Listen: Can I Have a Drink?

The Atlantic staff writer Derek Thompson on what needs to happen in Washington to make sure Americans stay afloat.

Americans are losing their jobs and hope. But opening businesses back up would endanger lives. On this episode of Social Distance, James Hamblin and Katherine Wells call Katherine’s brother, Sam, a bartender sheltering in place, for some perspective. And the Atlantic staff writer Derek Thompson joins them to discuss what needs to happen in Washington to make sure people stay afloat.

Sam’s recipe for a mocktail Paloma: Mix three parts grapefruit juice, one part lime juice, and one part simple syrup. Top with Topo Chico, and add salt to taste.

Listen to the full episode here:

Subscribe to Social Distance on Apple Podcasts or Spotify (How to Listen)

Some questions answered:

So what is going on with the economy?

Derek Thompson: It’s a really good question. The short answer is that no good news is going to come from the economy in the next three months. We’re probably looking at the worst decline in GDP in the second quarter this year in American history. But I should stress that typically that would be a purely bad thing. But in this case, I think we need to wrap our heads around the fact that a stark decline in GDP is evidence that something good might be happening.

And that something good is the fact that you do have massive, relatively unprecedented amounts of social distancing all over the country. And so the reason that restaurant revenue has declined to zero and a lot of physical retail revenues declined to zero is because no one is gathering in crowds in places that they used to be. And we should be rooting for that.

What do you make of arguments that the economic impact of social distancing is reason to reconsider it?

James Hamblin: It is definitely going to be economically disastrous. It already is. People are phrasing it as if there is some way that we could get around these consequences. But you can’t. It’s like there’s a Category 4 hurricane happening outside, and you realize that sheltering in place will be bad. But it doesn’t solve things to just go back outside during the storm.

Is there reason to be optimistic about the stimulus package under consideration in Congress?

Derek Thompson: When I hear some of the measures that are being talked about for small- and medium-size business bailouts that are massive, in the hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars—at least we’re right about the scale. To go back to 2009, to the Great Recession, one of the biggest problems we had with the Great Recession is that we probably needed a $2 trillion stimulus. And you pass something closer to $900 billion. But now what we need is a $2.5 trillion stimulus, and we’re talking about $2 trillion.

So, the reason I’m somewhat optimistic is that, to use Jim’s language, the hurricane is so obvious. It’s so obvious. It’s impossible to ignore the fact that the hurricane covers the entire globe, that you have lots of leaders in lots of different countries who are reacting really, really strongly. And the stronger someone acts in Denmark or the U.K. or the Netherlands, the more that de-risks the next strong mover in the chain; the more it makes someone in the U.S. feel like, “Wow, we really have to move, too, if everyone else is moving.” So that's why I'm somewhat optimistic. But, you know, I don’t have a lot of trust in our leaders at the moment.