At this point — when a commendable number of Floridians appear to realize that there’s no going back to the way we were, and as we make our way forward to something else entirely — it might be good to take our collective pulse.
Still racing? That’s no surprise; fear and anger are the default human responses to uncertainties, and we still have those in abundance. But the many visible instances of courage and generosity, and sheer steadfastness, that have enabled us to forge ahead through those unknowns have been reassuring. COVID-19 caught our governmental and societal institutions off-guard and underprepared; but still we have managed to meet needs, share resources and learn as we go.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has taken darts aplenty for his hard-to-read signals, from his acceptance of the need for public health precautions to his convictions on the need for professional wrestling. But the governor’s calm demeanor during a rough stint of on-the-job training, and his repeated efforts to place pragmatism above politics by weighing available data before making decisions, have been commendable. And, we think, helpful overall.
Regardless of whether such a go-slow approach was the wisest course at the onset of this viral pandemic, it seems especially appropriate now. We still lack reliable data, and the cruel novelty of this disease creates a slew of unpredictabilities that make drastic action potentially lethal. The proper time to overreact has come and gone. We must wait and see — and test and test and test — and rely on the accumulated knowledge of scientists and economists, as we cautiously reopen our world.
In the meantime, state and local governments are correctly using this pause to make financial reassessments. Budgeting is always subject to revision as events unfold; and while the extent of those revisions cannot yet be known, they are sure to be considerable. Predictably, some fiscal hawks are calling for reductions in public spending. These folks want job cuts — for cities, counties and the state.
The intuitive yearning to “run government like a business,” in the resonant words of Ronald Reagan, can feel compelling at a time like this. But government is not a business, or a household, and does not operate on the same economic principles. Government is what we turn to when businesses and households are in trouble. The counterintuitive truth is that public investments, wisely made, can prevent what the economist John Maynard Keynes called “the long, dragging conditions of semi-slump” that otherwise follow a crisis, and compound the crisis.
In the decade since the United Kingdom embraced austerity measures to combat the effects of global recession, “rough sleeping“ — that’s British for homelessness — rose by 165%; poverty among working families spiraled. Those misguided cuts, according to British economists writing in the New Statesman, heighten their country’s helplessness now.
We are more fortunate. In our own nation, state and region, the pandemic has hit at a time of relative strength. How our governments at every level deploy their assets, reserves and borrowing capabilities will be fundamental to stabilizing our conditions now, and restoring all the comforts and liberties we cherish as soon as possible.
The Herald-Tribune Editorial Board