A whole 90 days of anxiety have passed since California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued the nation’s first statewide stay-at-home order. Believing that lives saved would outweigh lives disrupted, 42 states made the same gamble. After all, lives are worth more than livelihoods, and it was important to flatten the COVID-19 curve. People understood that the moment required tough trade-offs and accepted them, some more readily than others.
Tens of millions of jobless claims later, what has surprised so many people is how politicians seem determined to make the gamble’s costs higher than necessary, as if economic cruelty would make lives easier to save. Ordering utilities to be turned off for “non-essential” businesses and arresting stylists for cutting hair so they can feed their children are examples of actions taken in the name of saving lives. Those actions neglect that on the other end of every paycheck are lives and livelihoods.
This is not to say there hasn’t been a lot of money thrown at the problem, but the bailouts were designed so poorly that even as states begin to reopen, many businesses can’t. After ordering businesses to shut down, lawmakers made collecting unemployment benefits a better deal than going back to work. In the meantime, “small businesses” such as the Ruth’s Chris Steak House chain and the Los Angeles Lakers got millions of dollars, while real small businesses (the kind without a single lobbyist or congressman on their speed-dials) were left reading through hundreds of pages of legislation while fighting the switchboard at the Small Business Administration.