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Latest Issue

Stall Speed Economy

September 18, 2020

When Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington at Yorktown in 1781, tradition has it that the British band played an old English children’s folk tune, “The World Turned Upside Down.”


Painting by John Trumbull

If buttercups buzz’d after the bee,
If boats were on land, churches on sea,
If ponies rode men and if grass ate the cows,
And cats should be chased into holes by the mouse,
If the mamas sold their babies
To the gypsies for half a crown;
If summer were spring and the other way ‘round,
Then all the world would be upside down.

In this letter I find myself recommending policies that not that long ago would have been extraordinarily distasteful to me. Yet, unless we pursue them, our economy will truly be turned upside down. I fully recognize these things have a cost. But the cost of inaction is much higher.

Our economic prospects looked bleak back in March and April. Much of the economy was closed down, we didn’t know how bad the virus would get, and it was hard to see a good outcome.

Now the outlook is relatively better. Unemployment, GDP, and other indicators aren’t great but they’ve improved. Yet a “better” outlook isn’t necessarily a good one. It’s just “not as bad.” Today’s numbers would be considered terrible if we weren’t comparing them to truly disastrous numbers from last spring. We avoided the worst because generous fiscal income replacement and business lifelines maintained consumer spending, and in some cases increased it.

If you fly a lot as I do (or...

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