Sensible Perspectives

Rick Miller: Musings on life in the time of the novel coronavirus*

Posted by on March 16, 2020

COVID-19 affects small businesses and hourly employees the most.

As our daily lives become more and more impacted by COVID-19, I started a running list of all the things that sprang to mind.

As this Atlantic article suggests, we are fortunate to have significantly better medical technologies and resources than were available in 1918, the year of the “Spanish flu.” While the diseases are not directly comparable – the most susceptible categories of people are different, the viruses are different, etc., we are far better equipped today than we were then.

We are also far better able to live with “social distancing” than we have ever been before. Telecommuting is feasible for many people. This allows us to be productive without being physically close. We can also stay in touch with friends and family without risking infection. We can video chat, use social media, talk on the phone, and even (gasp!) write a letter to safely share the issues and pleasures of our lives.

COVID-19 closures may leave more time for ourselves and our families

Many of us are fortunate to be able to adapt relatively readily to dramatic changes in our way of life provoked by the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 (the disease it causes). For example:

I will be reading more. My wife has introduced me to the vast resources of our local public library, many of which are available online. I have my Kindle at the ready and a long list of books I want to read. In the absence of competing diversions, I will have time to read them.

I’ll walk outside and stretch at home for a while. My regular visits to the local health club to use the elliptical machine, the exercise bike, and the pool, and to follow the instructions of my personal trainer are not feasible – the club has closed, at least for the next week. So has my local yoga studio, where I had started to become something of a regular student.

I’ll be working from home rather than using Sensible Financial’s facilities in Waltham.

What about the people who can’t work from home?

However, many others are not so fortunate:

Many people (e.g. health care workers, nurses, doctors, personal care aids, and paramedics) cannot telecommute and face significant infection risk (this link is behind a paywall).

Some, like my personal trainer and my yoga teacher will not have the chance to telecommute. They will not be able to work at all. Those in the industries most affected by social distancing (travel, hotels, restaurants, etc.) tend to earn below-average wages, and are among those in our society least able to cope with income interruptions and reductions. Those who can telecommute, who will be able to work through social distancing without appreciable financial impact, are likely to earn more than average.

School closings will deprive many families of their usual childcare and disconnect many children from an essential source of healthy food.

Social distancing will help all of us limit our medical risk. Simple fairness implies that it is incumbent on all of us to help those from whom social distancing requires the largest economic sacrifices. Bad feeling and resentment, not to mention significant disruptions and hardships for the most vulnerable among us, are likely to result if we fail to do so. Sick pay, enhanced unemployment insurance and direct cash payments could help those who lose opportunities to work. Payroll tax cuts put more money in the hands only of those who are working – probably much less helpful.

The industries affected by social distancing are also home to many small business owners. They face losses and disruption as well. Finding a way to help them find their way financially through this crisis will hasten the recovery of the economy as a whole.

COVID-19: A common enemy and a common link

Facing challenges like these together can bring us closer. We all face the same illness, and we can all help in the same basic ways. People tend to want to help each other when confronted by a common threat. I am hopeful that we will come through this safely and better for the experience. I send you my best wishes for good health and good spirits in these “interesting” times.

*My apologies to Gabriel Garcia Márquez for the title.