The Trump administration and congressional allies have given big business every stimulus it wanted, which has ultimately been bad for business. To stimulate the economy, they passed a tax bill that returned $3 trillion in taxes to businesses, embraced the largest peacetime federal deficits in history, prioritized reducing government oversight of business practices in most cabinet departments by reducing staff with regulatory oversight roles and jawboned the Federal Reserve Bank interest rate to historically low levels. 

The economic disaster that is now befalling us was presaged by the Boeing 737 Max debacle. Because of lax government oversight, Boeing went ahead and mass-produced five hundred 737 Max planes until a known design flaw caused two of them to crash, killing 346 people. Most of its customers are now switching their plane purchases to the European Airbus, depriving thousands of American aerospace workers of jobs and depriving US taxpayers of billions of dollars in tax revenues. 

The Trump administration is relearning the lesson of the Hoover administration that giving big business everything it wants is bad for business. Public health regulations are a drag on business, so the Trump administration has been aggressively disinvesting in public health (including Obamacare). To save money in the short run, the Trump administration downsized the pandemics surveillance unit in the National Security Agency, downsized the global health surveillance staff at the Centers for Disease Control (30 of whom were posted to high-risk countries, including China) and downsized the budget for the Strategic National Stockpile. If the US had continued these public health investments at historical levels, the US could have pounced on the first U.S. case of COVID-19 community transmission, used widespread testing to identify other COVID-19 cases quickly, isolated them and brought the epidemic quickly under control without requiring whole state populations to shelter in place. That is how Taiwan, Singapore, and South Korea conquered their incipient COVID-19 epidemics. 

Belatedly, big business is realizing that protecting public health also protects big business. We are all now suffering the result of the Trump administration’s myopic obsession with stimulating the U.S. economy at all costs.

William McCarthy

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