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The Surreal Economy

When I looked up the meaning of “surreal,” it seemed to me like a good description of our current economy — unreal, strange, dreamlike. Here we are with double digit unemployment, car sales down, the hotel, hospitality and travel industries on their back, airlines with few passengers…and yet the stock market and the economy seem to be just cruising along. It seems like we are in a dreamworld.

What is holding up the economy right now? Stock prices are up and interest rates are at an all-time low. There are also “money” reasons — Wall Street generates a lot of money by just moving it around. One investment advisor describes the market now as operating under the Greater Fool Theory: “Yes, I know stock prices are too high, but I think someone might even pay a higher price!”

Whatever the reason for success on Wall Street, the numbers on Main Street don’t look good. We are sort of floating in a euphoria of hope… hoping things will get better.

A lot of the “hope” is focused on the pharmaceutical industry. Which company will develop the first COVID-19 vaccine? A related question is: which company or companies can deliver it world-wide in billions of doses quickly? The questions reflect a feeling that we still might have a quick and relatively easy end to this pandemic. That hope, more than anything, is what is keeping our economy going.

The sad reality is that the United States is way behind many of the world’s developed countries in combating the disease. John’s Hopkins University has been publishing a track record country by country of where we stand with the coronavirus virus in terms of deaths per 100,000 of population. As of this date, the United States has experienced 43 deaths on that per capita basis. It sounds small unless, of course, you were one of the 43 or a member of his/her family.

The Hopkins study shows that Canada has had about half that number of deaths (24) and Germany a quarter of that, 11 deaths per 100,000. In other words, the United States, compared to many nations, has essentially failed in its ability to control the spread of this disease. We have been experiencing a public health disaster in this country.

The federal response to the economic effects of the virus, with spending and stimulus checks being sent out under the President’s name, have helped people pay their bills. Yet, his messaging relative to the disease itself and how to deal with it, has been a tragic failure. The obligation to deal with COVID-19 has been “spun off” to the states who are now struggling in a “hodge-podge” way to contain a pandemic that is national in scope.

The rest of the world which looks to America for leadership on everything, including health care and disease prevention, now sees the world’s largest economy and democracy as indecisive and floundering. As COVID cases rise and spread across the West and South, it will be even more difficult to open schools and to revive the economy.

With all of this going on, it is hard to see how the economy cannot suffer more. We are living in a kind of false euphoria, a surreal sense that somehow we have come through the worst of it. In fact, the hole we have dug for ourselves is just becoming evident, and, as to the economy–“the chickens have not yet come home to roost.”

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.

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