However, the Minneapolis Fed president says one move could still pave the way to a stronger economic recovery.
Neel Kashkari, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, issued a stark warning in a New York Times op-ed co-authored with Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
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“The next six months could make what we have experienced so far seem like just a warm-up to a greater catastrophe,” Kashkari wrote. “With many schools and colleges starting, stores and businesses reopening, and the beginning of indoor heating season, new case numbers will grow quickly.”
Kashkari made similar comments on CBS’s “Face the Nation” last week when he said, “if we were to lock down hard for a month or six weeks, we could get the case count down so that our tasing and our contact tracing was actually enough to control” the spread of the coronavirus.
The Minneapolis Fed president argued that the government should issue a shelter-in-place order “for everyone but the truly essential workers,” and that order should be far more stringent than the lockdowns states issued back in March.
“To be effective, the lockdown has to be as comprehensive and strict as possible,” Kashkari and Osterholm wrote in the op-ed. “If we aren’t willing to take this action, millions more cases with many more deaths are likely before a vaccine might be available. In addition, the economic recovery will be much slower, with far more business failures and high unemployment for the next year or two.”
The initial lockdowns at the beginning of the pandemic resulted in the loss of at least 20 million jobs, less than half of which have so far been recovered as the economy has reopened. These lockdown measures crushed economic activity, sending GDP down 32.9% in the second quarter.
Congress, through its stimulus measures thus far, has increased the national debt by $3 trillion, and the Fed has expanded its balance sheet by nearly $3 trillion by lending and providing liquidity through various vehicles.
But Kashkari and Osterholm say the lockdown efforts that took down the economy at the beginning of the pandemic in the U.S. weren’t strict enough given that coronavirus cases are still rising rapidly, crossing the 5 million mark this past weekend.
“Simply, we gave up on our lockdown efforts to control virus transmission well before the virus was under control,” Kashkari and Osterholm wrote, adding that a stricter lockdown would pave the way for a stronger recovery. “If we do this aggressively, the testing and tracing capacity we’ve built will support reopening the economy as other countries have done, allow children to go back to school and citizens to vote in person in November. All of this will lead to a stronger, faster economic recovery, moving people from unemployment to work”
“There is no trade-off between health and the economy,” they added. “Both require aggressively getting control of the virus. History will judge us harshly if we miss this life-and economy-saving opportunity to get it right this time.”
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