Rahm Emanuel’s Virus

You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”– Rahm Emanuel

There are few calamities in this world that the advocates of bigger, more active, and more intrusive government can’t turn to their own advantage. The outbreak of the CoVid-19 virus has proved to be no exception.For the last week or so, we have witnessed governors around the country issuing a variety of prohibitions, allegedly in the interest of protecting the people from this dread disease. Now, yesterday, Ohio’s beloved governor, Mike DeWine, has issued a unilateral order closing all restaurants and bars in Ohio, except for takeout, delivery, or drive-through services. No more sit-down dining or drinking until further notice.

I do not mean to minimize the hazards of this virus. It is a new one, for which none of us have had prior occasion to develop resistance. It has killed, and will kill again, although 98 percent of people who contract it will recover, and the percentages are even higher for younger people with generally good health. One question, then, is whether the response to the threat is proportionate to the danger.

Many are arguing that it isn’t. Full disclosure here: I am not completely objective on this issue. My wife is employed by a major chain restaurant. Her job, ironically enough, is doing takeout, but it appears that her employer is giving her hours to other employees whose usual positions are occluded by the closure mandate; employees younger and paid less than she is.

But many employees will be affected. Shortly after announcing the edict to close restaurants, Gov. DeWine also announced that the mandatory one week wait to collect unemployment will be waived, as will the requirement to seek work. I suspect both concessions are because the Governor is allergic to tar and feathers. Any delay is an extreme hardship to people who have been collecting regular paychecks and reasonably expected to go on doing so, while the edict at once removes a major source of entry-level jobs and throws tens of thousands of newly unemployed people onto the street. And of course, most of these employees are planning on returning to their previous employment as soon as the crisis is over.

But even with no waiting period, those affected by the closures will be hurt. Some bartenders and some other restaurant employees, like my wife, are not saddled with the tip credit and receive wages at or above minimum, but do receive some tips. Not only will unemployment not replace every dollar of lost pay (it never does), but those tips won’t be replaced.

Small business owners, including many, many bar and restaurant owners, are going to be devastated. Listen to Steve Perkins, a Libertarian candidate for office and a small business owner:

Employees get unemployment, corporations get bailed out….small business owners get F*****.We have some “low interest loans” that don’t feed our families or pay our mortgages, while we watch the businesses we built over the course of years get DESTROYED.Opening a business is YEARS of personal investment. The owner is already the employee that gets paid LAST. Does Dumbf*** DeWine realize that MANY of these restaurants WILL NEVER REOPEN? Does he realize that all of their vendors will either NOT GET PAID, or that the landlords that rent them their space (who are often sole proprietor’s) won’t get paid?Those properties still have to pay taxes and they can’t allow non-paying renters to stay indefinitely while they wait for the government to give them permission to wonder when they are allowed to reopen…….and whether they will be able to reopen.If I am a small restaurant owner…. The Governor just:

  1. Terminated all my employees
  2. Ended my business
  3. Saddles me with the debts involved in closing my business
  4. F***** my vendors and my landlord
  5. Destroyed what took years to build
  6. Left myself and any family members that worked there Unemployed….but you can’t get unemployment when your business goes under…here’s a “low interest loan” to allow you to acquire more debt…but only if you think you’ll have a business to come back to.

[Asterisks added by me; sorry, Steve!]

Mr. Perkins is, himself, a small business owner who earns his living giving classes in schools and restaurants around the state. The forced closings of these institutions puts his business, and his income, on indefinite hold.

I work in the hotel business, and we aren’t directly affected – yet. But last weekend, business where I am employed was down at least 50%, due to the cancellation of events that were to have brought in guests. Most hotels, like most restaurants and most other small businesses, run or paper-thin profit margins. They don’t have a lot of room to cover shortages. Many hotels around the country are already laying off clerks, housekeepers, and breakfast attendants. If this crisis goes on long enough, my industry will certainly see a brutal form of economic Darwinism, in which only the fittest will survive and the weak will face extinction. Along with all the jobs they provide. This effect will ripple down through the coming years, with many fewer job opportunities for kids right out of school, single parents without higher skills, or people returning to the workforce after long illness or family concerns.

And yet, I still haven’t addressed what may very well be the most dangerous characteristic of the Governor’s edict. He has apparently been able to cause this disruption entirely on his own, without any need to pass a law in the usual way. He has essentially ruled by decree, like a king – or a tyrant. Look, let’s stipulate, just for the moment, that the Governor’s action was necessary and proportionate. I said stipulate. If he can do this once, to address a health crisis, he can do it again to address any kind of challenge he can persuade enough people to buy into. Next time, maybe it’s a protest that some governor interprets as a “threat to civil order,” as the Governor of Virginia did during the Second Amendment protest in Richmond in January. By edict, he or she can order all the gun shops, and all the vendors who sell ammunition shuttered until the “crisis has passed.” Any bets on how long that could last?

I’m generally wary of “nose of the camel” arguments. But this one seems clear. Let this Governor rule by decree this time without a loud and active challenge, in the courts, in the media, and public protest if necessary, and we invite even more and bigger abridgments of our civil liberties.

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