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The Pandemic Is Over. Pivot to the Economy.

In the early days of COVID, the key objective was herd immunity. Today, we are there, or very nearly so. We should declare victory. It has been a costly victory. It may be a Pyrrhic victory, unless we pivot rapidly from COVID to the economy.

According to CDC data, we have reached herd immunity, consisting of immunity conveyed by vaccination plus natural immunity born of survival of the virus. 250 million, or almost 80% of, Americans have received at least one shot, and almost 75 million, or more than 20%, have contracted COVID and survived. We are about as close to full herd immunity as we are likely to get. Tragically, about 880 thousand American have perished, and more will perish as the last casualties of the pandemic.

The Omicron wave is receding rapidly in many places. In New York City, the seven-day average daily case rate has plunged 85% from its peak of 40,000 on January 9th to 6,000, according to the New York Times. Soon, it will be back below 2,000 where it was in early December.

Omicron has a bright silver lining. A large study comparing Omicron to the Delta variant found that Omicron is 90% less lethal, leads to hospital stays that are 70% shorter, is 75% less likely to lead to ICU admission, and, among the Omicron patients studied, not a single case required mechanical ventilation.

The worst of COVID is behind us. With herd immunity at a high level and with vaccines widely available and Pfizer’s new home-use COVID treatment pillPaxlovid – soon to be available, the pandemic is over.

It is time to address the economic damage wrought by the wholesale shutdown of the economy in response to COVID. At the outset, many observers, including this writer, expressed grave reservations about the shutdown.

The worst economic result of the shutdown is the inflation that has attended re-opening. It clocked in at 7% last year, a 39-year high. Food and energy were up 6.6% and an alarming 29.3%, respectively.  Gas prices skyrocketed a stunning 49.5%. What a gut punch to American families.

Oil in light blue. Natural gas in dark blue.

Energy is a component of virtually sector of the economy. Reducing energy costs is critically important, and it should be easy. Oil and gas are very sensitive to the law of supply and demand.

The U.S. surged into global leadership in petroleum production over the last decade and a half. Robust supply kept U.S. energy prices moderate.

The additional benefit of this surge has been, and would continue to be, significant reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

For more than a decade, U.S. emissions have declined absolutely, as natural gas has replaced coal, which emits twice the GHGs.

The Biden administration shut down the Keystone pipeline project, eliminating an important boost to global oil supplies, leaving other nations using more coal at margin. It should re-authorize the pipeline.

Orange is natural gas, which almost doubled in a decade. Coal is purple.

Our European allies are re-embracing petroleum, with natural gas poised to be approved as a green energy investment.

Another critical area is jobs. The U.S. labor force contracted drastically during the shutdown. It is still 2.2 million below its pre-pandemic level. In general, an economy can only expand if the labor force expands. During the pandemic, benefits were provided to those who lost jobs. Now, incentives should be extended to encourage people to take jobs.

Yet another problem is illegal immigration. While not a consequence of the pandemic, illegal immigration has surged to crisis proportions at the southern border with an estimated 2.1 million border crossers in calendar 2021 under Biden. Illegal immigration is extremely costly in an almost completely unacknowledged fashion, with its true cost lost in partisan misrepresentations.

An alternate and neutral benchmark might be Germany’s cost for the roughly one million mostly Mideastern immigrants it admitted in 2015. Germany has tracked costs carefully. While the German system and experience is not exactly comparable to ours, it provides a reasonable guide to general cost levels.

In 2015, Germany’s estimated cost was $22.5 billion; in 2016, $23.6 billion. In 2017, the government projected a cost of $86.2 billion for 2017 through 2020, pushing the six-year total over $130 billion, or more than $130,000 per capita.

By this benchmark, the cost of the Biden administration’s mismanagement of the border in just the last year would exceed $260 billion.

Federal courts have forced Biden to reinstate the prior administration’s policies which had reduced illegal immigration to about 400,000 in calendar 2020. Now, he is appealing to the Supreme Court. He should drop his appeal.

Agree or disagree with these recommended policies on energy, jobs and immigration, but embrace the need to shift focus from the pandemic, which is behind us, to the enormous economic challenges before us.

The national debt has increased $5.3 trillion, or more than 30%, from $17.4 trillion to $22.7 trillion, an amount almost equal to U.S. GDP. With interest rates rising, that debt will become significantly more costly.

We need to craft policies to maximize and optimize economic activity.

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