The federal government is basically paying everyone not to do too much planning during this period of extreme uncertainty, but to keep existing arrangements frozen in place as much as possible. That’s the right call right now; if everyone tried to protect themselves in a situation of such high uncertainty, the collective cost would be shattering. Eventually, though, that planning has to happen — and that will necessitate real economic dislocations, potentially profound ones.
Moreover, we actually want those transitions to happen. We don’t want the government’s role to be propping up businesses and industries that are not viable in a post-COVID-19 world. Rather, we want it to focus on cushioning the social cost of shifting both capital and labor into roles where they can contribute productively. Think of it as the transition from being in the ICU, where machines are keeping you alive and you’re just waiting for your body to heal, to emerging into rehab, where you have to learn new habits to regain function.
That’s going to be a delicate transition for the economy to navigate, both politically and economically. The stock market bulls are effectively betting that we’ll handle it well, that support won’t be extended too long for unviable but politically important constituencies, and that the most vulnerable won’t be asked to bear the brunt of the costs of that transition, eroding aggregate demand in the process.