The only way to protect the economy is to defeat the virus

There's no economic cure for coronavirus

(Image credit: Illustrated | tapui/iStock, DenPotisev/iStock)

The stock market plunge on Monday has focused attention on the potential economic fallout from COVID-19 and the government's role in mitigating it. With interest rates plunging toward the zero bound, the Federal Reserve has little traditional ammunition left to pump money into the economy. President Trump is proposing a package of payroll tax cuts and small-business loans; liberal think tanks have urged greater direct support for low-income workers and state governments likely to face fiscal stress, among other measures. Other commentators are focused on the likely impact on the financial system of a sharp contraction.

Anything the government can do to mitigate the economic hardship faced by individuals is worth pursuing, and we should indeed be vigilant about preventing a literal virus from leading to financial contagion. But it's important to realize there is very little the government can do to prevent a contraction due to the pandemic. Moreover, the things we need to do to prevent the worst harm are precisely the things that will precipitate the contraction. If we continue to slow-walk those responses out of fear of economic damage, we'll not only cause more deaths and more stress to our health-care system in the long run, but substantially greater economic damage as well.

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Noah Millman

Noah Millman is a screenwriter and filmmaker, a political columnist and a critic. From 2012 through 2017 he was a senior editor and featured blogger at The American Conservative. His work has also appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Politico, USA Today, The New Republic, The Weekly Standard, Foreign Policy, Modern Age, First Things, and the Jewish Review of Books, among other publications. Noah lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son.