Opinions, Context & Ideas from the TPM Editors TPM Editor's Blog

We're About To Get A Ton Of New Economic Data

In times of crisis, the kind of economic data that is ordinarily only of interest to economists and finance pros draws more attention from the rest of us as we look for signs of what is going on, and what is to come. Last week’s jobless claims number, the highest in United States history, was a sobering look at what is in store economically.

This week we’ll get another round of jobless claims numbers, along with looks at manufacturing and service jobs that will help us understand the velocity and depth of the economic crisis we are facing. 

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Look Beneath the National Numbers

Let me note one of the known unknowns we should be thinking about as we roll into the coming brutal weeks. We are looking at national statistics – infections, tests, fatalities, hospitalizations. But these are likely illusory. There really is no national outbreak. There’s a big New York outbreak which still dominates the national statistics and will have its own discrete dynamics. It seems very likely you will have a series of other regional and metropolitan area outbreaks unfolding across the country in the coming weeks. So the national numbers will be misleading. In epidemiological terms the US is more like Europe as a whole, rather than any individual country, especially when states are playing such an outsized role combating the disease because of a significantly distracted federal response.

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A World Beyond Imagination

TPM Reader SG wonders aloud who is in charge of planning beyond the immediate reactionary panicked COVID-19 response.

So where is this headed? What is the endgame?

Nobody is talking about it.

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Where Things Stand: DOJ Digs In

While it’s in the preliminary stages of it’s investigation, the Justice Department is now looking into sketchy stock market transactions that at least two lawmakers made after receiving private briefings on the COVID-19 outbreak.

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This is War. No Really.

Like many of you I’ve struggled to make sense of the so many ways our world has changed, been upended over the last month. Beyond the personal, the emotional and the professional, a key question is how our society gets through the coming months. I don’t mainly mean the clinical or public health dimensions of the crisis. That’s largely the domain of science and public health. I mean the broader question of how our society maintains itself while we are grappling with that public health crisis.

American society has been addicted for decades to the metaphor of war to address various public problems – the war on crime, the war on drugs, the war on this or that disease. The metaphor has most often abetted all manner of bad policy and brutalizations of our society. But here I mean something more specific and I believe more grounded in concrete and important policy needs.

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Today's Presser

If you didn’t watch this afternoon’s Trump press conference, the one significant piece of news is that the President is extending his “15 Days to Slow the Spread” guidelines until the end of April. This essentially means he’s dropping the idea of ‘reopening the country’ any time soon. That this was even a question is appalling. And the President doesn’t even have this power. But it’s good that he’s dropped the idea, at least for now because at a minimum these fantasies confuse people about the reality of the danger. It appears that his public health advisors shared with him modeling which suggests that a final death toll in the range of 100,000 to 200,000 is now the optimistic scenario with a death toll ranging to one or two million is possible without aggressive social distancing and lockdown strategies.

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Tories and Society

British PM Boris Johnson, who tested positive for coronavirus last week, has short video here, praising the UK population’s coronavirus response, exhorting them to help protect the NHS and thanking some 20,000 health-care workers for returning to serve in the NHS during the crisis. But there’s an interesting little coda toward the end — something probably British viewers will catch more than Americans. He does a kind of anti-shout out to Margaret Thatcher, saying that what Britons’ response to the crisis has “already proved, is that there really is such a thing as society.”

This is certainly a reference to Thatcher’s claim — an encapsulation of her worldview — that “there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families.”

When Did New York City Shut Down?

Let me return to an issue I discussed a few days ago. When did New York City shut down? It’s more than an academic exercise. It gives us a window into understanding when we can expect the spread of the virus in the city to peak or at least stabilize. That gives other cities a view into what they might in turn expect. A key way to do that is to look at the city’s subway system, which is both a key vector for the spread of the contagion and perhaps the best metric for measuring the city’s activity and mobility.

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Ron DeSantis Previews the Trumpist Line on Who's to Blame for COVID-19

The future is Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) of Florida. Today the governor who resolutely refused to close the state’s beaches or much if any of its commerce while the coronavirus spread like wildfire across the country has now decided to blame New York and New Yorkers. DeSantis was the first to order anyone arriving from New York City-area airports to enter a 14 day quarantine. That was on Monday. He told reporters he was pursuing the travel-ban approach rather than a statewide lockdown because, he claimed, the crisis in New York proved lockdowns don’t work.

DeSantis looks like the spur to the White House’s announcement late last week that New Yorkers traveling to any other parts of the country should be self-quarantining. According to the Post, a conversation with DeSantis this morning was behind the President Trump saying he’s “considering” a quarantine of the New York metro region. (This evening Trump opted instead for a “strong travel advisory”).

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Where Things Stand: Will We Have A Grandstander?

It appears that we will.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) pledged Friday that he will stand in the way of passage of a $2 trillion COVID-19 relief bill in the House today, a stimulus package that President Trump himself has vowed to sign once it makes it’s way through Congress. Massie said Friday that he will stop the Senate-approved bill from passing via voice vote in the House, which will force lawmakers to come back to Washington, D.C. for a recorded vote.

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