Friday, April 24, 2020

On false choices

Needless to say, I'm not at all surprised to see what resulted from Scott Moe's pre-announcement announcement and subsequent announcement about the additional risks he wants to take in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. But before digging into the details of what Moe plans to open up, let's first look at how he chose to frame the discussion.

Any talk about our options in the face of COVID-19 should be based on two basic points. First, in light of the exponential spread of the coronavirus, there's a distinct imbalance between the risks and rewards involved in scaling back our physical isolation. And second, that there's absolutely no prospect of any return to the previous economic "normal" until the virus is fully under control.

One would expect a leader's statement of any balance to be struck between health and long-term well-being on one side and short-term economic interests on the other to reflect those realities. Instead, here's what we got from Moe:
"If we move too quickly, we risk increasing the spread of COVID-19. If we move too slowly, we risk permanent damage to the livelihoods of thousands of Saskatchewan people. Businesses that never reopen, and jobs that never come back."
In other words, Moe has chosen to flip the risk-reward calculation on its head. It would be bad enough to engage in both-sidesism between lives and short-term profits. But Moe actually went out of his way to attach stronger emotional language to the latter - presumably with the goal of shifting public opinion away from its current recognition of the need for sustained collective action even where it conflicts with business interests.

It's a logical extension of that mindset to see no help whatsoever for workers included in Moe's announcement, leaving Saskatchewan among the stingiest and most callous of provinces in dealing with the needs of people.

And likewise it's less than surprising to see zero recognition that we shouldn't be disadvantaging businesses which are responsible enough to want to stay closed for the benefit of public health - or even those with enough perspective to recognize that that when it's not possible to operate viably, they're better served having that reflected in public policy (with insurers or governments stepping in with enough support to keep them afloat) rather than being told to sink or swim on their own.

The best we can hope for now is that Saskatchewan's people will continue to be more responsible than our premier, even as he sets up incentive structures and public messaging to push us in the wrong direction. But there's a strong chance Moe's business buddies will succeed only in undoing the good that's been done so far.


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