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S2: Hello and welcome to the Slate Political Gabfest for April 16th, twenty twenty. The eye alone can open.
S3: In addition, I’m David Plotz of my bedroom closet in my house. I have total authority to open the double hung windows. No one else has any authority to open them because no one else understands them. It is my decision for many good reasons. Emily Bazelon of The New York Times magazine and Yale joins me. Emily, do you have total authority to open anything in your house?
S4: You know, I sometimes refer to my kitchen as in you are making a mess in my kitchen and then everybody else in my house points out to me, that’s a really bad way to talk about it, because then it seems as if they have no responsibility for it as well as no ownership.
S5: John DICKERSON of CBS is 60 Minutes. John DICKERSON, do you have total authority to open anything in your house?
S6: Only my mouth.
S7: But like, I don’t know. Do your kids really give you total authority to open your mouth? Oh, yes.
S8: Much like the presidency, you can open your mouth as much as you want, but it does not mean that people will listen to you.
S6: In fact, sometimes it means just the opposite.
S9: On today’s gabfests, can President Trump order the country reopened? Then economist Heather Boushey joins us to talk about how catastrophic the coming recession slash, depression, slash, whatever is going to be. Then the brilliant Amanda Ripley wrote a whole book about how to survive a disaster, who survives the disaster, how and why they do it. We are going to talk to her about that. Plus, we’re going to have cocktail chatter.
S10: The president this week infuriated public health officials. Governors, constitutional scholars by at least briefly claiming total authority to reopen the economy, whatever that actually means in response. We have compacts of governors on both the east and West Coast issuing guidelines for how they are thinking about how to lift limits on business and school closures. We have corporate America kind of backing away from the president. I mean, mostly backing away from the president because they are very concerned about what it would mean to reopen the country before it’s ready. We’re going to discuss some of the economic issues in our next segment for now. Let’s start with some of the legal, political and epidemiological issues, Emily. Governors in general have very broad powers under police powers to issue emergency rulings about public health and safety. That’s how we have all these state shut downs. It’s very clear they can shut things down. Right. But is it clear they can open things up?
S11: Yes, it is clear they can open things up. I mean, President Trump has had another spate this week of making outlandish, untethered to any law statements which get a lot of attention because we have to knock them back. He does not have this authority, also cannot adjourn Congress, except if they do not agree to come back. This was another threat he made. This week, the Senate and the House do have a plan about when to come back. No president has ever used this tiny window of potential authority in the Constitution to adjourn Congress. So that is also a ridiculous statement. And I wonder if there’s a way in which either Trump is just flailing. He wishes he had some kind of total authority and magic wand right now or it’s just a big distraction, because what’s really happening is that the federal government has a lot of responsibility for creating the conditions under which states can safely reopen. The states need money desperately. That has not really been in these relief packages so far. They’re running huge deficits, paying for all of the consequences of the coronavirus. And they also need the CDC and other federal authorities to be helping them get the testing they need to to get open again. And so there’s this way in which what Trump is saying is the opposite of what he’s doing.
S5: I actually when I was posing that question, I was actually I meant it slightly rhetorically when I said, can governors reopen things? To me, the real issue is, you know, you can declare yourself prince, you can declare yourself king.
S10: You can declare everything reopened. There are clear police powers whereby governors and in certain circumstances, the president for certain things can close things, stop people from doing thing. There is no power in the world that can compel people to go shopping. That can compel people to to frequent restaurants. That can compel people to go to the zoo or go to the theater. So that to me, is that one of the questions which is so confounding about this, which is that the power to close and the power to open are not the same thing.
S12: Yes, that’s totally true. Governors can lift orders. That doesn’t mean people will follow. I think that there is a real division in the country. I mean, the polls show that almost everybody says don’t open up prematurely if the virus isn’t beaten. And I think there’s gonna be a lot of fear and nervousness and slow walking back. And then there are people who want more freedom than they have right now. And we’re starting to see some protests like in Lansing, Michigan, this week. I think that’s a very small percentage of people. But it’s an interesting development and has to do with, you know, the kind of libertarian streak, which I mean, one can understand feeling oppressed by these orders. On the other hand, what you just said is the fundamental question here, like when is it actually safe? When do people feel confidence?
S8: To me, the president’s basically using a rhetorical and political and self-preservation move when something more nourishing and useful is required.
S13: So before we even get to the whether or how these powers, who they rest with, I mean. AVC Rest with the governors, presidents can claim powers to focus everybody’s mind. When Truman nationalized the steel companies, he said, you know, the president has the job of making sure the country doesn’t go to hell.
S8: He may. He was outside of his powers, but he threw the blunt force of his personality and focus was trying to focus everybody on on the. Main thing in this case, the president, when he talks about opening up the economy. What does that mean? What is the blunt force of the office? Aimedat. It should be aimed at testing because testing is the precondition for quote unquote opening the economy for whatever that means. But it was the president’s antics this week were not aimed at a specific result. So that’s the first challenge and problem of what he did this week. And the second is that it looks, as Emilie’s said, like a diversion. And usually with the president, you can whatever the chaos of the moment is, if you look at the underlying thing that he’s trying to avoid or get to get away from, it highlights and underscores the challenge for him, and that’s the challenge for him, is that he’s being correctly criticized for a sluggish and cold response to increasing pressure from people within his administration to act in January than in February and March. And so what this theatricality is, is an attempt to make a debate over who has the power, make it look like he is the one who’s been pushing and pushing for the economy to open. So he would prefer people see him as the guy who is obsessed with getting the economy started again rather than the person who’s poor management structure. Slow response, constant public downplaying created the conditions that he now finds himself in.
S10: Right. I mean, Trump, who sees this narcissistically as ever through the lens of himself, is looking at his re-election numbers and his favorability numbers. And he wants to get credit for something. And if he can’t get credit, he wants to discredit his opponents by having the economic slowdown and the recession be at their feet. They’re not opening the economy. They’re causing ruin. The substantive issue, which is like is what is it safe for Americans to do? How can we prevent this pandemic from from sweeping the country? How can people get back to the business of working and of education and of all things they need to do as safely and as efficiently and as quickly as possible? Is much less important to him than the political sort of gamesmanship with the governors and the Democrats. And it’s it is it’s a tragedy for us. Emily, talk about this testing question, because it is it does seem that the fundamental thing that needs to happen before anything can be discussed is that a testing regimen has to be in place that Americans trust.
S12: Yes. And it has to be at scale. I mean, we are so far behind on this and it’s starting to make me so incredibly angry because, I mean, I hope this doesn’t come to pass. But it looks to me like we are facing much more time in this kind of gray nether zone than we would otherwise. I was watching an interview on CNBC that my mom told me to watch with Jen Sponsees, who is the health minister of Germany. And they have this whole robust testing regime that they spent a lot of time and effort and I’m sure money getting up and running. Our government was incredibly slow to get that started. And if you read about testing now, it seems like it’s coming or now up to we’re sort of plateaued at about one hundred and forty five thousand tests a week. We need to be at like millions to get the economy going again. Really, there still seem to be all these missed links, labs that have more capacity than is actually being used. States that are going around begging somehow there has been a failure here. Some of it has to do with the supply chain. There are chemical supplies and just the navel nasal swabs and pay packets that need to be hugely mass produced. And sure, it takes a while for the supply chain to catch up. But if we had started back in January or February, we would be so far ahead of where we are now. And this is where the lack of leadership from the federal government. I just it’s unconscionable and it’s going to cause so much extra damage on its own. I’m just really struggling with that this week, as I think of all for me. People can obsess about different parts of the horror of this. To me, the small businesses lost and the kids out of school and maybe home for the summer. Like, how is that going to work? All that lost learning. There’s been an uptick in child abuse. I’m just really having trouble with how much the government is at fault for that.
S13: Just one little thing I would add in Germany, just to give you a sense, they have a good testing regime. They’re starting to open up businesses, small businesses a little bit more. They’re they’re kind of inching into the new new world slowly. But even they are talking about not having any large public events until after August thirty first. So that’s, you know, in a country that has had that is manage the problem and now is managing the way back in with the power of testing, which everybody says is at the center of this. And even they’re not talking about major events until the end of the summer.
S11: And they’re also prioritizing the things that make sense to prioritize. Right. They’re talking about moving step by step. And I think the governors, some of them in the United States are starting to do that, too, like Gavin Newsom’s frameworks this week have started to take us down that road. But there is just going to be this huge time lag because we were so slow.
S10: John, one of the problems that I see here is that insofar as we’re in a legalistic framework and like, you know, authority to open, authority not to open, it seems problematic because one of the fundamental things that allows these kind of restrictive public health measures to carry forward is public trust. And it’s the belief that the public is acting legitimately, fairly in the overall interests of everyone. If people stop believing that or if that belief becomes a kind of partisan divide, that some people believe it and some people don’t. And and their their view is is shaped by what political opinions they told generally. It’s going to be very hard for this this collective effort to be maintained over the months that we need to maintain it.
S13: And especially when, you know, one of the most potent voices in American public life is actively undermining the information coming from the best sources in his own government, which is to say the president. I mean, this is the cost as we look back at how to avoid doing this again and how to build a better society afterwards. There is a cost to the diminution of the power of presidential speech or the use of presidential speech simply and exclusively for the maintenance of partisan advantage and and and sort of maintaining the base. And you spend that capital beforehand and you and you you habituate supporters of the president to say, oh, he doesn’t mean it. It’s you know, he’s just counterpunching. He’s being rhetorically, you know, florid and and don’t pay attention.
S8: The person with the most potent voice in a moment when clear a clear signal from the government is important first for citizens, but also to have the propulsive force within the organization to keep everybody on task. To say that voices to be ignored and is irrelevant is is is just not the way you run a railroad.
S5: I’m just going to close by pointing something out, which is in Sweden, which where society is ostensibly open, movie attendance is down 90 percent. So you can open the economy. And if only 10 percent of the people have the trust that they can do the activities they want to do. You haven’t opened anything. Slate plus members, you get bonus segments on the gabfests and on other Slate podcasts. This is a great week to join Slate plus there’s so much great work being done at Slate. And Slate, like so many other places, is having some tough times with the media market, the advertising market, and showing your support for the gabfests and for all the other great work.
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S10: Heather Boushey is the president and CEO of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. She’s also the author of Unbound How Inequality Constricts Our Economy and What We Can Do About It. Heather, as we’re talking on Thursday morning, there are new unemployment numbers. Sounds like from you that five million more people filed for unemployment. What does that tell you about the shape of this coming depression? Recession? I don’t even know what other word we have for it yet.
S14: Well, the the things that the economy are pretty challenging right now. I mean, I just want to start by the fact that we need to constantly recognize that this is first and foremost a health crisis that has now become an economic crisis because we have not taken the steps in order to contain the virus or to make sure that testing is widely enough available or to make sure that places of business are not places where this virus is transmitted. You know, you referenced today’s new numbers. You know, there are over 5 million more people who’ve applied for unemployment benefits. The fact that we have these benefits is actually really important is one of the most important things we could be doing to keep the economy out of a full throttled depression. So while you know, David, your question is, you know, how are things going? You know, recession, depression. This is a very unique economic moment, because if we can get the health crisis under control, there is still a chance that we can pull the economy back. I feel with each day that that probability fades and we are probably looking at a deep and protracted recession, if not something greater. But all of this is within our capacity to take action. This isn’t just happening to us. It is. We have a lot of agency here or policymakers do.
S12: You were talking before we started about short term compensation and a low rate of people taking up those benefits. Could you talk a little bit about that? You seemed surprised by it.
S14: Yeah, well, one of the things that policymakers made available to states during the last or in the Great Recession was giving them the option for the state unemployment insurance systems to allow employees to get unemployment benefits if their hours were cut, but they didn’t completely lose their job. Now, this kind of recession caused by the the policy steps we’ve needed to take to address the Corona virus is the perfect example of the kind of economy where this kind of program could be so valuable. You know, I think of a local restaurants who are now just doing takeout. So they still need some chefs. They still need some people to staff the phones and, you know, bag all the food, but they don’t need all of their staff. So what they could have done is lowered everybody’s hours, let some people get these partial benefits. And then once policymakers get get all of their ducks in a row, get the testing and get the protective gear, get all the things we need to get the economy up and running. They would have those employees. They are still on their payroll. But what we’re seeing is there is relatively few employers are taking advantage of this program in no small part, because not every state or territory offers it. By my understanding, there’s I think about 21 states that actually have these short time compensation programs. So one of the most important things we could do is let’s get every state to do that. This is the kind of innovative policy that could really be helping a lot right now.
S6: Heather, picking up on that, the analogy to a medically induced coma has been used.
S13: I wonder if you find that useful, because what you just described seemed to be your states were allowed to to follow the unemployment scheme you were just describing. Then people stay on the payroll. They don’t they don’t drift away from the economy. And then when when things start to get better, you can basically bring the economy out of its coma. Is that the right way to think about it? And then are there other elements of an economy that could be put into this kind of brownout stage? But then animated faster than, say, and normally an economy would be animated after the Great Recession or some other more traditional economic shock?
S14: I think that all of that is is perfectly apt. Let me start by saying we were talking about putting the economy on ice rather than in a coma in no small part, because I don’t like to think of the economy as a body. It’s not a person. It doesn’t have agency. The economy as all of us acting out there together as producers and consumers. So it’s about all of us in our society. So that’s just one small one small point. But I think that when policymakers started learning about this in January, there were a series of things they could have done to put the economy on ice. And there were a series of things they could have done to have ensured that places a business did not become hotspots for the virus. Very first thing I would have done would have been to ensure that every worker in the United States had access to paid sick days. Right. If you have a cough or a cold, you should stay home. Think how many transmissions were caused due to the lack of paid sick days. And we are the only one of our. Anomic competitors that already does not have that program. Second would have made sure that everybody had access to healthcare so that if they did get sick, they didn’t have to worry about going to the doctor. You know, as we’ve gone through this crisis, I’m tending more to speak in the past tense because the problem now is that with tens of millions of people already separated from their employers, and that’s what we learned today with this new unemployment data. Now, when we want to get the economy up and running, all those employers need to go out and they need to rehire people. So that’s not that’s not the model we’re talking about here today. Now, we’ve made it that much harder to have that so-called V-shaped recovery, the kind of recovery that we all need in one.
S15: We’re in a catastrophic recession already. But there has been a, you know, by historical standards, a huge government response, both in fiscal monetary policy. Let us suppose that there is a Democrat elected president in November and there’s a Republican Senate. I’m worried that on the fiscal side, where Republicans certainly touring the Great Recession were extremely reluctant to spend when Democrats are in the White House that we could find ourselves in in twenty twenty one with the continuing recession, but a Congress that’s unwilling to spend our way out of it anymore. Does that concern you?
S14: These are things that keep me up at night or wake me up in the middle of the night. You know, last May, Equitable Growth worked with the Hamilton Project to release a book called Recession Ready, where we had a number of scholars talk about what kinds of policies we needed to have in place so that our nation would be as prepared for the next recession as possible. And a lot of the experts, myself and Jay Shamba included, played roles during the last economic recession and had a lot of lessons that we had learned that we wanted to get out there. And the key lesson that we talk about is that in a recession, we know what policies work is. David, as you just said, Congress has already put in place a series of packages that have expanded unemployment benefits, have gotten direct payments to individuals, have provided some aid to the states. These are all policies that are tried and true. We’ve done them in previous recessions and we have empirical research that shows that they are effective. What we proposed in the book is that we need to think about each of these as things that we turn on in economic downturns and then turn off as. As the economy improves, but not until it improves. We’ve been working really hard to encourage policymakers to understand that they are going to need to keep these programs on for as long as we have a recession. And that’s what we learned during the Great Recession. We did not keep benefits flowing to the extent that we needed to. And that is what partially what created that long l of the slow economic recovery that right after the Great Recession, when the economy started coming back, it was those at the very, very top of the income distribution, the wealthiest among us, who saw their incomes and importantly their wealth come back fairly quickly. Yet for the vast majority of people, bottom 90 percent and certainly for middle class and working class families, that recovery was incredibly slow. And many families indeed never fully recovered either their income or their assets, their home values and the like after the Great Recession.
S8: Heather, do do you think these shocks, whether they come from pandemics or housing crises or whatever, are more a part of our life in the way that 9/11 taught us that instantaneous terrorism attacks are more a part of our life? Our big wild swings and economic shocks because of our interconnectedness and because of the technology, mean that there are just going to be more of these kinds of moments that you need to be prepared for and that you need firefighters.
S16: I think there’s it’s a definitely a yes. And answer to your question, John, those choices that we have made around economic inequality are coming to we are now seeing the implications of that. Policymakers and scientists that think about health knew that we might see this kind of pandemic. We had seen, you know, H1N1 come around in 2009. Of course, we’d all watched other countries cope with Ebola and other viruses. So it’s not like we didn’t know that this was coming so that this crisis was coming. But we also need to remember that we have a series of other catastrophes that that our nation is staring down. The world is staring down because of climate change. And we know that climate change will will both bring new diseases to our shores, but also was causing environmental damage that that our society needs to be prepared for and we need to be actually thinking about how we build resilience. I think what we’ve uncovered now is that the complete lack of resilience in far too many communities and in our our economy is going to be devastating, not just on a human scale, but on an economic scale.
S17: Heather Bridgeway, thank you very much. Thank you. A safe and healthy.
S10: Amanda Ripley, frequent gabfests guest or occasional gabfests guest as a writer in Washington, a contributor to The Atlantic and The Washington Post, among many other places. Author of excellent, excellent books, including notably for us today, The Unthinkable, a book she wrote I think back in 2008, The Unthinkable Who Survives When Disaster Strikes and Why. Amanda has been writing about how the government can act to maintain trust, how we can act to maintain our health and sending connection during the pandemic. Amanda Ripley, welcome back to The Gabfest. It’s so nice to have you here. Thanks for having me. So the unthinkable is more about sort of hot disasters that I think of them as fast catastrophes. What we’re going through now is a kind of slow, inexorable and in some ways invisible to us in our daily lives. Those of us who are not in hospital are not with someone who’s sick. How do you think surviving something like this and getting through something like this is different than surviving a fire or a sinking ship? What’s the same? What’s different?
S18: What’s surprising to me is how similar it is, even though it’s in slow motion. So of the disasters I’ve seen covered, probably what this feels most like is Hurricane Katrina.
S19: Obviously it’s different in many ways, but the behavior of people individually and in groups is strikingly similar. So, for example, in all kinds of disasters, whether they’re fast or slow, most people go through it first, a period of profound and very creative denial, as we saw here. And then there’s a period of deliberation. And you see this with hurricanes where people get very social. They check with each other. They check with family, neighbors, new sources to see if they should evacuate. Right. And people check with five sources on average before making that decision. And then there’s a period of gathering. Right, where people even if they don’t need to. People like to get stuff together. And we saw that here with toilet paper and other things. Right. So in plane crashes, it looks like the plane’s on fire and you got to get off. You’re on the ground. It’s almost plane crashes go and everybody goes for their overhead baggage. Right. So that’s a classic behavior that in every kind of disaster from 9/11 to fires, it really doesn’t matter. The human behavior is very similar and there are good reasons for that. Very understandable reasons. So this is very prolonged.
S20: To your point. But the behavior feels very familiar.
S1: Amanda, you’ve also written incisively and thoroughly about kids and education. I’m admittedly a little obsessed right now with the consequences for kids and thinking through, you know, OK, the lost spring, but then the possibility of the out of the time out of school extending. And I wonder what you are looking for as you think about the consequences for them.
S21: It’s almost.
S22: I can’t I almost can’t get my head around it. It is not. It is not a good situation.
S20: Every weakness that every district or city or country has with education becomes much more apparent in times like this. Just like in every disaster, the health of an institution or a community before the disaster strikes is actually far more predictive of what will happen than the actual disaster. In a lot of cases. So going back to Katrina, one of the big takeaways for. For everyone who who was there afterwards was how dysfunctional New Orleans was before Katrina. The court system, the police, the schools. Things were very broken before that hurricane. And the effect of that made the damage so much worse.
S23: Right. And so in the United States, you’re going to see the whole spectrum when it comes to schools. Schools.
S20: School leaders who were very strong before this and are very strong afterward make a huge difference. Communities that have more fairness built into them are going to be better off. Around the world, places that have more focus and equity in how they do education are going to be better off. So all those things kind of get stripped bare, just as they do in other in other realms of our life. So it is it is very concerning and sort of like looking at the sun, you know, it’s just like it can’t it’s hard to do so, man, all those things that we lied when a disaster heads.
S24: We really needed to have before the disaster came in the first place. Is that right? Does that make it? That isn’t true what you’re saying. And after you answer that question, who is responding? Well, in this instance, either from a public figure standpoint or just anywhere that you would put your finger down on the on the response to.
S23: Yeah. So. So definitely there’s there’s still opportunity to to repair those things.
S19: And sometimes there’s more opportunity after a disaster strikes. But because there’s more money flowing in some cases, not all. But there’s like you got to look back not just for a look back at what are the things that the weaknesses we had going into this as a family, as a church, as a neighborhood, as a country.
S22: And and not just lament that, but then say, OK. Given that that’s where our focus needs to be. Right. So we know as a country. Let me just take education. Are weaknesses, math and equity. Let’s just focus on those two things. OK, look, just just be clear. We can’t do everything. So math is an is an American weakness at every age and every income group. So if we’re going to target my SWAT team for education, that’s where I would put it. Mathematics is very important. We are not good at it. And it matters for kids lives. OK. And also equity. Right. Very important. We are not good at it. We are not the worst. Right. We are not the worst in the world in equity, but we could do better. So.
S25: So those are things that they can help at least provide some clarity about what to focus on and what what’s going right. I mean, I think a lot of state and local leaders are really seizing this moment as often often happens in disasters to bring people together. You know, there was a more in common poll done about Rieker or two ago that 90 percent of Americans believe that we’re all in this together versus sixty three percent a year or two ago. So there’s a huge opportunity to really get people rallied and to create that sense of solidarity. I think a lot of state and local leaders are doing that. A lot of, you know, neighborhood leaders, restaurant leaders, school leaders. So you see that all over the place. And that, too, is very, very typical of every disaster I’ve ever covered.
S5: Amanda, I want to bring two threads of things you’ve written together. So you’ve been writing recently about what allows this society to function well in a crisis like this, that you need fairness. You need clarity. You need people to feel a sense of autonomy. A government that feel is trusted, incompetent. That’s one thread. The other thread is you’ve written and we’ve had you on the show before about the poisonous political divisions in American life that we have people who basically have totally, apathetically different world views. And I wonder how you think those two forces are interacting now and are we in a better place or a worse place than we were a month ago? Because you know that when you think about the interaction of those two forces.
S25: Yeah. I mean, people are undergoing different pandemics, as we know you’ve talked about on the show, depending on many different things in their lives, spending on their race, their income, their geography, their age, but also depending on their political affiliation and intensity. So we know already that people who were heart highly partisan before this are experiencing this whole thing very differently from the average American. So most people are not viewing all of this through a partisan lens, but the people with the biggest microphones are right. So the people who are most active politically on the left and the right, including leaders, but also people who are just activists and who are on Twitter and other things, which is totally predictable for a high conflict, but incredibly dangerous and disruptive.
S1: So it’s an example of a way that you think that’s destructive. I mean, are you talking about, like Laura Ingraham kind of denial? What do you see happening on the left that worries you?
S25: Well, I think in both cases it means that there’s no there’s no law of good intentions. Like you can never if everything is seen through that political lens, then if I were to say and I think all of us have had these thoughts, like, well, then there’s a lot of economic damage and that leads to mental illness and other health problems. How do we weigh the costs and benefits of this? I said this to a friend of mine the other day who’s very liberal. And she immediately just, you know, just stomped all over it because it sounded like a Trump talking point. Right. Like it for her triggered that sensation of, oh, my God, you’re putting the economy before lives, which is not what I intended. And I get that that has been reduced to this really kind of crass, simple terms in some places. But you you know, that’s not there needs to be the ability to talk about these things. Now, some people are are exploitive and profiteering and disaster. So I don’t mean to suggest that everyone is just like, you know, walking around good intentions. But most people are not. And so that golden hour of goodwill and camaraderie that people experience during and after a disaster should not be wasted.
S24: There’s so many people who, when they exhibit thrift or proper risk tolerance, all the kind of resilience they were often from a previous generation, people say, oh, well, that’s because they grew up in the Depression and they learned these lessons that were sort of encoded in them. First of all, is that right? And is there any. What lingers either from the Depression era or now have people been able to capture those sets of behaviors that worked in the crisis and then carry them into the non-crisis period?
S25: Yeah. And I think that’s you know, it’s cool is like we’re in a moment where we can choose those things. Like you can decide. Yeah, I know that letting go of some of the trappings of a consumer is culture. Maybe there’s something that is something that you want to continue. Right. So there’s there’s some choice in that. If you look at 9/11, there was a huge sort of glorification of first responders. Right. And that, I think, continued to some degree. And the same will probably be true with health care workers like the sort of elevation of their status. And maybe if we work on it with teachers. So there’s like these these golden opportunities. Right. And you have to kind of like seize them. And so there’s a huge, huge opportunity for leadership for people who have big platforms to carry those through. So I think you’re it’s good to think about it now and not just let it happen.
S26: Can I can I argue with that for a second? So. Look, no one can gain say that the bravery and the kind of difficulty that health care workers are undergoing and that they’re exhibiting right now. And similarly, in post-9-11, what first responders did and the sacrifices they made in the loss of life is, you know, astonishing and was tragic to draw from that the conclusion that it would be good for American life to to escalate the weight that health care workers or that first responders have in public policy debates or to escalate. If you look at the Great Depression, the value of thrift or of not taking risks, I think would be a mistake. Like it’s not just like we have a health care system where health care workers, notably doctors, have too much weight and hospitals have too much weight in how we make policy. My conclusion is not necessarily that we want these are golden hour things. We want to we want first responders to always have the top voice when we think about emergencies or that health care workers should decide what the shape of the health care system should be. These are decisions that we have to make as a society. So that’s just a sort of a minor aside, not to be Grinch like.
S27: You know, I think that’s a great point. So you’re saying you don’t want to glorify the individual? You know, alleged heroes, right.
S18: At the expense of looking at the system like the system is. The thing that they’re riding on the system is the thing that’s that’s kind of gotten us into some of these problems to begin with. It’s not just the doctors. It’s the nurses. Right. It’s the home health care aides.
S25: It’s the system that leads us to not having enough ICU beds like that. Those are the things that I think, I hope linger. But but right. I wouldn’t want it to just be people who maybe already have an outsized voice having more voice.
S28: But there’s also a distinction to be made between the weight they have in a post covered world and the weight, the attributes that they’re displaying in this moment, the generosity, the resilience, the duty, dedication, sense of community, humanity, all of those things, those specific people happen to be demonstrating. And we can lift up those. Absolutely. That they happen to embody without having to give them extra weight in our policy debate.
S1: Amanda, before you go, there was a protest in Lansing, Michigan, against that Governor Whitmore’s, a stay at home orders. I wonder what you made of those images and that impulse.
S22: I think this is a really important, important scene to to pause on, because there’s a couple of things we know about Americans.
S29: Right? It’s hard to generalize, but we know that Americans don’t like to be told what to do. There’s something in our culture and our rhetoric that we like to have some sense of autonomy. That’s actually true of humans, not just American. Good point. And we know from the research into how to get people, the public to cooperate in disasters that it’s super important that you give people a sense of autonomy and then they will do amazing things. So while I realize that the people protesting in Michigan may not represent a bigger movement, and I’m glad that they did peacefully in a more or less were physically distanced, it might be useful to think about what they actually said. Right. Some of them said some really, really interesting things like we don’t like to be talked to, like were children. Now, this is something that we can fix. It’s not too late, but I have been worried about the degree to which I’ve seen well-meaning leaders around the country use words like lockdown, like mandatory, like enforcement.
S27: You don’t want to go down that path unless you absolutely know it’s worth it because there will be a backlash to it. So an example of this is is, you know, there used to be smallpox outbreaks all over the country all the time. It was like a major recurring tradition and it was miserable. In 1894, there was one of these outbreaks in Milwaukee and it happened before the vaccine was already available, but most people didn’t have it. The health commissioner of Milwaukee made a fateful decision, which is he allowed families and middle and upper class areas of the city to self-quarantine in their homes when they were sick. But in the more crowded German and Polish immigrant neighborhoods, the city was forcibly removing and hospitalizing sick people because it was, you know, denser and more unsanitary. And this created a huge backlash. There was not trust in the system or the hospital to begin with. And people were really upset by that double standard. So in that inequality. Yeah, exactly. And in addition to autonomy, people need to feel like there’s basic fairness. OK, so this led to a series of riots through the poorest parts of Milwaukee. You know, thousands of people in the streets refusing to let officials take sick children to the hospital. Smallpox spreading over a thousand people got sick, 244 died. This is after the vaccine was available. Remember, and we have by comparison, an example from New York City about 50 years later. Also going through a smallpox outbreak where they handle the health commissioner, different persons. So much of this comes down to the individual, sadly. But he decided something very different. He could have forcibly removed the sick and he didn’t. He decided to really enlist the public, treat them like grown ups, tell them everything, be very transparent about what he knew and didn’t know. And he got millions of New Yorkers to line up, sometimes waiting overnight to get vaccinated against smallpox. And it was a massive, massive public health success. So I think there were two deaths or something. Just just incredible success. So this is an example of how you’re much better off enlisting the public. The public will do amazing things, right, if they are well-informed and trust, too. And if they feel like they’re part of the solution, I hope that this kind of thing is seen as a kind of early warning about how we talk about this and how we enforce these quarantines, because it’s just it’s not worth going down the path of authoritarianism here. It’s just it’s not worth it.
S1: That’s a great illustration. I was thinking along similar lines this week when I was seeing an image of a man being forcibly taken off of, I think, the subway in Philadelphia for not wearing a mask. And it was just such whiplash because, you know, merely a week or two ago, the government was saying, don’t wear masks.
S12: And they had just, you know, gone through this 180 degree turn. And then, you know, it was this image that was essentially a violent image. And I thought, like, c’mon, we need to explain to people why we need.
S27: Exactly. I mean, that just really breaks my heart because again, speaking of that golden hour, do not waste this opportunity. Most people are being incredibly compliant with what is a huge, huge sacrifice. And I wish more people would start talking about it and and more leaders would be very clear that, no, we we were we are allies with the public. We are we are not enemies.
S17: Amanda, actually, I would talk. I read your story about the New York outbreak and mentioned my mother and my mother, who was a New Yorker and born in 1938, was like, yes, I got that vaccine.
S9: I had a scar on it, you know, till I was through college. It’s a little half moon pit. Yes. You remembered it vividly and with fondness, essentially. So it worked. Amanda Ripley, thank you for joining us. Come back. And thanks for having me. Take care. See you in the neighborhood.
S30: Let us go to cocktail chatter.
S5: The Washington Post food section had a whole article this week about how to make cocktails when you don’t have any of the ingredients you need to. How to freelance some cocktails.
S31: I didn’t read just pour some poor gin or just of stuff and drink and mix them all.
S32: So, Emily, what is your chatter?
S11: I have two chapters this week. Melissa Murray, who is an NYU law professor and one of the hosts of strict scrutiny and excellent podcast about the law and the Supreme Court. She has a new piece in the Atlantic pointing out that the Supreme Court should stick with the changes it’s making because of coronavirus, namely, the court is having video or teleconferencing. And for the first time ever, I believe a live audio feed that we can all tune into.
S7: I don’t think Melissa is arguing they should not return to the courtroom.
S11: However, the live audio feed and that kind of public access, it seems like an excellent, excellent shift that the court should just continue with when we hopefully have a different a new normal in American life. And then my second chatter is there is just a wonderful short story in The New Yorker from I think a couple weeks ago by Tessa Hadley, who is a favorite writer of mine. It’s called the other one. It’s so good. And if you read it, just check out the pacing of it, which I thought was like startling in a way that really made me think as a writer. So Tessa Hadley, the other one New Yorker short story from a week or two ago, John Vall John.
S33: What does your chatter?
S8: It’s funny, wrench and pacing.
S24: I wonder if for more if the way our time is allocated in this time is different in the way we consume things, because I have one of my chatter is about Ken Burns documentary on jazz, which I went to revisit after interviewing Wynton Marsalis for the piece I did on 60 Minutes. Because when we were talking, I’ve always loved the idea of jazz, which is that you spend all of this time working through the math of complicated math of jazz and knowing how to play it. But then when they’ve studied the brains of jazz musicians, the brains actually go into this mode when they’re playing that is optimally designed for adaptation and collaboration. So it’s a hugely complicated thing. Piece of art created in the moment that relies on the interaction with others. You can’t just stomp all over them or else you’re not doing it right. But so it requires practice. And then adaptation, which seems to me is true for basically any complicated thing. And Wynonna’s point was that that’s true of of this moment we’re in, which is martial all your forces and then be ready to do to adapt. So I went back to the opening of the or went back to watching jazz, which is great. And the opening I watched sort of three different times to pick up all the things that were going on with the writing. Wynton Marsalis, it has a great riff at the beginning about jazz and what it is and why it’s so magical. And yet the way in which they use sound, picture the narration. So I recommend it. But at the beginning in particular, I felt was really nicely done for one of those really massive openings for a long project.
S17: I wonder if you looked at improv comedians, whether you’d see that same brain patterns. If it is, it is improvisation.
S15: Just a kind of neurologic capacity and it crosses for musicians, comedians. Presumably there are lots of other professions where you need some kind of improv skill. And is it the same thing in all of them?
S34: Right. Right.
S15: My chatter of two chatters. One is a piece in The Economist, a column about covered 19 slang, which is very charming. And I want to share a few international terms that have come up. So there’s Corona’s spec, which is a German term which is used to describe basically your covered fifteen, your freshman 15 have covered the weight. People are putting on when they’re inside. And it means corona fat corona spec- means corona fat. There’s a French word couture’s, Zain. So when you think about the word quarantine, I hadn’t thought about this, but it is obviously connected to the French, Carol, which is 40. So they’ve made this word 14. The 14 day isolation is couture’s and French is caterer’s is 14. So Catorce, Zain, is the 14 day isolations, which is instead of quarantine, which I thought was cool. And then a Dutch term, which I loved, which is called Hampster N, which is like Hampster E N the end. And it is the to be like a hamster. And hamsters keep food in their cheeks. And it is a term to describe what. Hoarding, hoarding. Yeah, it’s like the Dutch term for hoarding is hampster in. Which is. That’s excellent. Excellent. Anyway, love that piece in The Economist. I also want to quickly just chatter. I’ve mentioned before that my brother John plotts, who’s a brilliant as well as humane and funny English professor, has a podcast about books, and he is doing a a special coverthe 19 series called Books and Dark, Dark Times, where he’s interviewing writers and professors and other folks that he knows and likes about books that they are finding comfort or interest in. At this moment. And so his interview with me is going up today or Thursday. It’s going up on Thursday. So I hope you listen to it. What’s the book? Oh, it’s a bunch of different books. We talk about a bunch of different books. What kind of books we’re finding comfort in. All right. Let’s hear about your chatter, listeners. We got a lot of really good ones this week. Please keep them coming by tweeting them to us at at Slate Gabfests. What are you finding? Comfort and and solace and joy or just interest in during your your covered 19 period. So please tweet them to us. That’s like gabfests. I want to call attention to something listener Barry Nael Buff sent us. Barry is also a I think, a friend of Emily’s and mine. Ah, acquaintance of mine. And he points us to work by a historian at Stanford named Catherine Olavarria, which ultimately ended up being a New York Times op ed. And it’s absolutely fascinating work that Elvira’s has been doing where she has studied the yellow fever.
S35: Epidemics that swept through the South American South, but particularly around New Orleans in the early and mid 19th century, and there became a kind of economy around having already had yellow fever and thus been immune to yellow fever. And that made you more economically valuable. It made you your wages higher in the slave economy. It allowed New Orleans slave owners would sell their enslaved people for higher prices if those people had already been infected with yellow fever, because this was a disease that had a very high mortality and there would be people who would even take the chance of getting infected with the disease just to get the yellow fever passport. And so Olivares says it’s just a totally fascinating history about a very gruesome moment in American life. And for everyone who’s talked about, well, should we have covered 19 passports for those who’ve survived and may have immunity? This is a it’s not a projection of the idea. It’s just sort of like this is a way to help you think more subtly. And and here’s here’s a society where that actually happened. And what were the implications of a really great piece?
S4: What do we need to guard against? Yeah.
S35: If you enjoyed the show, please subscribe the gabfests. You’ll get a new episode of the show the second we published them every week.
S36: That is our show for today. The gabfests is produced by Jocelyn Frank from her home in Minnesota. A researcher is Bridget Dunlap is working from her home in Illinois. Gabriel Roth is the editorial director of Slate podcasts from his home in New York. I think June Thomas is the managing producer from her home also in New York. Would you please follow us on Twitter at Slate Gabfest and tweet chatter to us for my beloved Emily Bazelon and beloved John DICKERSON. I’m David Plotz. Thank you for listening. We will talk to you next week.
S35: Hello. Slate Plus, how are you? Thank you for being a member of Slate Plus. This is a week when Slate has. Slate has had to make some cuts in salary for its employees. And I think your membership and the support you’re giving to Slate at this time is really valuable to loud. It’s a loud slate to continue and we’re grateful for it.
S30: So our slate plus topic today is about billionaires.
S35: It’s sort of like imagining ourselves to be billionaires. And one of the things that I’ve been surprised by during this crisis is that the billionaires are not as present as I expected them to be, given what an outsize role they play in American life, how great they are at telling us how great they are, how how good they are at their massive space project, or, you know, they’re going to remake the American economy in this way. In that way. And they’re such visionaries. And yet you don’t see them around. You don’t see them, you know, except for Bill Gates. God love him. Who is just a true hero and don’t I wish he was president. You don’t really see them coming through with things that seem to be helping society. A billionaire knowing friend of mine assured me that billionaires in her circle are very busy at all kinds of things, and they are not simply holed up in New Zealand. But I’ve been I’ve been surprised. I’ve been surprised at how little we’ve seen. But it led to this this topic, which is if we were billionaires, we were lucky enough to be billionaires. I don’t think either of you guys is.
S31: What what would you say? I don’t think so. You think there is some question?
S37: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah.
S33: I don’t know. You got, you know, somebody buying a new electric car. Emily. So somebody did.
S38: And a camera who was did a physical reference. That representation of what, a billionaire, how much a billion really is using. I think it was rice. Yeah. And oh my. It was very helpful. I mean it’s a lot so much. So, so much anyway. Carry on.
S5: Yeah it is a lot. I thought that Bill Gates today actually just put supplied all of the U.S. funding plus for W.H.O. that we’ve we’ve deprive them of. He was like, you know what? Trump, you took it away. I’m just gonna give it back so they dare not screw it up.
S39: You did that. You did it. Yeah. You know, that’s so interesting. I mean, he’s being so heroic and great. And yet, like, there’s something just deeply troubling about that idea like that the American president does this terrible thing. I mean, it’s really terrible. W.H.O. screwed up parts of the response, that coronavirus. I. I think that. But to take that money away right now and that is literally just like killing a lot of people, especially in the global south. And it’s great that it’s back. But also like Bill Gates really, anyway. CONAN Well, can I.
S38: Can government should be paying for that just to jump in. Also, the Bill Gates is having to rescue from the makework being created by a diversionary tactic to shift blame from the president, which again is not keeping the main thing. The main thing. And then to just support your point, Emily, the idea that superheroes can rush in and solve these kinds of problems undermines the kind of thinking that we were talking about earlier, which is all the stuff you should do to prepare, because these problems are going to come. They come regularly. They happen all the time. So deal with that on the on the front end so that you don’t have to find billionaires on their islands to get them to hopefully do something to rescue us.
S1: And also the shifting away from American taxpayer and government responsibility, foreign aid, which we should be providing so much more of, like that’s also not a good trend.
S37: This is not the slate plus topic, you guys, the slate. What are you going to do with your billion billion dollar? So it’s not a lot.
S10: It’s not we’re not it’s not a billion dollars. It’s sort of like some if you had a million, 10 million to spend lots of discretionary income, you can’t say, oh, I’m gonna find the one scientist who’s going to discover the cheap and effective treatment. It can’t you can’t say like, oh, my million dollars is going to find that scientist. You can’t assume that kind of success. You have to be realistic. So my my idea. All right. Here’s I had this idea last night, and maybe it’s terrible. And my idea is one of the things that’s going to make the reopening the economy and getting back to life difficult is that people just don’t know how to behave. And the physical landscape has been designed in a pre covered world where you don’t need to wash your hands and to go when you’re going into places. Restaurants can be crowded. And, you know, a school that did that, a daycare center doesn’t have hand-washing stations, that schools aren’t set up in a way that that are going to minimize the kinds of interactions or kinds of contact that could promote the disease. And we’re gonna have to in order for society to kind of get back on track, we’re gonna have to have physical spaces are going to have. To be somewhat different. Probably too, for that to work. And so my idea is this I would pick a city, a single block in my city, Washington, D.C., I guess, and I would try to pick it in a neighborhood, neither a very rich neighborhood in a very poor neighborhood, some neighborhood, maybe sort of a transitional kind of neighborhood. And I would fund every business. And every activity, every organization that was there, the school on that block, the day care on that block, the businesses, the the police station to make themselves as Koven safe as possible in their physical spaces, retrofit this restaurant so that it can be less dense. Give the daycare center a full a full time person who’s just keeping, you know, helping the kids keep hygienic, like whatever, whatever that is, and use it as a model, create a sort of model physical space for how a micro economy can can work and do that pretty quickly. And so that other people can see, oh, yeah, these are the steps you’re gonna need need to take and it can get replicated.
S17: That’s what I would do.
S12: That’s good. You don’t get too perfect. You wanted to be a replica.
S34: Yeah. So you’re creating a laboratory for. Like Cauvin scaling.
S17: Yeah, for but for her, for covered, recovered returning it is where because for people to return, they need to feel comfortable. What are the things that make them feel comfortable that are gonna work? That’s my idea. All right, John, what about you?
S34: Huh? Well.
S28: I mean, I think you you. I want to do something that uses money to separate the ways of thinking about this, so there’s the getting the economy back on track, peace. But then there’s the. All the things that should have been done beforehand. Peace that I worry gets lost when we when the economy starts to get back on track or in everybody’s rush to get the economy back on track. And in that rush, what gets lost is a. All of the good feelings and thinking and attributes everybody’s holding up at the moment. But B, all the mental health problems that will exist and be on diagnosed and recognized while everybody’s rushing to get back to work. There will be all of the policy recommendations that won’t get done because everybody will just be trying to rush back and say you need something that keeps the focus on those kinds of issues in a way that popular culture and our government at the moment won’t keep the focus on those things. So you need a committee to both get us out and a committee that figures out what got us in that is better than some of the kinds of commissions we’ve had afterwards. Now, like the 9/11 Commission actually ended up having some weight and having some. And is it? You know, it’s a useful. It created a useful document after the attacks of 9/11 and a useful frame for themabout things, but not as powerful as what I would like, because as we discussed on the show today, there are lots of things that both that caused the inequities in the moment we’re in that need to be addressed and thought about. So I would find some way to use the money, not only in the moment, but also in the past. Also, I just need something that will short circuit the absolutely fuzzy and static filled channels of civic information. And I don’t know how you fix that.
S38: But there are everybody knows we’re racing for the cure and everybody knows we’re racing for ways to address the economy. But part of both of those things will rely on what you raised in the show, David, which is the kind of information we’re passing back and forth, the reliability of it and people’s believing in it. And that requires some subtlety, as Amanda talked about, because people sometimes will do a lot more if you ask them and then if you tell them. And straightening all that out will make the signal clearer for whenever the billionaire funded geniuses who solve all of our problems actually come up with the solutions, because there’s the execution piece of this, too.
S28: So I don’t know if that’s very specific, but that’s my thoughts.
S1: I would divide my money. I think two thirds of it goes abroad to poor countries to deal with the incredible fallout from this crisis. I don’t know exactly what the best way to use that money is. I mean, I am really horrified by the images of all the laborers in India who were displaced, had no way to get home or just like crowding these train stations that weren’t running anymore. That’s just one thing that stuck with me. But some way of really thinking about how to help those countries because there’s the virus. Then there’s all the unemployment and dislocation that I’m Cheryl, all result from it. And then in the United States, I think state and local governments, they’re not sexy. They are doing so much work right now. They don’t have the resources. They’re going to come out of this broke. They can’t do deficit spending. They don’t have the Fed to print money for them. We’re gonna need the hell out of them. And so figuring out some way to help them, that brings in more federal funding, not letting the federal government off the hook the way, ponying up for who does, but a way that entices the federal government to step in, but also augments what the state and local governments can do.
S40: I love how extremely I think maybe I said the thought enough. What made it into the show last week? How extremely. Reflective of our characters each. They’re so much like like, you know, John. John is philosophical fromthat process and philosophical. I’ve got some, like, totally nonsensical, but like very experimental mental weirdness. And Emilie’s like like the actually here’s a practical policy measures and I’m thinking about the world, not just my neighborhood.
S31: You’ve losers who like you losers.
S40: I know you didn’t say you did. Definitely didn’t say that. It wasn’t even in your tone of voice. I was. That was me. He just didn’t even think it. I know. I know you did anyway. Slate Plus, we’ll catch you later. Bye bye.