Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
I’ve read claims on the web that the job losses in the US were due to the virus itself, and to the fear of the virus making people cut back on activities. The claims are that the job loss is more from that, and not so much a result of the American Lockdown. So I thought I’d take a look at the weekly new claims for unemployment insurance. Of course, the different states have been hit differently by the changes. Here’s the graph of weekly new unemployment claims for one of the least affected states, Oregon.
Figure 1. Weekly new unemployment claims, Oregon, since 1999. “Usual” refers to the one-year period preceding the record rise.
I saw that and I thought something was wrong with the program I’d written to download and graph the data. But nope. In fact, every single state’s new unemployment claims looks just like that. I said YIKES! I’d heard that things were bad, but I had no idea things were that bad.
Now, there are a few interesting things about Figure 1. First, you can see the results of the 2007-2009 global financial crisis in the increased unemployment peaking in 2009. We thought unemployment was bad at that time … and it was.
Since then, new unemployment claims had been steadily decreasing.
You can also see that this increase in Oregon unemployment was not caused by the coronavirus. Nor was it caused by fears of the coronavirus. It was a result of the American Lockdown.
Finally, Oregon is doing better than almost all other states, and it is still seeing eleven times the number of unemployed as was typical for the previous year. Wow. That’s the good news?
Next, here’s a state from the middle of the pack, California. It has seen a seventeen-fold increase in unemployment, with over two million people out of work in California alone.
Figure 2. Weekly new unemployment claims, California, since 1999. “Usual” refers to the one-year period preceding the record rise.
Just as in Oregon, the jump in unemployment was sudden, and coincided with the American Lockdown.
Here’s the truly crazy part. There have been just under a thousand deaths in California. Bending the curve didn’t save them, nor was it supposed to save them. Instead, it was supposed to have delayed the hospitalizations and deaths so they hit over weeks rather than days. We don’t know, and may never know, the extent of that delay if any.
We do know that most of the deaths are among the group you might call “at death’s door”.
So in California, we’ve thrown at least two million people out of work in order to delay, but not prevent, the deaths of a thousand or so people, most of whom had other serious illnesses.
Am I the only person who thinks that making two million people jobless, merely to delay but not prevent a thousand deaths, is a bad deal for society?
Let me close my look at state-level data with a state that you’d think would have seen increased unemployment from the virus itself, and not just by governmental action. Between fear of flying, fear of crowds, and fear of the virus itself, I expected Hawaii to show a different pattern from the two above. Here’s their unemployment record:
Figure 3. Weekly new unemployment claims, Hawaii, since 1999. “Usual” refers to the one-year period preceding the record rise.
To my surprise, no increase in unemployment due to the virus itself. But once again unemployment is way, way up, thirty times the usual amount Normally Hawaii sees four thousand new claims every three weeks, as they saw right up to the week ending March 21. But now they have over a hundred thousand unemployed in three weeks and counting … madness.
Finally, here’s the corresponding graph for the entire US.
Figure 4. Weekly new unemployment claims, US, since 1999. “Usual” refers to the one-year period preceding the record rise.
Twenty-one times the normal three-week count of new unemployment claims … and fifteen million unemployed.
But wait, as they say on TV, “There’s More!”
As with all such data, it takes a bit of time for the Fed to collect it and post it up. The most recent data on all of the graphs is the most recent data the Fed has posted—I pull the data from the Fed site for each graph as I create it. That data is for the week ending April 4th. I’m writing this on the 18th of April. So there are two weeks of unposted data up to the present.
We have to assume that the new unemployment claims won’t be back to pre-lunacy levels any time soon. During the week ending two weeks ago (2020-04-04 in Figure 4) there were Six. Million. New. Unemployment. Claims.
And there were another six million the week before that. For that two weeks, the US was losing jobs at a rate of almost a million more unemployed EVERY DAY!
So perhaps ten million still in the pipeline, 15 million filed claims already. That’s 25 million unemployed …
The human carnage in that number, twenty-five million, the wrecked dreams, the failed businesses, the broken relationships, the stress on marriages, the increase in suicides and domestic violence …
There are about 130 million people working full-time in the US. As of two weeks ago, governmental action had thrown more than ten percent of them out of work, with more since then.
This sudden spike in joblessness is totally unprecedented. It needs to be stopped immediately. Hundreds of thousands more unemployed every single day that this madness continues is simply not acceptable. Too much pain, far too little gain.
Here’s my plan. You had to know I have a plan. Here’s my plan.
Whenever any governmental official forcibly throws people out of work by unilaterally making their business illegal, that official and everyone under their purview should immediately lose all salary, benefits, housing, insurance, transportation, and any other benefits.
Now I can hear you thinking, “How can Willis justify that?” Simple. It’s under the same doctrine they use. They’ve divided human activities into two groups. Only one of these groups is permitted. The other is forbidden.
Of course, everyone making a living doing something which is now forbidden is suddenly thrown out of their job. Wife and husband work for a now-forbidden company? Sorry … go home and fight with each other.
And to return to the question of how I could justify throwing all those government people out of work?
The answer is in the fact that the two groups of activities, one permitted and one forbidden, the government calls these two groups “Essential” and “Non-Essential” activities.
I rest my case.
So. What should we do?
I say put on any and all health and sanitary regulations we can think of that do not pull the wheels off of the economy. We don’t have to destroy the economy in order to slow the progress of the virus.
I say every part of the economy depends on every other part. As a result, excessive “staging” will retard the resurgence of the economy.
I say that “staging” is more judgment calls by the unqualified that will still outlaw people’s jobs.
I say that every day that the
pluted bloatocrats governmental officials dither and sit on their thumbs and spin, more than half a million more people lose their jobs. Unconscionable.
I say that another layer of specialists and meetings and committees is simply putting or keeping people out of work.
And as a result of all of that, I say what I’ve said from the start …
End the American lockdown now. Not next month. Not next week. Now. Not in “stages”. Not in “phases”. Now.
Lots of talk about May 1. Gotta love the symbolism. May Day. I hope we’re back to work well before that.
But if not, let me suggest a peaceful workers revolt, the one where on May 1st we all just go forward to work. Not back to work. Forward to work. Everyone goes to their usual place of work on May 1st. No fanfare. Wear masks. Social distance. Wear gloves. Testing where appropriate. Whatever you need. And go forward to work.
Will that lead to flareups of coronavirus? I suspect so. However, future flareups will happen whether we go to work all at once or bit by bit. That virus will not go gentle into that good night no matter what we do …
Protip for those in charge. Historically, and for good reasons, in epidemics governments have used extraordinary powers to quarantine the sick. This was done to slow the spread of the disease, just as we’re attempting to do today.
Currently, however, it’s the healthy who are getting quarantined …
And to return to today’s point—quarantining the sick doesn’t destroy the economy and drive 25 million people out of work. Here are some of the measures cities used during the Spanish Flu:
Lots of things we can do to flatten the curve without flattening the economy in the process.
Finally, a plea for some perspective on this pandemic. As pandemics go, it’s not a rock star. Here’s a comparison.
I’ve lived through two pandemics with far higher death counts, and today they are hardly even remembered …
My best to you all, stay healthy, stay well, smell the flowers …
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