Kudzu, everyone knows, is a perennial vine native to much of eastern Asia that destroys growth by wrapping itself around native plants and trees and shadowing them so that they do not receive the proper sunlight to grow and flourish. Unnecessary regulatory schemes are to the economy what Kudzu is to vegetation. The operative political rule should be – less is better.
The COVID-19 virus, which for inexplicable reasons has resulted in a shortage of toilet paper on grocery shelves, will have long-lasting effects. Thankfully, grocery shelves empty of toilet paper will not be one of them. The shelves have been emptied by hoarders and not by an interruption in the supply chain. So, at some time in the future, when hoarders have had their fill of toilet paper, we may expect the bare shelves to be sagging with rolls and rolls and rolls of the precious product.
At some time in the future COVID-19 will itself have petered out. We know this not from any assurances of politicians, their brows moist with concern. COVID-19 will be whipped when the United States can be shown on a bell curve marking the progress of COVID-19 to have reached past the top of the curve in a descending mode. People who measure epidemics and pandemics call this process the flattening of the curve. Just as surely as the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening, pandemics have their ups and downs – always, without exception.
But pandemics leave in their wake medical and economic disruptions that last far beyond the flattening of bell curves. And they leave behind as well gaping holes in the hearts of people whose lives have been torn apart by death and sorrow. For these reasons it would be best for politicians to adopt as a working moral presumption an instruction found in Hippocrates’ work Of the Epidemics – “First, do no harm.”
Looking towards the future, the Yankee Institute, one of the most thoughtful think tanks in Connecticut, has proposed meeting the long term effects of COVID-19 by cutting the kudzu. After thanking Governor Lamont for his efforts in battling the virus, Yankee notes, “The collapse of the financial markets and the closure of businesses and schools are certain to cause long-term economic problems for the country and, in particular, Connecticut.” Voices proclaiming that much of the data underlying the measures taken by politicians thus far is, at best, unreliable are few and unnoticed.
So, what can we do additionally to allow the sun to bring forth new economic growth to the state while, at the same time, avoiding harm?
Yankee praises the governor for having issued “executive orders waiving certain occupational regulations for pharmacists, face-to-face interview requirements, expanding telemedicine coverage for Medicaid recipients and [allowing] the Department of Economic and Community Development to defer loan payments for 800 or so small businesses that have loans from the state,” all positive measures that will breathe new life into an economy racked by COVID-19. Some of these measures surely should be adopted permanently.
In addition, the state should issue a temporary “hold harmless” provision to small businesses -- restaurants, gyms, child care facilities and numerous others -- that have been forced to lay off employees due to the COVID-19 virus. In the normal course of business, layoffs expose such businesses to a more costly state unemployment insurance tax. Temporarily, wave the higher taxes. “Gov. Lamont,” Yankee notes, “has already eliminated the requirement that an individual receiving unemployment demonstrate they are searching for a job. A similar waiver or exemption of the unemployment tax on affected small businesses should be considered as well.” Why not grant tax deferrals to free-lance or self-employed individuals impacted by temporary government business shutdowns? The U.S. Treasury already is offering such deferrals without interest or penalty to individuals and small businesses affected by a government enforced business slowdown.
Occupational licensing requirements and filing fees should be waved for an extended range of services. Colorado allows immediate licensing for medical professionals licensed in other states. Governor Jared Polis, Yankee notes, has “expedited the licensing process for those seeking medical licenses, reducing the amount of time and requirements it takes for qualified individuals seeking to practice medicine to join in the response to fight the virus.” Additionally, he has “expanded the ability of people to administer the virus test to include retired, semi-retired or professionals whose license has lapsed to be reactivated easily and efficiently so that testing can be conducted on a larger scale.”
Why haven’t Connecticut’s leaders suspended for one year the state’s increase in the minimum wage? Shouldn’t we remove all regulatory impediments to “distance learning” for school children ordered by the state not to attend school?
Connecticut’s economy has been ambulatory for decades. First, do no harm. But if harm there must be, the state that has caused the harm should offer reasonable mitigations. After the war on COVID-19 has been concluded -- and all the shelves have been restocked with toilet paper – Connecticut’s politicians must bind up the wounds they have caused. And the binding can start right now.