‘The Virus Is the Boss’: Ex-Obama Economic Adviser Doubts Trump Goal of Reopening Economy by May


Former Obama economic adviser Austan Goolsbee threw cold water on the growing White House narrative that the nationwide lockdown could end in just a few weeks, pointing out that aspirational economic timelines won’t survive against a public health crisis.

Goolsbee appeared on MSNBC’s 11th Hour, where host Brian Williams alluded to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s comments from earlier in the day, where the Trump administration official offered an optimistic take about a graduated reopening the economy in the next few weeks. Mnuchin told CNBC’s Jim Cramer that Trump could relax social distancing guidelines and encourage commerce to return as soon as early May, if the president “feels comfortable with the medical issues.”

“Let me ask you how many of the jobs of people who are now idle are going to be sitting there waiting for them to return?” Williams asked. “Let’s just say there’s going to be a period of very tentative first steps, a period of one-third filled restaurants, a period where we won’t need to worry about the middle seat on airlines for months now, a period with very few people willing to go to the movies. Where are all those jobs going to be for the people who need them?”

“That’s a key point, and it depends critically on how long does this period last,” Goolsbee noted. “Now, obviously cruise lines are going to take a little longer to come back most likely than our, whatever, accountant jobs and people working in offices or people working on job sites. So I think as we start to get a better handle on how fast the virus is spreading, if we can control that, I do think that this idea of let’s call it green zone and red zone or certain sectors, certain jobs, or if people could take antibody tests and show that they are immune to getting the disease, all of those things would be helpful for getting some sectors to come back.”

“But the way we measure this is not by the date, and here’s where the president’s losing his credibility over the last months and weeks comes home to roost, which is the president early on was saying that he thought everyone could ignore it and just go back to work even if they had it and that the cases would go away” Goolsbee continued. “And then the president said that we would be back to work and out of lockdown by Easter, which is on Sunday. And now the president says that they think that they can open it up by May.”

“The virus is the boss, Donald Trump is not the boss,” Goolsbee said, echoing comments by Trumps’ own infectious diseases expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci who on Thursday specificailly warned against pre-emptively relaxing the aggressive shelter-in-place decrees that have significantly lowered the projected death toll from the virus. “You have to slow the spread of that virus before you can do anything in economics. That’s the number-one rule of pandemic economics.”

Watch the video above, via MSNBC.

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