other stuff — the Free Market appears helpless to do anything about it, because it’s not clear where the money is coming from to pay for it. And there is no part of private, for-profit industry set up to provide for public health on this scale, including our famous for-profit health care system.
The glorious and holy Free Market may be really good at giving us all the toasters and DVD players we want (although not, apparently, toilet paper in a pinch), there’s a lot it can’t do. It doesn’t build hospitals in rural areas, for example, because there’s no profit in it. Not everything people really truly need can be produced at a profit. Let’s not even get started on the inability of the Free Market to provide universal health care, or even consistent and affordable health care for anybody but the very wealthy.
By relying on business models that don’t apply to the role of government and refusing to deploy the resources and authorities of the federal government, Trump and his enablers have pretty much screwed the nation. But this failure is more than just Trump, and it’s been a long time coming. See something I wrote back in bleeping 2009, The U.S. as a Failed State.
To add insult to injury, Reuters reports that George Laffer is speaking up about what the U.S. needs to do to get its economy moving again. Y’all are going to love this —
Tax non-profits. Cut the pay of public officials and professors. Give businesses and workers who manage to hold on to their jobs a payroll tax holiday to the end of the year.
What about the extra aid funneled to newly jobless workers by the $2.3 trillion fiscal rescue package? Such government spending, Laffer told Reuters in an interview, will only serve to deepen the downturn and slow the recovery.
“If you tax people who work and you pay people who don’t work, you will get less people working,” Laffer said. “If you make it more unattractive to be unemployed, then there’s an incentive to go look for another job faster.”
Think this is too crazy?
Laffer’s unconventional plan isn’t just an academic exercise. First of all, he says he has presented it to his contacts at the White House. They include presidential economic advisor Larry Kudlow, who considers Laffer a mentor.
Laffer is also being floated in influential right-wing circles as a good candidate to head a proposed new industry task force aimed at re-opening the U.S. economy as soon as possible. “Bring in the minds like Art Laffer,” Sean Hannity, the Fox News host said April 6 of the proposed task force.
Needless to say, if the Trump Administrations listens to this moron while millions are out of work because there are no bleeping jobs, we’ll be facing mass hardship, a breakdown in civil order, and possibly a genuine depression.
If the Glorious and Holy Free Market were as capable as righties believe it is to respond to our every need, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.