When Even the Good News is Bad News

Sundays are usually slow news days, when we show up at the West Douglas Church of Christ across the Arkansas River in the rough Delano district to hear the two-millennium-old good news of the gospel, but yesterday it was hard to avoid the more recent bad news abut the coronavirus pandemic that seems to spreading exponentially and has pretty much every person on the planet freaking out. Attendance at our small and aging congregation was down, and when we awoke from our usual post-church nap we saw that the Federal Reserve Board had lowered interest rates all the way down to zero.
That’s good news, we suppose, as it signals to the suddenly bearish stock markets that the federal government is doing everything it can to sustain the economy, including quantitative easing of freshly printed money and another trillion dollar or so of deficit spending and other governmental actions that used to offend Republican free market sensibilities. The bad news is that by doing so they acknowledge such extreme measures are now necessary, as people all over the world are starting to think we’re all going to die, which of course is very bad for most businesses.
We have no idea what the stock markets will do today, and we’d be far too rich to be writing at an obscure internet publication if we did, but as we write this the future markets that keep going overnight and through weekends are seeing the zero interest rate announcement as a glass half full and are again deep in the red. Given what we’ve seen over the weekend here in Wichita, where the coronavirus is currently taking up just one hospital bed, we can well understand the pessimism.
Around 8 p.m. on Friday we dropped in on the nearest Dillons’ grocery store, which is the Kroger-owned chain where most Wichitans buy their groceries, and even at that usually late hour the place was packed with customers, all of whom had carts stacked chest-high with at least a month’s supply of meat and beans and frozen food and toilet paper and whatever else they considered essential. It took us longer than usual to pay for our meager single guy’s day-to-day purchases that fit in a small hand-held basket, and the woman at the cash register apologized for the wait, but we told her we’d seen how hard she working and very much appreciated the effort, and we wished her well. For now business is good at Dillons’, but if things work out for the best they’ll wind up selling the same amount of goods over the long run, as people deplete their hoards, and if it doesn’t we’ll probably all be dead.
We also dropped in on the notorious dive bar called Kirby’s Beer Store over the weekend, where business was also down. Kirby’s usually thrives on wizened customers from the across-the-street Wichita State University in the afternoon and the more youthful music lovers who crave its eclectic offerings in the evening, but WSU is extending spring break and offering only on-line classes due the coronavirus, and the bands who were booked on their way to Austin’s big and recently cancelled South-By-Southwest Festival are now cancelling their engagements. There were a few hardy daredevils among the regulars who ventured out to have a beer with us, and we had a good time with them, but we couldn’t avoid the topic of the coronavirus.
Sunday was supposed to be the day when the National Collegiate Athletic Conference announced the field for its basketball championship, which might or might not have included WSU’s Wheatshockers and most certainly would have had the University of Kansas’ Jayhawks as a top seed, but all of “March Madness” was cancelled due to mania about the coronavirus. The National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball an golf’s prestigious Masters Tournament have also been postponed or cancelled, and we figure the economic fallout from just that sector of the American economy is enough to send the stock markets into bear territory. Throw in all the economic fallout hitting all of sorts of large and small businesses all around the world, and we can’t advise anyone not to panic.
We’ll stay cool, though, as we’ve thus far survived an appendectomy and several global pandemics and numerous recessions and an F-4 tornado that ran right over us, as well as our many vices, and we maintain an irrational but unshakeable in faith our invincibility. We’re not so sure about the rest of you, but we wish you the best. We can’t look to either of the political parties for salvation, but if worse comes to worst we’ll be counting on the good news that’s still being preached to the dwindling congregation at the West Douglas Church of Christ.

— Bud Norman

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