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To beat the coronavirus slump, shut us down now, Mr President

By March 26, 2020No Comments

(This post originally appeared on The Guardian)

More than half of US small businesses don’t have the wherewithal to survive, and could be out of business in under 90 days if things stay as they are.

That’s one of the more startling numbers from a survey of more than 1,500 small business conducted by Goldman Sachs. As of now, according to the study, almost all small businesses have been affected in some way by the pandemic, mostly slower sales. More than half of the small businesses surveyed don’t have the ability for their employees to work from home – not a big surprise considering that so many of them are in the retail and restaurant industries.

The economic situation, in my opinion, will only get worse the longer the pandemic is allowed to progress. Most small businesses will not be able to make it to the summer. Even if they’re allowed to reopen, without the public being confident that the virus has been fully contained and that a treatment is either available or on the way, consumers and diners will stay away. “Self-quarantines” and localized shutdowns aren’t going to work fast enough.

So what’s the answer? A full shutdown in the US. For three full weeks.

Why three weeks? Because the virus has been known to run its course in about 14 days – at least, that’s the amount of time our doctors are telling us to isolate. So I say give it another week just to make sure. Our grandparents were asked to fight world wars. We can handle 21 days of watching Netflix.

What do I mean by a full shutdown? I mean everything – other than a carefully selected list of essential businesses – gets shut. No planes, trains or automobiles. No stock market. No services other than the most critical. No one’s allowed out of their homes except for food, medical and maybe a little fresh air once in a while or to walk their dogs. The president can do this. He’s a “war president”. He’s got the military and federal tools at his disposal. Yes, it’s draconian. Yes, it’s martial law. But no, there won’t be an uprising or a civil war.

People will comply. Why?

Because everyone – particularly small business owners – just wants this to be over and done with as soon as possible. We don’t have until August, as Trump recently predicted. We need to get back up and running much sooner than that. The good news is that the federal government already passed a relief bill that makes capital accessible to small businesses through the Small Business Administration. States have also set up relief funds. Many larger businesses are offering grants and deferrals to their smaller customers. There is short-term cash available for a business to tread water over three weeks.

Most importantly, we need certainty. We need a plan. With a specific date of reopening on the horizon, we’ll have that plan. We’ll know that the all clear is 19 days, 12 days, five days away. While at home those of us that can will be able to still speak with our employees, clean up our databases, reaffirm with customers and vendors and make a strategy for a return to normalcy.

And what a return it will be. Imagine everyone getting the all clear and emerging from their homes into the April sunshine. Imagine the restaurants, the shops, the events and the co-workers who are joyfully – yes joyfully – happy to go back to work. Think of the orders, the shipments, the transactions … the future. Of course things won’t be 100% cleared up. The virus will still be out there (although I hope there will be further announcements of potential treatments). Other countries will still be grappling with the problem and travel – particularly overseas – will take longer to recover.

But being shut for three weeks will have a dramatic impact on the number of cases and deaths. So go ahead Mr President, #shutusdown. We can take it. Our businesses depend on it.

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