I haven’t been writing that many articles lately, mainly because I happen to own a business that has been directly impacted by the COVID-19 storm, but I made time last night to listen to Tesla’s earning call, and … most of it was great. But one thing stood out that I’d like to address. At a point during the call, Elon Musk went on what I only feel comfortable describing as a rant about how we need to let people back out because we were taking away their freedoms due to the COVID virus.
And I’ll warn you right now — if you don’t want an article describing why I think this is silly, stop right now. I promise I’ll get back to number crunching in the near future. But, I feel there is a ton to unpack on this topic, and I feel it’s worth doing.
Hell, I know Elon sometimes reads our site, and while I completely respect him, I think that his perspective is skewed on this one, and I’d like to explain why both in case he reads it, and also in case you’re being swayed by his arguments.
Opening Early May Help Manufacturing, But …
I work in an industry that relies on customers going to locations and participating in experiences at those locations. I like to be vague, but a number of industries like this are — sit-down restaurants, bars, sporting venues, amusement parks, theaters, hotels, travel, and so on. Reports indicate that a huge portion of people — 72 percent in this case — will not return to certain locations until a vaccine is found. While the linked article is about sporting venues, those within the industry think it applies equally to everything I’ve named.
These numbers mirror what businesses I work with were reporting as drops in their revenues in the two weeks before any states locked down. The reality of the situation is no business in these industries that I’m aware of can operate with 25% of their patronage for an extended period of time, and the vast majority of those I regularly speak with want to remain locked down until we can create science-based rules that would allow us to believe that our patronage will start to creep up as the virus remains controlled.
Everyone I speak with seems to agree the guidelines Trump’s White House came out with would be great, if only he could stay on message about keeping them.
A certain way to make people stay home is to just start randomly reopening things, and then have outbreaks start occurring. We can use science to limit this. Let’s do that.
If You Don’t Want To Come Out …
Unfortunately, those Trump guidelines don’t explain how we’re going to solve another issue that seems simple on it’s surface: Elon noted if you don’t want to come out or are worried, you don’t have to — but that’s not the case.
If I as the business owner tells an employee I have hours for them again, and for any reason they do not return to work, they lose unemployment benefits.
There also isn’t a definition for “vulnerable population.” I have seasonal allergies that seem to mimic COVID-19 symptoms without a fever. Does that make me part of the “vulnerable population?” And, if I chose not to return to work for fear of catching it, how would I be supported?
Give Me Liberty …
Elon raised the question of whether keeping people inside tramples on their liberty. As someone who tends to find himself agreeing with most Libertarian concepts, though, I find this view of liberty troublesome.
The definition of liberty is the power or scope to act as one pleases. However, this should apply to all people, and not just those who want to do a particular thing. In other words, you should be able to choose what is best for you, so long as it doesn’t affect how I choose what is best for me.
It seems the second part of that is what is missing from so many Libertarian ideas today, including this one. A person should have the right to choose to not vaccinate their children, but then their doctors, schools, and insurance companies should be able to choose to refuse service to them or charge them differently. If that choice leads to that person needing to travel further for a doctor, not having the same choices for schools, or needing to pay more in insurance, that’s freedom.
Otherwise, you “exercising” your rights impedes the rights of those who want the freedom to avoid people that have made that choice.
With that, the problem of the “liberty” argument should be pretty clear — if someone like me who feels they may be part of the “vulnerable population” wants to avoid places with people who aren’t taking the virus seriously, I have no way to do that.
In a pandemic, there simply isn’t an easy way to properly balance everyone’s liberty.
But Aren’t You Frustrated?
I am extremely frustrated as a business owner — and so are so many others I know on both sides of the aisle. There is a complete lack of transparency between federal, state, and local responses. Sensible guidelines are put out one day, followed by our president tweeting to “LIBERATE” states following those guidelines the next. States are doing things completely different from one another, and it’s rarely explained why.
Promised help hasn’t come. Loan programs from the government gave multiple publicly traded companies loans while my business was not even allowed by our bank to apply for a loan of $12,000 for no discernible reason (we now have a new bank).
But, we’re doing a poor job of directing that frustration into the proper channels. We shouldn’t be mad that we’re inside, we should be mad that we knew since January that this was coming, and yet we still don’t have adequate testing. We should be mad that we were told of drive-through testing in Walmart and Target parking lots that never materialized. This is the stuff that is key to us understanding the spread of the virus and that would make the entire country feel confident about reopening, but we don’t have that.
Instead, we’re well over a month into this, we still don’t really know what we’re doing, and we have leadership where the top levels are literally saying, “I don’t take responsibility at all,” instead of saying that they will address those missteps. This leads everyone to feel like no one is acting responsibly, and therefore their own idea must be best.
This is where I think Elon sees himself right now, and he shouldn’t have to feel that way. None of us should. This is supposed to be why we elect leadership, and for a countrywide problem, we should have a countrywide solution. That we don’t is the problem.
So, What’s Next?
I tend to be an optimistic person with these sorts of things. In the vacuum of federal leadership, many state leaders are working together to figure out how to safely reopen their regions of the country together. They are talking about how to lift restrictions in the safest way possible, and things have started to move. I think we’re still at least a month out before we resume anything that appears even sort of “normal,” and we’re going to have challenges beyond that.
But, while this has been a pretty devastating time for many of us — I know two who have died from the virus, including one who was under the age of 25 — I tend to believe that humans emerge from crises better as a whole, and I hope that we will here, too. While I have seen the devastation first hand, I have found things to take solace in.
I’m excited to find some time in the next few days to dive into Tesla’s earnings call to take my mind off some of this, but since it was addressed in the call, I felt I had to address this before I addressed that.
You may disagree. I’m already loathe to see the comments on this one, as, again, without a plan for everyone, everyone has a plan. But it is what it is.
Finally, if you’d like to hear similar thoughts from another business owner I really respect who is in the same sort of industry as I, look at what Mark Cuban is saying. I feel he’s been extremely on the nose on this, and has done a great job of taking into account the entire issue. Here’s an interview he did on MSNBC recently that I feel is particularly insightful.
No matter what, stay safe and do your best to stay positive.
Photo by Kyle Field, CleanTechnica