Stop Talking About a Tradeoff

I must register the strongest possible objection to the emerging talk of a “tradeoff” between public health and what some people are now calling “the economy.”

Please be assured that “the economy” is not a living organism that can somehow die if not treated and curated in some way. There is no such thing as “the economy”—there are just people who earn income from going to work, and firms that hire people to produce goods and services. Aggregate demand may fall, as it has, but you cannot “kill” an economy.

The “rescue package” will protect businesses from foreclosure. After all, once a business is closed (as most are), and their debt-service obligation suspended (as they seem to be), there can be no further harm. If from kindness or obligation they continue to pay their furloughed workers, it seems they will be reimbursed. If they do not offer that benefit, the government will step in and protect workers. This much is clear and will endure.

Their doors are merely closed, and their owners and managers can stay home like the rest us. They might find time to read some poetry or a nice novel. No further harm will befall them.

They and their “business” (buildings, machinery, tables and chairs, water coolers) are still there and, like an automobile sitting in your garage, ready to be restarted when the time is right.

Humans are adaptable and able to cope. If they are protected financially, as seems to be coming, they too will be fine. A close reading of history tells us that humans have endured worse.

The worst possible thing is for people in positions of influence to start confusing the economic system and its working with the human capacity to adjust, cope, and re-create life under new circumstances.

This talk of a tradeoff must be taken for what it is—sheer stupidity.

Dr. Daniel Bromley can be contact at

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