Downtowns, Up And Down

COVID still lingers–it seems like everyone has a friend or family members who has gotten it recently, or been exposed–and it’s looking like we’re just going to have to learn to live with it, long term. In the meantime, people are still trying to assess the impact of the shutdowns in various areas. One point of focus is looking at how cities–and specifically, their downtown areas–are doing in their efforts to bounce back from the prolonged 2020-2021 COVID shutdown periods.

A team of researchers at the University of California, Berkeley tried to answer that question by using a new form of measurement of activity. Rather than looking at an old-school measurement like office occupancy rates, however, they decided to look at cell phone user location data to see how many people have been going to the downtown areas in 62 American cities, and compare the data from pre-pandemic 2019 to the data for 2022.

The research team then used the data to calculate a “recovery quotient” for each of the 62 cities. The news isn’t good for many American cities, leading the research team to provocatively title their policy brief “The Death of Downtown?” Some cities, like San Francisco, have RQs that indicate that current downtown activity is only a small fraction of pre-pandemic levels. Happily, downtown Columbus is an outlier, with an RQ of 112, meaning that downtown activity in 2022 is above 2019 levels. That results puts downtown Columbus at the top of the list of large cities and third overall, behind only the downtown areas of Salt Lake City and Bakersfield.

The paper identifies various correlated explanatory variables for the different RQ scores, including the nature and mix of downtown jobs and the prevalence of remote work, commuting and public transportation issues, and the availability of downtown living space. The paper also notes the possibility of rethinking downtown areas and creating event spaces and destination areas to spur activity. Columbus has done a good job addressing these areas–particularly adding to the residential stock in the downtown area and placing sports venues, like Huntington Park shown in the photo above, in the city core–so I’m not surprised it scored well.

Policymakers have been predicting the death of downtown areas for decades but they are still here; I therefore wouldn’t be too quick to shovel dirt on downtowns. But the Berkeley analysis indicates that the COVID shutdown periods hit downtown areas hard. City leaders will need to focus on how to increase activity in their city cores as we move into the phase of learning to live with COVID.

Assessing The Natural Impact Of The Pandemic Shutdowns

When the COVID pandemic struck in earnest in March 2020 and lockdown orders began to be issued by governments around the world, the impact on human beings was immediate and obvious. Most people stopped traveling by air or by car, tourism abruptly dropped, and many travel destinations closed for months as people huddled in their homes. More than two years later, we’re still dealing with the economic fallout from the shutdowns and assessing the positive and negative impacts on homo sapiens.

But because the COVID shutdowns effectively stopped a lot of human movement, it also affected the natural world–and there, too, scientists are trying to sift through the data and determine the impact. Scientists and environmentalists have dubbed the COVID shutdown period the “anthropause”–“anthro” being the prefix for humans–and are in the process of evaluating information about what it meant for various ecosystems. Their preliminary conclusion, according to an interesting article in the New York Times, basically is: “it’s complicated.” The cessation of a significant chunk of human activity clearly had some positive effects, but it had some negative effects as well.

The positive effects are, perhaps, easier to understand. Because humans weren’t going to certain places, making noise, stirring things up, and interacting with the flora and fauna, the natural world had a brief chance to revert to a non-human equilibrium. For example, the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve in Hawaii, where the photo above was taken, is a popular snorkeling spot. It was closed to all visitors for nine months during the COVID shutdown, which resulted in significantly improved water clarity (without snorkelers kicking up lots of sediment) and increased fish density and diversity (without snorkelers causing a ruckus and causing fish to swim elsewhere). Similar positive effects were seen in other places.

But there were negative effects as well, because in many places humans either are affirmatively acting as protectors of habitats or species, or because human activity has the effect of discouraging predator species. The Times article cites an island off the coast of Sweden that is a popular bird-watching destination, where scientists have found that the reduction in human visitors emboldened eagles whose activities affected the hatching activities of still other birds, causing a 26 percent drop in the breeding activity of that species. In addition, many environmental conservation and monitoring programs were impacted, and in some areas illegal poaching spiked.

In short, because the totality of human interaction with the environment is immensely complex, trying to assess the full impact of the cessation of human interaction also is a difficult question. There are a lot of falling dominoes to evaluate and causal chains to consider, and the ultimate results of the analysis may not be known for years, if at all. What does seem clear is that areas where limitations on human activity had an obvious positive impact are likely to take steps to make sure that some form of limitations remain in place. The Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, for example, has imposed new limitations on the number of snorkelers who are permitted and is totally closed two days a week.

It would be nice to think that we could learn something positive, and ultimately helpful to the environment, from the COVID shutdown period.

The New Airline Announcement

In my recent travels, I’ve noticed that pilots and flight attendants have modified their pre-flight announcements. We no longer hear about how it is mandatory to wear a face mask that covers your nose and chin and how “neck gaiters” don’t cut it. Instead, the new announcement goes something like this:

“Due to a recent FAA announcement, face coverings are no longer mandatory on domestic flights. Whether passengers decide to wear a mask is a matter of personal choice. We ask that you respect the choices made by other passengers.”

In short, it’s pretty clear that the airlines think the skies aren’t that friendly anymore, and that they need to lecture us on how to behave lest arguments and fisticuffs break out between masked and non-masked passengers.

The fact that the airlines see a need to make that kind of personal behavior statement is weird and sad, but you can’t blame them: there have been multiple incidents of violent behavior by airline passengers in recent months. For what it’s worth, though, I’m not seeing any inclination by fellow passengers to mix it up over masks. Instead, there seems to be a kind of COVID exhaustion at work. Everyone on both sides seems to want to move on, rather than engaging on mask issues.

Let’s hope that this traditional American “live and let live” ‘tude continues to prevail and even spreads to encompass non-COVID issues, too. That would be a refreshing change.

It’s Always Something

In this world, you always have to be prepared for something weird and seemingly scary coming just around the corner. Usually the distressing news falls into one of two categories: scary strange new health condition news, and scary strange insect or creature news. And just when you thought you were done with one, another one pops up.

On the health front, as soon as we breathe a sigh of relief that we’ve muddled through most of the COVID pandemic, with all of its Greek-lettered variants, “monkeypox” pops up as the next big thing–joining a long line that includes bird flu, SARS, ebola, and swine flu, way back when. On the critter front, we first were warned back in the ’70s about the swarms of “killer bees” that were going to invade the country from central America and Mexico, followed by an unbroken line of ticks, flies, wasps, and other biting, swarming, or disease-carrying pests, culminating in the “murder hornets” we heard about during the COVID shutdown months.

Now, we’re told, we should be concerned because the “Asian jumping worm” has appeared in California and many other states. Also known as the “crazy snake worm”–an even better brand from a horror-inspiring standpoint, in my view–these are big worms that are native to Japan and Korea that are about the size of a nightcrawler. And they are reported to be aggressive and, if disturbed, are known to thrash around and jump “a foot in the air.”

Admittedly, “crazy snake worms” that can jump a foot in the air aren’t as frightening as potentially deadly “murder hornets,” but some context is necessary. Gardening is supposed to be a pleasant, pastoral pursuit, where you can reconnect with nature, get your hands in the soil, and help pretty or useful things grow. It is a relaxing, solitary activity that is supposed to lower your blood pressure. Dealing with the threat of thrashing king-sized worms that can jump out of the soil at you when you are knelt down and focused on weeding is not supposed to be part of the gardening equation.

As I said, it’s always something. Now even the garden isn’t safe from the weirdness.

JGI, Concourse C, 4:35 a.m.

I’m on the road this morning, with very early flights. Being the prototypical Uptight Traveler, I got to Columbus’ John Glenn International Airport early to make sure there were no snags, which meant I encountered a gleamingly clean and mostly vacant terminal when I headed to my gate. (And, for those who make fun of my U.T. tendencies, I should note that there were long lines to check in bags at many of the airline counters when I arrived, so I am firm in my view that getting to the airport early remains a good option.)

This is the first flight I’ve taken since the mask mandate was lifted and masks became optional. Some travelers are wearing masks, but the vast majority are unmasked. I’d say the ratio of unmasked to masked is about 9 to 1. It’s kind of weird to be in a mostly unmasked airport after two years of pandemic-fueled masking. It makes the two-year masking period seem like a strange, unsettling dream.

Those Empty Theater Blues

As America works to recover from the various social, cultural, and economic impacts of the COVID pandemic, it’s becoming increasingly clear that one segment of the economy is facing a particularly difficult challenge: movie theaters.

The data on movie theater ticket sales tell a very sad tale for the industry. Ticket sales hit a high point in 2018, when 1,311,300,934 admission tickets were sold, producing revenues of $11,945,954,034. Sales dipped a bit in 2019, the last full pre-pandemic year, when 1,228,763,382 tickets were purchased–and then the bottom fell out. In 2020, when theaters were closed for most of the year in most of the country, only 221,762,724 tickets were sold, and I would guess most of those sales came in January and February, before shutdowns occurred in earnest in March. From that low point, sales rebounded slightly in 2021, to just under 500 million tickets, and if current trends continue, ticket sales in 2022 are on pace to hit just over 725 million–which is slightly better than half the industry’s best year.

In short, if you go to the local movie multiplex right now, you’re likely to find a lot of empty theaters, and you’ll get pretty good seats.

Interestingly, Gallup has periodically asked Americans about their movie attendance, and the recent data is dismal. In January of this year, Gallup announced that its polling data showed that Americans watched an average of 1.4 movies in a movie theater in the prior 12 months. The more compelling story, though, is told by individual movie attendance: 61 percent of respondents didn’t go to a theater at all during that 12-month period, 31 percent went out to watch between 1 and 4 movies, and 9 percent (figures are rounded for the math mafia out there) watched 5 or more movies. In 2007, by comparison, 39 percent of respondents attended between 1 and 4 movies in theaters, and 29 percent saw five or more movies. The Gallup data shows that movie attendance is particularly depressed among older Americans.

Gallup suggests that the movie theater business was grappling with challenges posed by competition from streaming services when the pandemic hit. With theaters then closed during the early days of the pandemic, and many people avoiding reopened theaters as new COVID variants emerged, the question now is whether people’s habits have changed to the point where going to a theater to watch a movie is even considered. And some of us would question whether the offerings being served up by Hollywood, where superhero movies and special effects rule the day, are going to entice broad groups of Americans to buy a ticket and a box of popcorn and settle into a theater seat to watch a film again.

To Appeal, Or Not To Appeal

The Biden Administration is weighing a tough decision: whether to appeal the federal court decision striking down the mask mandate the federal government imposed on air and train travelers during the COVID pandemic. It’s a very tough decision on both legal and political grounds.

According to news reports, the Justice Department will appeal the court ruling if the CDC decides that the mask mandate is still necessary to protect public health. That’s a bit strange, in a way, because the CDC decided only last week, just before the court ruling, that the mask mandate should be extended for an additional 15 days, until May 3, to allow the CDC to assess the impact of yet another COVID subvariant. It seems as though the DOJ is punting the decision to the CDC and, perhaps, hoping that the CDC will change course, decide that public health now doesn’t require an extension, and allow the DOJ to cite that determination in electing not to appeal. In the meantime, the DOJ won’t pursue an immediate stay of the federal court’s decision, which means that the mask mandate won’t be enforced unless and until an appeal occurs and the appellate court rules to the contrary.

The legal and political stakes in the decision on a potential appeal are high. Legally, the issue is whether the federal government wants to take the risk that a higher court will agree with the district court judge and establish a firmer precedent that the CDC doesn’t have the kind of sweeping power it has exercised over the past two years. Some people describe the district court decision as a poorly reasoned “legal disaster,” while others contend it is a reasonable interpretation of statutory text that simply was not intended to authorize an administrative agency to unilaterally impose nationwide mask mandates. Regardless of how you come out on that issue, for now the decision is simply the opinion of a single district court judge. If an appeal occurs, the federal government runs the risk of an adverse decision by a federal court of appeals and, potentially, the Supreme Court–raising the possibility that, if the nation’s highest court agrees with the federal district court judge in this case, the CDC’s ability to issue future public health mandates could be eliminated, unless and until Congress decides to amend the statute to clarify what is permitted.

Politically, the stakes are equally high because there are strong feelings on both sides of the masking issue. News reports in the wake of the federal court decision reported pro and con comments from travelers about the decision, while videos of cheering passengers removing their masks mid-flight appeared on social media. Whatever decision the federal government makes is likely to upset one faction or the other, leaving the Biden Administration at risk of being labeled irresponsible in its stewardship of public health, or a lily-livered adherent to pointless governmental paternalism. No politician would be happy about either of those outcomes. On the other hand, if the CDC suddenly decides that, under the current circumstances, the mask mandate is no longer needed to protect public health, it has provided the Biden Administration with some political cover–and those who want to wear masks will of course be permitted to do so.

It would be interesting to know whether, behind the scenes, the Biden Administration is encouraging the CDC to move in one direction or another. It’s hard for politicians to restrain themselves from politicking. We’ll never know for sure, because if that information came out it would undercut the depiction of the CDC as the neutral, objective, apolitical entity that is focused solely on scientific and medical evidence and the public health.

A Return To Masking Up In Philadelphia

I’ve very enjoyed the month or so of relatively mask-free life since Columbus lifted its mask mandate in early March. Other than masking up for air travel, things were starting to feel like they were returning to the pre-pandemic “normal”–or at least, a reasonable resemblance of it. That’s why I experienced a chill when I read last night that Philadelphia has decided to return to a mask mandate and become the first major U.S. city to do so.

Philadelphia is going back to masks because a rise in COVID-19 cases in the City of Brotherly Love has hit the metric that triggers masking requirements. Starting April 18–a week-long delay was established to allow businesses to adjust–Philadelphia will again require masks in indoor public spaces, like restaurants, offices, and shops. Businesses have the option of requiring proof of vaccination in lieu of masks. In explaining the cause for the new mask regime, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports:

“Philadelphia established a benchmark system in March that uses case counts, hospitalizations, and the rate of case increase to determine which safety strategies are needed. The seven-day daily average of cases, 142 as of April 8, and a 60% increase in case counts over the past 10 days met the standards to reintroduce the indoor mask mandate. There were 44 people hospitalized in the city Monday, a slight decrease from last week.”

The Philadelphia system of establishing triggers raises an interesting question: should raw numbers control policy, or should public officials exercise their judgment and weigh other issues? Are 142 cases a day and 44 hospitalizations in a city of about 1.5 million sufficient to cause reimposition of a mask mandate, and should other considerations–like obvious mask fatigue on the part of the population, and questions about how a general public that keenly wants to be done with COVID will react to a return to masking–come into play? Will reimposition of mask mandates result in protests and general civil disobedience and noncompliance with the order?

I hope public officials in Columbus and elsewhere are seriously thinking about the possible consequences of a return to masking, because there will be pressure from some quarters to follow Philadelphia’s lead. CNN reports that COVID cases are rising in the U.S., although the numbers are low compared to what we experienced in 2020 and 2021. And, curiously, Philadelphia’s reimposition of its mandate is coming on the same day that the current federal mask mandate for the transportation sector is set to expire. It will be an odd juxtaposition indeed if cities are reinstituting mask requirements at the same time the federal government is lifting them.

Why You Should Never, Ever Burn Your Bridges

In addition to living through the COVID pandemic, during the last two years we’ve also lived through “the Great Resignation.” Throughout the COVID shutdowns and remote working period, and fueled in part by the money they received through stimulus checks, millions of Americans quit their jobs and tried something else.

Now we might be living through what may become known as “the Great Regret.” How many of those people who quit their old job and got a new one have found that the grass isn’t, in fact, greener on the other side of the fence? A recent survey of workers has found that 72 percent of those who quit their old job during the pandemic ruefully admit that their new job hasn’t met their expectations. That percentage applied across the board to all employees who responded to the survey, regardless of their industry. What’s more, nearly half of the respondents–48 percent–said they would try to get their old jobs back.

And that’s why people should always heed their Mom’s advice about “not burning your bridges.” By all means, leave a job if you think you can find something more fulfilling, more remunerative, or more suitable to your intended lifestyle–but acknowledge before you leave that your new gig might not turn out as you hope, and conduct your departure accordingly. If you are friendly, polite, and express appreciation for the opportunity you’ve had and the friends you’ve made when you hand in your two weeks’ notice, you’re leaving yourself a bit of a safety valve in case you learn from bitter experience that the new job of your dreams turns out to be the stuff of nightmares.

Those of us who have been around the block a few times have seen people leave a job and later come back, or try to do so. Learning that a new job isn’t working out often happens, even during “Great Resignations.” If you’ve left your old job on good terms, you might be able to get it back, or at least use your old boss as a reference as you search for another position. But if you acted like a jackass, told off your boss, and made some flame-throwing comments to your co-workers, forget it. So why not act with a bit of class, and some foresight, too?

Back To NormArnold

Back in 2020 (cursed be its memory!) one of the first signs that the world was changing was the cancellation of the Arnold Sports Classic. Known in Columbus simply as “the Arnold,” the event is traditionally one of the biggest tourist weekends for the city, as participants, their families, exhibitors, and fans flock to various venues around town for a huge array of different events and competitions. You always knew the Arnold was back in town when you turned the calendar page to March and saw muscle-bound guys walking around downtown carrying bags crammed with giant containers of protein supplements and other products.

But in early March 2020, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther made the decision to cancel the Arnold due to COVID-19 for fear the event–which attracts people from around the world–could turn out to be a “super spreader” incident. For those of us in Columbus, at least, the cancellation of the Arnold way back in March 2020 sent a clear and unmistakable message: hey, if they are cancelling the Arnold, this coronavirus thing must really be serious! And there was no Arnold in March 2021, either.

But yesterday I was eating lunch in a downtown restaurant when I saw the familiar, bulky shapes of Arnold attendees stride by. They weren’t carrying bags of products–at least, not yet–but their mighty frames and arms so overdeveloped they could not rest at their sides made it quite clear that the Arnold was back. And frankly, it was great to see them. I’ve never attended an event at the Arnold, but for Columbus the reality of once again hosting that event, in person, is a sign that the world is slowly returning to some semblance of the pre-pandemic “normal.” In Ohio’s capital city, we might call it getting back to normArnold.

My guess is that every town in the United States will have some event that communicates that the pandemic is finally, blessedly over. I hope the sign that your corner of the world is back to business as usual comes soon, if it hasn’t come already.

Casual Disobedience

I spent a lot of time in downtown Columbus today. Columbus is one of those cities where a mask mandate imposed by the Mayor has been in effect for months–since September 2021 and the early days of the Delta variant, in fact. (Who out there even remembers the dreaded days of the Delta variant? It seems like ancient history, doesn’t it?)

But today, the mask mandate was largely ignored. Many of the people I saw in downtown buildings weren’t masked up. And what was striking was the casualness of it all. People weren’t loud and proud about their de-masking or, so far as I could tell, consciously trying to make a political statement by walking inside buildings with a mask-free face. Instead, it was an utterly unceremonious thing–as if the maskless just decided that they had had enough, and weren’t going to go along with the mask requirements any more.

People in Columbus have been talking about when the Mayor is going to lift the mandate and allow residents to enter buildings without masks–which has been the rule in most of the surrounding suburbs and in many other Ohio cities. If I were the Mayor, and had been in downtown Columbus today, I would be thinking about lifting the edict sooner rather than later. It doesn’t do any good to issue directives if they are going to be casually ignored, and it seems pretty clear that that is what is happening here. Trying to keep the mask mandate in place when people are routinely ignoring it is fighting a losing battle–and what politician wants to do that?

The Great Divide About The Great Reopening

Yesterday the B.A. Jersey Girl, the Bus-Riding Conservative, and I went out for a “taco Thursday” lunch. As has been the case since September, we faithfully donned masks when we entered the restaurant, wore them until we sat down, were served by masked employees, and donned masks again for the brief period between leaving our table and reaching the outside sidewalk. After we removed the masks again, we wondered: when is the City of Columbus mask mandate going to end? When are we going to get back to what we used to think of as “normal”?

Across the country, there are signs that society is on the cusp of what we might call the Great Reopening, with some states lifting their mask mandates and changes being made to vaccination requirements and other COVID-related policies. But it’s pretty clear that there is a very strong difference of opinion about whether a Great Reopening right now, or even in the immediately foreseeable future, is a good idea. The Atlantic recently ran an interesting article called “Open Everything” that argued–persuasively, in my opinion–that it is time to end all COVID restrictions. The reaction to the article on social media showed, however, that there is a sharp divide about what to do, and when. And the opinions on both sides are being voiced in the strongest terms possible, with reopeners being depicted as reckless morons who are putting lives at risk and non-reopeners presented as crazed Karens who revel in the ability to control every aspect of our lives and want to preserve that power.

The country has been through a lot since COVID first entered the lexicon two years ago, and superheated rhetoric about what to do next isn’t going to help us get over that experience. There’s nothing wrong with people expressing their views, but it sure would be nice to see the differences discussed in a reasonable and respectful way, with some effort to understand the differing views and without the inflammatory epithets. That’s part of the true “normal” that we need to get back to, and demonizing people of opposing viewsas killers or lunatics isn’t going to help us reach that goal.

Ten More Minutes Of Walking

The American Medical Association’s JAMA Internal Medicine recently published a metastudy that looked at the impact of physical activity and mortality. Drawing upon a pool of data about thousands of American adults, the study concluded that even a modest amount of additional physical activity–walking only ten more minutes a day–could, collectively, prevent thousands of early deaths.

The problem with Americans is that too many of us are couch potatoes who sit pretty much all day, at work and at home. And prior research has shown that constant sitting is just not good for your health. People who don’t exercise are far more likely to struggle with obesity and have inactivity-related medical conditions that lead to premature deaths that could have been prevented with more exercise. A 2020 study of 44,000 adults in the United States and Europe, for example, found that “the most sedentary men and women in the study, who sat almost all day, were as much as 260 percent more likely to die prematurely as the most highly active people studied, who exercised for at least 30 minutes most days.”

The study published in JAMA Internal Medicine is admittedly speculative, and put the metadata into a statistical model that sought to determine what would happen if people simply walked briskly for an additional 10, 20, or 30 minutes each day. The model showed an anticipated direct cause and effect between more exercise and fewer early deaths.

Notably, the study was based on pre-pandemic data, from what many of us fondly think of as the “normal” world. Obviously, though, its conclusions could be used to question the health impact of extended “shutdown” and “stay-at-home” orders that have the effect of preventing people from exercising. Sedentary lifestyles obviously significant health problems, and any public health care initiative that encourages such lifestyles cannot be viewed as risk-free. What’s past is past, but in the future, we need to remember that.

Living In Record TV Time

The ’60s was when people first became concerned about television. Social scientists and commentators railed against the “idiot box” that was turning our brains to mush and converting formerly active, intelligent, inquisitive people into soft, slack-jawed shmoos soaking up whatever mind-numbing offering might appear on their TV set.

Those of us who lived through the ’60s somehow survived our constant exposure to the TV set that had a prominent place in our living rooms. But I’ve got news for you, folks: when it comes to TV, the ’60s was nothing compared to where we are right now. As The Hollywood Reporter noted yesterday, the number of English-language scripted TV shows that are available for viewing in the United States hit an all-time high last year. Across broadcast, cable, and streaming services, in 2021 559 English-language shows were available. That’s 13 percent more than in 2020 and 5 percent higher than the previous record in 2019. And consider this astonishing statistic reported in the THR article: “The total number of scripted shows has more than doubled in the last decade; in 2011 there were 266 scripted series.” What’s more, that 2021 record number doesn’t include any of the non-English-scripted shows that people are watching, like Squid Game or Money Heist.

In short, Americans are literally saturated with TV these days. Unlike the ’60s, when there were only three broadcast channels and one or two snowy UHF options, all of which terminated their broadcasts at some point in the early morning hours, you now could watch programming 24 hours a day, every day–and not even scratch the surface of what is available for viewing. And in the COVID era, it’s become increasingly easy to ditch the masks, slouch back on your couch, and immerse yourself in TV, rather than going out to do anything. I’m sure that part of what is driving the TV production boom is the fact that so many worried people are choosing to stay home rather than venture outside into the scary potential omicron infection zone. Rather than take that risk, why not just camp out and watch the latest hot streaming series?

As I mentioned, those of us who lived through the ’60s somehow avoided the confident predictions that we would become a bunch of brain-dead zombies–at least, I think we did– and hopefully that will prove true, again, in the aftermath of the current TV-soaked period. But it is concerning that TV shows have become such a huge part of our lives, to the point where our voracious appetite for programming is driving the TV production industry to new heights. We’d all be better off if we decided to get off the couch now and then, turn off the TV or computer, and get outside to interact with other living human beings.

In A State Of Constant Stimulation

As we approach the two-year anniversary of the initial governmental shutdown orders of 2020–and are still dealing with the various variants of COVID-19–some members of Congress are back to considering whether more “stimulus” efforts should be undertaken, and a two-year-old Change.org petition calling on the federal government to send out $2,000 monthly “stimulus” checks to all Americans has passed the 3 million signature mark.

The initiators of the petition contend that, even after two years of various “stimulus” payments, the $2,000 monthly checks are needed because of uncertainty about what could happen if the government orders a new round of closures, if schools require remote learning, or if other disruptive events occur. The article linked above quotes the initiators of the petition as saying that signers are trying to send a message: “‘We just need certainty. We need to have something we can plan on month after month.’”

In short, for some people what began as an effort to help individuals and businesses while the country dealt with the economic shock of the initial, purportedly short-term “flatten the curve” shutdowns, through “stimulus” checks, enhanced unemployment benefits, and readily available business loans, has morphed into a quest for guaranteed, federally funded monthly income that would apparently extend into the indefinite future. When you reach that point, it can’t reasonably be called a “stimulus” payment anymore–unless you accept that our economy now is in need to constant “stimulation,” like a Frankenstein’s monster that is forever being zapped with high-voltage electricity in order to keep going. And such a budget-busting monthly payment obviously would have significant inflationary effects and other long-term consequences for the economy generally and the labor market specifically.

An interesting point is that the primary stated reason for the requested monthly checks is the impact of governmental decisions, like closure orders and requirements for virtual schooling from home, on individuals and families. Perhaps the real lesson from the petition isn’t that some people would like to continue to get governmental checks–that’s really no surprise–it is that governmental entities need to think twice about consequences before issuing new sweeping and disruptive orders after two years of COVID edicts.