With self-inflicted disaster, widespread misery is coming

Terry Garlock

We are bombarded from many electronic media angles, all of it seeming to be the same inch deep and mile wide repetition of what people find popular or interesting, while unpleasant medicine that is so important is skimmed over lightly.

Media obsessions of the moment are (1) that re-opening selected businesses in some states is not yet “safe,” (2) a candidate for the November presidential election is accused of mistreating a woman many years ago, and (3) upbeat reports of medication that helps COVID-19 treatment.

Meanwhile, as TV-captives, we are force-fed a daily thousand Liberty Mutual obnoxious ads or Mike Lendell tells us again he solved his life crisis with a pillow, then to our rescue comes every other TV advertiser with new, warm-hearted messages that we will get through this crisis — together.

Well, some of us will.

Far more important in TV news is a message you must strain to detect and interpret, an undercurrent that should be the lead story. We are destroying our economic machine while the President, governors and TV talking heads lecture that we cannot re-open the economy until it is “safe.”

But safe is relative, to be balanced against risks, like the risk you take every time you drive your car. How much safety do we require to continue risking that our economy will be decimated, our nation weakened, and millions of businesses killed with their jobs vaporized?

The longer we delay re-opening the economy, the more fellow Americans will pay the price by losing their job. We have already done plenty of damage sure to last years.

Over 30 million American workers have filed new unemployment claims, news reports tell us in a matter-of-fact tone suggesting it is a temporary condition and that stimulus payments are keeping America afloat, right?

Well, no.

A great number of those 30 million will never return to their job but don’t know it yet, while unemployment claims continue to mount.

The tourism industry worldwide is a pile of broken bones.

The airline industry is in moth balls.

International trade channels of distribution and pipelines are bent or broken.

American shopping centers are ghost towns with recent minimal stirrings of revived activity.

Despite stimulus programs helping businesses and employees, businesses are failing and will continue to fail without revenue at the highest level that sustained them just a couple of months ago, already burdened by a deep hole in their checkbook. Many failures will be small businesses, some not so small, even national chains. Some will fail now, some later.

Many businesses that do survive for now will have reduced hours, reduced shifts, less customer density, and overall a reduced need for the staff waiting to be recalled to work. For many the call will never come.

In the spotty businesses re-opening, customers are sparse and nobody knows how long fear will drive consumer reluctance. Social distance will reduce customer density even when confidence returns, so business revenue will be lower, and among those that survive the change will require fewer workers.

One group hit hard in recessions are middle-aged, middle-management employees. They are typically higher paid due to longevity and past promotions; maybe two younger employees could be recalled with that same payroll cost. Older employees might be less nimble in the latest technology tools, and open higher-salary slots are attractive for promoting younger talent.

When unemployed older and highly experienced workers apply for jobs elsewhere, they find few openings at a high level, and when they apply for lower level openings to take what they can get, they are often bypassed as “over-qualified.” These same middle-aged workers tend to have family budgets already strained by elderly parents needing long-term care, kids in college and concerns about retirement finances.

Of course every person losing their job at any age will be hit hard, especially in an era when job openings will be scarce with a long list of competing applications. Safety net services will be stretched and maybe soon exhausted.

There is another side to this economic train wreck.

Business expansion plans are frozen in place. Job offers have been rescinded. The normal recruiting cycle to refresh the employee pipeline in companies is stopped dead. College graduates and other applicants are piling up with no job prospects even over the horizon.

Consumer confidence is what drives economic activity, and conquers the fear that keeps wallets cautiously tight; right now fear abounds, confidence to freely spend in deep hiding.

Why am I Mr. Buzz-kill, circulating gloom when we need up-beat consumer confidence? Two reasons, really.

First, this economic catastrophe is an unnecessary self-inflicted wound, an economic suicide attempt that may yet succeed. As the Covid-19 crisis suddenly emerged, emergency action was warranted as a precaution against overwhelmed hospital care. That was accomplished and now in some spots hospitals are so under-utilized, with elective procedures prohibited, that medical staff are even being laid off.

A targeted lockdown based on high-risk areas and for high-risk individuals would have been more effective and less damaging, far more sensible than the one-size-fits-all national lockdown strangling our economy, killing businesses and destroying jobs.

Second, while we hear happy-talk on TV, a humanitarian crisis of monumental proportions is being born, a gathering tidal wave of job losses that will tear millions of lives apart, scar our nation and will be a drag on our economy for years. As I am writing this, a Sunday evening special TV program was being promoted, “America Returning to Work — Together.”

Well, it sounds nice, but I must have some residual Democrat lurking deep inside because to me it smacks of enjoying a luxurious Christmas dinner while the poor hungrily watch with noses pressed to windows from outside in the cold. We are kidding ourselves with warm fuzzy messages while millions of our fellow American’s lives are on the brink of being wrecked.

Mass misery is clearly just around the corner, and the national oblivion bothers me quite a lot.

Meanwhile, if you have the right skills to offer, one industry is booming. Attorneys and accountants specializing in bankruptcy will soon be overwhelmed.

[Terry Garlock lives in Peachtree City, GA (tlg.opinion@gmail.com).]


  1. I wonder why this guy felt the need to regurgitate everything that’s been said already? Every scenario possible has been thought of by all manner of so-called experts and the every day Joe. We won’t know what will happen until it happens.