World War Three at a Time
For at least the next 200 days, we are likely to be engaged in an ongoing three-front battle. It can either be described as the “3Ps” – pandemic, prosperity, politics – or as the “3Es” – epidemic, economy, election.
To be concerned about any one of them seems entirely reasonable, and the anxiety might well become all consuming.
What happens when all three need to be addressed at the same time?
One step that we seem to be taking is to disregard the resource question. Decisions become more difficult when resources are finite. Borrowing capacity is probably a resource and maybe this is the time to consume it, but can it be exhausted? We might not like the experience of finding out.
Another challenge in a three front war is that progress toward one goal might be progress away from another. The lockdown might be bending the coronavirus curve in the desired direction, but it is adding to unemployment.
In time and with better information, our improved understanding of the interplay between public health and economic considerations seems likely to result in some kind of consensus based on emphasizing public health until sufficient progress is made, then easing into economic recovery. Political pressure will advance some decision, but will it be the right one?
Politics is inevitable but it detracts from efforts to manage an epidemic and revive an economy. There are teams of well-paid and highly capable professionals hard at work determining the positions on the epidemic and the economy that best serve the interests of preferred candidates and parties.
Their expertise is in determining and shaping opinion. Are those the skills we need in a three-front war?
In the crush of public health curve bending and vertical unemployment statistics, it is easy to forget that, in November, we are contesting more than the presidency, which is currently sucking in all of the political oxygen. No ventilators required.
There are 435 seats in the House of Representatives, 33 Senate seats, 11 governorships and a huge number of state legislative seats and local offices up for grabs. Take the total number of races and double it to get the number of candidates.
The recent Wisconsin experience suggests that the battle for perceived advantage is not likely to disappear. Whatever makes my voters turn up is good and whatever makes your voters turn up is bad. If I close polling places where your voters live but leave them open where mine are, that should nudge the outcome. Often even a small nudge will do.
Excesses by either side will be called cheating by the other, and, thanks to vastly improved data analytics, the ability of both sides to know what helps them is considerably increased.
If you should happen to think of this as cheating, you might not be comforted to know that political operatives have gotten considerably better at it in recent years.
Elections used to be fought on the battleground of moderate uncommitted voters. This is no longer the case. Now, turnout is all that matters, so both sides have the identical goal of turning out more of their voters and less of yours.
It is hard to imagine getting to public health questions like “does social distancing suggest the wisdom of increased voting by mail, voting spread over multiple days, or even online voting?” The public health considerations are in an uphill battle against the perceived political advantages or disadvantages of changing the rules.
Sides appear to have been chosen as to the question of pandemic versus prosperity (or epidemic versus economy, if you prefer). The Democrats have staked out public health and the Republicans have staked out the economy. Loyal followers have been told which side they are on, what to believe and whom to demonize.
There is no further need for listening, thinking critically about proposed solutions or compromise. One side is right, the other side is wrong, vote for me and give us money.
As of today, there are 200 days until the election. Will that end the political battling? Not if it’s close. For every close election, especially close elections that move power from one side to the other, election day will simply be the starting gun for claims of illegitimacy.
Nor will the coronavirus and a re-normalization of the economy will be resolved in that period of time.
There will be lots more to consider at the intersection of either the 3Ps or the 3Es. You might as well tell me which you prefer so I can create the hashtag