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

On the Only Subject at Hand

Try as we might, we simply can’t find anything in the news to write about other than the rapidly spreading coronavirus. Pretty much everyone we run into as we continue to get out and about brings it up, and there’s at this point there’s no avoiding the topic.
Most folks in this hoops-crazy state like to talk sports, especially during “March Madness,” but the coronavirus cancelled both collegiate and professional basketball and will delay baseball and has temporarily shut down sports. Pop culture usually provides something salacious to talk, but right now the entertainment news is all about beloved movie star Tom Hanks and his lovely wife coming down with coronavirus and all the late television comedians doing their jokes about President Donald Trump without studio audiences to laugh along.
The coronavirus is pretty much all that matters for now in the economic news, which has lately been quite awful. The sports industry and school districts are shutting down, and music festivals and business meetings are being cancelled, and entire cities and countries are being quarantined. and travel bans are being imposed, and globalist supply chains are being interrupted, which is not good for the global economy or your favorite hometown business. Stock markets are plummeting, the Federal Reserve Board and the central banks of the other major global economic players are all slashing interest rates to zero and beyond and printing up more money to assuage the markets, and everything indicates that now is the time to panic.
Which of course makes the coronavirus the biggest political story of each passing day, which of course is bad news for Trump. He’s done his best to downplay the coronavirus as no big deal that would soon be forgotten, and even dismissed it as yet another “hoax” to torpedo his presidency, but now that he’s talking about massive government bailouts and travel bans from most of continental Europe he’s conceding that the coronavirus is a pretty big deal, and so far his proposals have not stopped the economic carnage nor quelled a public panic.
None of the damned Democrats seem to have any better ideas, but having been mostly out of power during two of the past three years they can’t be credibly blamed for the current mess, and they have plenty of talking points. According to the consensus opinion of America’s leading experts on this sort of thing, including some who are still on board with the federal government, the country is doing a woeful job of testing its citizens for the disease, and is therefore unable to do other things the country might do if it knew where the corona virus was popping up. Travel bans might be a painful necessity at the moment, but Trump’s European travel band doesn’t extend to Ireland and the United Kingdom, where there have been confirmed cases of coronavirus, and anyone in continental Europe could easily fly to the UK and then to the United States, so the damned Democrats are entitled to wonder if that has anything to do with Trump’s failing golf resorts in those countries.
For now the Democratic nominee seems likely to be former Vice President Joe Biden, rather than self-described socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and we figure that’s also bad news for Trump. Biden is a very boring fellow, which a wary country might well long for come November, but Sanders is kooky enough that Trump might persuade a wary country he could be more destructive than the coronavirus. Biden was vice president during the administration of President Barack Obama, and you can way what you want about his slow-growth policies — we had plenty to say about it at the time — but they did take over shortly after an economic catastrophe and were in charge during eight of those 11 years of Bull Markets that went into Bear Market territory during Trump’s administration. Biden will also have plenty to say about how Trump fired the National Security Council’s pandemic response that the Obama administration had created.
We don’t give much credit to either Obama or Trump for the long run of the Bull Market, but rather credit the ingenuity and resilience of free Americans operating in a free market, trading freely with all the free people of the world. Here’s hoping that not only survives this coronavirus, but also the likes of Trump and Biden, and that there’s something else to talk about.

— Bud Norman