Addressing Americans in the wake of the Challenger explosion, President Reagan addressed a shocked and grieving nation, reminding us of an important truth: “The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave.”
Today, Americans are grieving again – for deceased friends and loved ones, but also for the loss of prosperity, jobs, economic security and the dreams that go with them. The coronavirus pandemic has cost us dearly in many ways, especially in a state like Connecticut, which was already struggling with high taxes, exploding pension debt, an exodus of residents from the state, and an anemic business climate.
With the worst of the crisis thankfully behind us, business in Connecticut is beginning to resume. In convening the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Board, Gov. Ned Lamont chose to shield its decision-making from public scrutiny. Sadly, that decision squandered public trust and has opened its decisions to legitimate criticism. It’s not clear what standards are informing the mandates the Advisory Board is handing down. Happily, the mandate allowing beauty salons to cut hair – but not blow it dry – was rescinded shortly it after it was announced; what was never apparent was why the prohibition existed in the first place.
Nor are there any clear criteria for determining which businesses are permitted to open, and which are being told to remain closed. What, for example, is the rationale for permitting big box stores like Target and Walmart to sell clothes, but allowing small clothing retailers on Main Streets across Connecticut to go out of business?
There is a better way. Gov. Lamont and his Advisory Board need to remember that the people of Connecticut are neither children nor fools – and they can be trusted to care even more about their family’s health and well-being than the commission does. Likewise, Connecticut’s businesses are neither corrupt nor stupid; they realize that being the source of a coronavirus outbreak will not only be the end of them financially – it will likely bring a host of legal penalties.
Keeping these realities in mind, it is a mistake to pick winners and losers among our businesses and try to micromanage the details of each industry’s reopening on a staggered schedule. Instead, Gov. Lamont and his Advisory Board should provide a series of clear guidelines – clearly and explicitly grounded in science — that can be readily interpreted, observed, and enforced.
Advisory Board members could then occupy themselves with offering suggestions about how our state’s businesses could efficiently and effectively observe those guidelines. For some, perhaps it would be temperature testing at the door. For others, perhaps occupancy guidelines make the most sense. But it would be a refreshing change for Connecticut’s business community to find allies in Hartford who are committed to their success, rather than a host of taskmasters second-guessing their efforts.
This approach would allow the consumers of Connecticut to decide whether a business’s safety measures are sufficient to keep them confident and comfortable. Surely our governor can trust the good judgment of the people who elected him. And it would eliminate many of the seemingly nonsensical restrictions that breed contempt for the law and those who create and enforce it.
Ultimately, if we’ve learned anything, perhaps it’s that government is much more effective at stopping economic activity than it is at restarting it. But one thing is clear. To recover from a crisis, there are only two choices: moving forward or expiring. People need to earn a living – and our state’s economic well-being depends on residents getting back to work with all deliberate speed. There’s no time to waste. The future is now.
Carol Platt Liebau
Yankee Institute for Public Policy