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Political Fantasies Versus Economic and Health Realities

Late last week in an article titled “When are the jobs coming back?” Joseph Brusuelas, the chief economist at consulting firm RSM, blew up the blather of election-year politicians, saying: “We have to be utterly realistic about this because there is political fantasy out there and then there is economic reality. It is going to be years before we recover all of these lost jobs and as much as 25 percent of them aren’t ever coming back. The next step is to discover if we suffered a fundamental economic break that is permanent. And it would appear the answer to that is yes.”

Cheery projections of the future are not uncommon in politicians hoping for votes. But as we’ve seen all too often, the overwhelming desire of office-holders from the White House on down to local governments to get the coronavirus pandemic behind them has resulted in artificial optimism while minimizing the actual realities of the damage done and what’s yet to come.

Even worse, spreading false hope that we have somehow “crested” this pandemic is endangering people’s lives needlessly. There has never been a successful vaccine for coronavirus. Never. Let that sink in for a minute and then think about how misplaced and false the predictions of returning to “normalcy” really are.

If we take off the rose-colored glasses, the situation extant becomes much clearer. Although President Trump ordered meat packing plant workers back to their jobs under the authority of the Defense Production Act, the reality is that these people are working shoulder to shoulder on production lines with no “social distancing” and, as evidenced by the outbreaks of c-virus at the plants, insufficient personal protective equipment. Dying to make a living is not part of the much lauded American Dream — nor will “American exceptionalism” make a bit of difference to a virus that brings sickness and death.

For Montana, where we have more cows than people, ranchers that can’t get their livestock sold and processed is a huge problem that will likely lead to further increases in farm and ranch bankruptcies, especially for those with over-extended debt burdens. What the pandemic has exposed are the severe weaknesses in a food processing system that has been commandeered and consolidated by a few large corporations which are now a serious bottleneck in the path from farm and ranch to table that keeps American families fed.

Likewise, the rush to open Montana’s national parks will bring a flood of visitors from all over the nation and world. Most will not be tested, many may be asymptomatic vectors, and all will be in our communities. The simple truth is that the U.S. is completely unprepared for the testing, tracking and contact tracing recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. What that means, as Yellowstone’s Superintendent Sholly told reporters late last week: “The gateway communities have to understand the numbers (of coronavirus infections) are going to go up.” In other words, Montanans will die for the tourism industry.

At least Sholly deserves credit for being honest — a virtue too many of our politicians have forsaken in favor of fairy tales about returning to “normalcy.” The truth is more Americans are jobless than at any time since the Great Depression, the impacts are only beginning, and the economic crash will leave state and local governments reeling.

It’s time to face the facts — we will never return to the “normalcy” of the past. What we need now are not cheerleaders, but clear-eyed truth-tellers who bring realistic plans for our new and highly uncertain future.

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George Ochenski is a columnist for the Missoulian, where this essay originally appeared.

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