America’s initial response to the coronavirus pandemic rightly prioritized good public health policy. Now, Washington is focusing on getting Americans safely back to work. The aim is to preserve livelihoods as well as lives.
However, the plan put forward so far is missing some key pieces, parts that need to be added to ensure the safety, prosperity and freedom of Americans long into the future.
While the White House has been steering the response ship, there has been no shortage of mutinous rumblings below decks. This partisan squabbling has clouded recognition of what the United States has accomplished.
So far, deaths from COVID-19 are far below estimates. Our hospitals have not been overwhelmed. U.S. per capita mortality rates are among the lowest in the world, and we’ve conducted far more tests for the presence of the virus than any other nation.
The United States is actually building up, not drawing down, its stockpiles of medical supplies. We are developing an expanded arsenal of ways to combat COVID-19. The U.S. government is providing assistance to America’s workers. The stock market is coming back. There is a plan to open the country. Clearly, America is in better shape than most.
It is also clear that more and more Americans are getting anxious to get America back to work. Protesters have rallied at statehouses in many parts of the country, demanding that governors start relaxing lockdown restrictions that have shuttered millions of businesses and left tens of millions of workers without jobs.
These protesters are not out of touch. They are the vanguard recognizing that the time has come to get to work. Rightfully, they reject the false idea that our nation is faced with only one choice: either shelter in our basements until a cure is found or act as though the disease doesn’t exist.
The formation of the White House presidential advisory council on reopening the country has come at the right time. Americans are ready to start on the road to recovery. The council is rightly focused on finding the best way to restart the economic engine. And while that’s what is engaging the attention of most Americans, there is more to be done.
The National Coronavirus Recovery Commission organized by my colleagues at the Heritage Foundation is also advising the White House. But the commission’s perspective is broader than the portfolio given the advisory council. For one thing, the commissioners rightly recognized that America’s economic recovery can’t be achieved just within America’s borders.
Some folks have been talking up the idea of making the U.S. economy completely self-contained. No need to rely on foreign suppliers for anything. From iPhones to minerals to drugs, we’ll make ’em all right here in the good ol’ USA.
That’s a pipedream. The reality is that, when it comes to restarting the economy, we have to work with the economy we have. Job No. 1 is to get it up and running and get everyone back to work.
To make things go, we’ll need to engage with some vitally important foreign partners — partners that, unlike China, share the American vision of free markets and free peoples.
Take the U.S.-Canada-Mexico partnership, for example. Many subcomponents of American products come from our two neighbors. U.S. assembly plants might be ready to start running, but they will sit idle if their suppliers in Mexico are still shut down because of COVID-19. Also important are economic and strategic partnerships in Europe and the Indo-Pacific, nations such as India, Japan, South Korea and Australia.
In short, the U.S. economic recovery will hinge to a great degree on the economic recovery of the free world. We will have to come back from this crisis together, with the United States leading the way.
America’s effort shouldn’t look like the Marshall Plan or conventional, and often ineffectual, foreign aid. Instead, Washington should be looking for investments, innovation, new supply chains and relationships that not only help bring our economies back quickly but also strengthen the bonds among free peoples.
Washington also needs to start thinking about how to prevent and mitigate the next pandemic. Sadly, many people on the left want to use this crisis to advance a socialist agenda, everything from government-run health care to redistributing national income. The administration needs to have a plan to fight back. Battling future pandemics shouldn’t undermine our freedoms, the virtues of federalism, and the instruments of a free market that create prosperity.
If the White House doesn’t come up with a powerful program now to fill these policies spaces, progressives will be all too happy to fill the void. They will deliver ideas that could be as dangerous as the plague. Instead, what we need is a plan from the president for American global economic leadership and a vision that will ensure this disaster never happens again.