The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The best way to reboot the economy is to revive the Trump approach

President Trump during a White House coronavirus briefing Thursday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Andy Puzder is the former chief executive of CKE Restaurants and the author of “Getting America Back to Work,” a forthcoming Broadside from Encounter Books.

The federal government is doing what it can to stabilize the economy during the coronavirus shutdown, including passing a $2.2 trillion relief package. These extraordinary bipartisan interventions will help get people through the next month or two. But when the crisis abates, how will we restart the economy?

The truth is, no one really knows if it’s possible to shut down an economy such as ours and then successfully restart it. The situation reminds me of the scene in the movie “Apollo 13” where the astronauts had to shut off everything in the capsule and then reboot it from scratch. Nobody knew if the systems would restart.

Full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic

So, what about the U.S. economy? How long do we wait to go back to work? How many people either have to be declared immune or decide they cannot afford to self-isolate anymore before the reboot begins? The longer we wait to answer those questions, the more serious they become. The medical threat isn’t the only problem covid-19 is creating. There is also an economic threat. As a recent article from the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center noted, “the virus is lethal; but so is poverty.”

I think the economy will indeed restart, thanks to the vast potential of enterprising Americans, but the real question is whether the recovery will be relatively rapid or some form of enduring stagnation.

Milton Friedman was the first economist to recognize that the deeper the recession, the faster and stronger the recovery. While the U.S. economy grew following the Great Recession of 2008-2009, it never got that post-recession bump because President Barack Obama pursued policies that grew government while burdening businesses with new laws and regulations that discouraged growth and hiring.

Conversely, President Trump has relied on generally pro-growth policies — particularly tax reductions and regulatory reform. (His tariff wars are an exception.) By the end of 2019, the Federal Register of regulations had been chopped by about 25 percent, to roughly 73,000 pages, from the record-setting total of nearly 100,000 pages in 2016, at the end of Obama’s second term.

Trump’s pro-growth polices produced the strongest labor market in modern times. Unemployment consistently hit 50-year lows, the number of people employed hit historic highs, and job openings exceeded the number of people unemployed for the first time since the government began reporting the data. With employers competing for workers, wage growth hit 3 percent for the first time in nearly a decade and stayed at or above 3 percent for 20 consecutive months. That was all before covid-19 hit America’s shores.

If the economy is going to recover quickly, the key element will be a return to the business-friendly economic policies of the past three years, enhanced by recent trade triumphs such as the “phase one” trade deal with China and the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. We need policies that incentivize investors to invest, businesses to hire and workers to work. Otherwise, we will end up with years of economic stagnation — what Obama once called the “new normal” — rather than the growth in jobs, wages and prosperity that became the norm under Trump.

One potential positive outcome of the crisis would be if the debt the United States has incurred to stimulate the economy also stimulated an honest discussion about the national debt and deficit spending. Something was always going to have to be done about the spiraling debt; for good reasons, the federal government just put that spiral on steroids. But maybe now, Congress will recognize that addressing these long-delayed matters is essential before the country is struck by another crisis.

A wild card in the recovery will be how people’s habits have changed and what that will mean for the economy. There are serious questions about the viability of many large businesses in the aftermath of the pandemic. Is the cruise ship industry sunk? How will movie theaters cope when people have become accustomed to consuming even the newest releases from the comfort of their living rooms, far from potential virus exposure? Will people permanently lose their appetite for traveling in packed airliners, staying in hotels, eating out or going to fitness centers?

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My wife, Dee, and I have become very accustomed to the convenience of delivery services such as Uber Eats — and we bought a treadmill. Millions of people have made similar adjustments that may become permanent, a mass of individual decisions causing seismic economic shifts.

Much of this would have happened over time as people grew increasingly reliant on technology, but the process has accelerated. During times of rapid innovation and economic disruption, pro-growth, free-market policies take on an added importance. Following the pro-growth road map the president laid out over the past three years will be essential if the country is going to take maximum advantage of new opportunities and minimize the costs incurred in the war against the pandemic.

Read more:

The Post’s View: The economy is strong, as Trump says. But at what cost?

Jennifer Rubin: The economic perception gap: This is more than partisanship

Andy Puzder: Elizabeth Warren is the real economic threat

Lawrence H. Summers: Trump is missing the big picture on the economy

Jennifer Rubin: Another GOP president, another recession

Coronavirus: What you need to know

The latest: The CDC has loosened many of its recommendations for battling the coronavirus, a strategic shift that puts more of the onus on individuals, rather than on schools, businesses and other institutions, to limit viral spread.

Variants: BA.5 is the most recent omicron subvariant, and it’s quickly become the dominant strain in the U.S. Here’s what to know about it, and why vaccines may only offer limited protection.

Vaccines: Vaccines: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone age 12 and older get an updated coronavirus booster shot designed to target both the original virus and the omicron variant circulating now. You’re eligible for the shot if it has been at least two months since your initial vaccine or your last booster. An initial vaccine series for children under 5, meanwhile, became available this summer. Here’s what to know about how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections and booster history.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. The omicron variant is behind much of the recent spread.

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