President Ronald Reagan offered countless words of wisdom. One of his more famous quotes criticizes the approach of many public officials in government: “If it moves, regulate it. If it still moves, tax it. If it stops moving, subsidize it.”

Several generations later, government officials have actually put that mindset into place—Covid-style. Their mantra seems to be: “If a small business is open, limit its capacity. If that business is surviving, lock it down. If businesses close, have the government send checks.”

Yet, while Reagan’s commonsense insights may make you chuckle, no one running a restaurant, museum or small business is chuckling about Covid regulations and the often absent, insignificant or misguided aid programs.

As in Pennsylvania, many states offered almost no aid whatsoever, for months, after governors literally forced businesses to close. The federal government has stepped in from time to time to offer grants, loans, tax breaks and even checks. These have provided much-needed life rafts to those caught up in a sea of debt and despair. But, these life rafts were not meant for a long journey. As we approach month eleven of a devastating pandemic, it’s long past time for a swift dose of common sense and genuine help.

Today, from the incoming Biden administration to Capitol Hill, from DC to Harrisburg, some politicians are: offering new government programs, fighting over how big the next nationwide subsidy check ought to be and even debating raising the minimum wage. Price tags approaching two trillion dollars in new, additional programs are being thrown around. (That will bring the amount of money being spent on Covid to about 150 percent of the entire federal budget for a year.)

The best way to help the owners of a closed diner is, unsurprisingly, to allow them to serve customers and invite back their employees.

Having spoken to hundreds of small business managers and employees and hundreds of chambers of commerce executives across our region and nation, allow me to share what we need to recover: We need capitalism, targeted compassion and common sense.

First, the best “program” to help a locked-down business: Let them reopen! Why is this so hard to understand? Why are we creating new programs and agencies—wasting money and time—when common sense sits in front of us. The best way to help the owners of a closed diner is, unsurprisingly, to allow them to serve customers and invite back their employees. 

Second, for those who work in businesses that clearly cannot yet fully reopen (e.g. the Philadelphia Convention Center), the proper governmental response is to offer them extended unemployment benefits and to direct them both to job openings and to the many job-training programs that are already in place and funded—programs that could provide workers with useful skills-training in fields like cybersecurity and medical care. In other words, offer them assistance and a path forward.

Third, to our elected officials, our friends in the news, mainstream media and the various celebrities of sports, music and entertainment who have spent thousands of hours and billions of dollars telling us to “stay home,” “mask up” and make Tik-Tok videos to pass the time: Please spend a percentage of that time and a percentage of that money on encouraging people to begin to go back to normal (or to plan for it). Talk about safe reopening, safe re-engaging, best practices and common sense—not fear tactics meant to stifle dissent.

Whether intended or not…the reality is that the collective effect of thousands of hours of news and PSAs is that many Americans are anxiety-ridden, if not completely terrified, to go back to work or to live life.

Whether intended or not, and whether those in charge are aware of it, the reality is that the collective effect of thousands of hours of news and PSAs is that many Americans are anxiety-ridden, if not completely terrified, to go back to work or to live life. We must address consumer confidence with data-based common sense and a return to normalcy.

And, regarding checks, a few thoughts. Debating $600 versus $2000 checks for everyone is cruel, if not wasting time and money. For many Americans, neither $600 nor $2000 will get them out of the piles of debt weighing over them. And, on the flip side, many Americans have experienced little to no income interruption. Yes, they are stir-crazy, miss sporting events, the theatre, high-fives and hugs. But, their bank accounts are pretty stable, and maybe even higher.

Don’t waste billions of dollars by throwing arbitrary amounts at almost everyone. Offer targeted, meaningful aid to people forced out of work and prohibited from going back.

Looking ahead, an important but respectful message to those being sworn into office—and the generations that come after us who may be confronted by another virus—is: First, don’t lock down everything or everybody. Ever. Second, do not force anyone out of work until you have a plan to help and money to give them. Third, help those in need; don’t waste money where it’s not needed. 

And, lastly, as Reagan might have advised himself: If the government forces a business to close, the best “program” to help it recover is to simply allow the owner to reopen her or his business, without additional government rules, regulations or so-called “help.”

Guy Ciarrocchi serves as the CEO of the Chester County Chamber of Business & Industry. guy@CCCBI.org

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