Civil authorities, fearing that rapid increase in severe cases could overwhelm hospitals, ordered public health measures including orders for most people to stay at home.
Both the arrival of the virus and its response have had major effects on the U.S. economy, with 22 million Americans known to have filed for unemployment claims in recent weeks, CNN reports. Only last week did the Trump administration release a three-stage plan to remove restrictions on social and economic life while also limiting contagion and responding to new cases.
The coronavirus medical response has been severely hindered by a shortage of appropriate protective gear and other medical equipment.
Rubio argued that some of the problems revealed in the epidemic are the consequences of decades-long trends.
“Over the past several decades, our nation’s political and economic leaders, Democratic and Republican, made choices about how to structure our society — choosing to prize economic efficiency over resiliency, financial gains over Main Street investment, individual enrichment over the common good,” Rubio said.
“Any prudent policymaker should recognize that both efficiency and resiliency are values we should prioritize and seek to balance. But that’s not what we have done in recent decades,” he said.
The senator warned that in a crisis, a lack of resilience in the economy can be “devastating.”
“Though I believe resilience is one of the defining traits of an American, I also believe it’s been absent from our public policy for too long. And this has become devastatingly clear in the current crisis,” he said.
Rubio connected the outsourcing of U.S. manufacturing to the rise of a national economy dominated by service industries. These services rely on person-to-person activity, which is now restricted.
“And unlike industrial economies, service-based economies lack the flexibility that comes with producing physical goods that can either be sold later or repurposed to meet a sudden shortage. This makes us especially vulnerable to this kind of shock,” he said.
Another factor hampering resiliency was U.S. corporations’ shift away from investing in workers, equipment and facilities and towards “short-term financial gains to shareholders.”
Rubio faulted financial and economic policy for worsening the coronavirus response.
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“Why didn’t we have enough N95 masks or ventilators on hand for a pandemic? Because buffer stocks don’t maximize financial return, and there was no shareholder reward for protecting against risk,” he said. The senator characterized both business and government as focused more on “just-in-time” supply models rather than “just in case” models prepared for disruptions.
“Today, we see the consequences of this short-term, hyperindividualistic ethos,” Rubio argued. “Americans cannot leave their homes. Neighbors are unable to shake hands. Places of worship are closed. The labor market, especially for working-class Americans in those service industries, is in free-fall.”
In his recent writings on the subject, Rubio has become perhaps the first U.S. senator to cite Pope Leo XIII as an inspiration for his economic vision, highlighting especially the 1891 encyclical Rerum novarum.
“It was an interesting encyclical because he wrote it in reaction to the disruptions the world was facing after industrialization – there were some of the same fears then, machines replacing people, mass economic displacement. He wrote about that balance of obligations between the worker and the employer and I think this is a good time to revisit that balance in the light of the post-industrial disruptions we now face,” the senator told CNA last year.
Rubio, himself a Catholic, told CNA that Catholic social teaching influences his own concept of dignity and work “more than it used to.”
“The more you dig into it, you realize that there is an extraordinary wisdom. For example, St. John Paul II wrote about the obligation of a worker to work - which is something that people on the political right, myself included, have talked about – but it is built upon the assumption that such work has dignity. It’s something you can only insist upon if the economy we’ve put in place fosters the creation of those jobs.”