“Essential” business, tough decisions, and plans for re-opening the economy

"Essential" business, an awesome quote on curiosity and intellectual humility, and 5 links to plans for re-opening the economy 

What is “essential”? 

I used to teach philosophy to college students, and that’s the kind of question that would often draw blank stares. Inevitably, after lots of silence and a little eye-rolling, some student (often, with a big sigh) would reply, “It depends.”

In an intro to philosophy course (spoiler alert!), that’s usually the right answer. In a country of 330 million people who find themselves forced to consider painful choices, it may still be the right answer, but “it depends” doesn’t offer much guidance for navigating the enormous uncertainty we now face. If, for instance, I’m furloughed and my landlord wants to know if I’ll have money to pay my rent next month, “it depends” probably won’t satisfy him.

Where do we go from here?

Whatever differences we have, I think we can all agree on one thing: the current situation is really bad.  More than 300,000 people have died from COVID-19 (and nearly a third of those have been in the U.S.), unemployment has reached its highest level since the Great Depression, and schools worldwide have closed. If we can agree that things are bad, I suspect we can also agree that we’d all like it to get better. With all of this agreement, where do we go from here?

We find ourselves back at my exasperated student’s response: it depends. The plan we support for “re-opening” the economy will probably depend on our individual circumstances and preferences. Is a nail salon essential? I’m pretty sure I can get by without a nail salon for the foreseeable future, but the small business owner who runs that nail salon and her employees surely consider it to be essential to their lives.

My parents face a much higher health risk from COVID-19 than my younger colleagues and neighbors, but younger people (and many who already faced financial instability) disproportionately bear the burden of the economic shutdown. When it comes to next steps, the choices these two groups would make probably depend on their situation.

“It depends” is exactly why we need civil conversation

Should we save lives or jobs? If those really are the only two choices, maybe the only rational response is to pick a side and fight it out.

Plenty of people think that college philosophy classes are a waste of time (some of them were the eye-rollers I mentioned earlier). But I’d argue that those “it depends” discussions are the most practical ones we can possibly have at a time like this, and they may be the only ones that enable us to have productive deliberation about what we are going to do.

This week, we’re using our “5 links” to share various plans for “re-opening” the economy. As you read through them, I encourage you to consider Pamela Paresky’s advice:

In order to solve pressing problems, we need to free our minds from the constraints that drive us to interpret and represent our ideological opponents’ ideas as attacks from enemies…This requires habits of mind that in recent times we have practiced too seldom and valued too little: Approaching dissenters’ views with curiosity, critical thinking, intellectual humility, and a willingness to be wrong; using the principle of charity when evaluating ideological opponents’ ideas; thoroughly considering views before rejecting them; refusing to assign malign intentions to those whose ideas we dislike; accepting that for some problems there are no risk-free solutions; and welcoming dissent and disagreement as necessary to a functioning liberal democracy.

5 plans (from a variety of perspectives) for re-opening the economy

    1. A New Strategy for Bringing People Back to Work During COVID-19, The Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity – Last week on Civil Squared Live, Avik Roy, the founder and president of FREOPP, joined us to discuss their plan to “responsibly restore the economy while working to flatten the coronavirus curve.”
    2. National Coronavirus Response: A Road Map to Reopening, American Enterprise Institute – Former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb and AEI  scholars lay out a phased plan.
    3. A National and State Plan To End the Coronavirus Crisis, Center for American Progress – The progressive CAP notes that state and local officials have taken the lead in implementing aggressive measures.
    4. Roadmap to Pandemic Resilence, Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University – Another take, highlighting the importance of test and trace as part of the plan for reopening.
    5. Roadmap to Recovery, National Governors Association – Drawing from the above reports, this guide is designed to provide governors across the country with tactics for decision-making. 

p.s. If you’ve got a political, ideological, or philosophical issue you’ve been considering, email me at jennifer@civilsquared.org and I’ll work with my team to put together a list of articles, issues, and interesting points of view to share with you and others.

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