25 March 2020

Salem, O

Salem, Oregon is currently at home (which, given the mischief state governments can engage in at the best of times, is possibly a good thing regardless of the pandemic). But it's the source of the title of this piece of literature and social criticism that itself acts as a direct response to The Orange One's call to reopen "the economy" before the consensus of medical experts thinks it's appropriate to even think about doing so, primarily so that nobody in his own class suffers — that is, landlords and real-property developers.

Let's consider a corollary, and disturbing, question regarding the "$1200 emergency check" — who actually gets the check for debtors in current bankruptcy proceedings, especially those in Chapter 13 payment plans? So far as I've been able to determine, none of the national media has even asked that question, let alone stated an answer. And thanks to the sloppy drafting of those portions of the enabling legislation that are online, I can't find it there. If there isn't a provision excluding these payments from pending bankruptcy estates, this is going to represent a windfall for an industry that needs no windfalls: The collection industry.

This leads to a problem that might well be captioned "On the Meaning of 'Person' Regarding an Economic Crisis" in Enlightenment-era style. The key problem here is the intersection among moral/ethical rightness, the state of the law, and administrative practicality. Whether or not the law is morally/ethically correct (and it's a difficult argument, especially when dealing with arselochs like Hobby Lobby as exemplars of "corporate persons"), the law is that business entities are juridical persons and taxpayers. Particularly since many small businesses are themselves entities — which may, for regulatory and financial reasons based upon the line of business, be required even if the proprietor(s) would rather be "sole" as well as "solo" — shouldn't they also be treated as taxpayers deserving of stimulus payments? And now administrative practicality butts in. Given the goofiness of accounting standards for business entities versus those that apply to natural persons, determining the correct amount of a stimulus payment due a business entity would be… fascinating, futile, and FUBAR.

But that's not going to be much comfort as small businesses start getting evicted for falling behind on their lease payments. Then another F will raise its ugly head: Franchise. Who is really responsible if the local {insert fast-food franchise name of your choice here} in a relatively small community closes down permanently because the franchisor corporation had put all risk of loss of lease upon the franchisee, and meanwhile the absentee landlord was more interested in paying returns to its hedgefund investors than anything else? And sadly, that's far from "worst case."

I don't claim to have answers to these questions. But it took me under two minutes to see that both are issues that need to be resolved, and the deafening silence surrounding them indicates that our present leadership is engaged in nothing more coherent than moral panic. Of course, if there were adequate and universally available healthcare, a significant barrier (not the only one, unfortunately) to response to public health crises would be nonexistent… and things might be tamped down from "panic" to "extreme caution."

And meanwhile, one must wonder how the porn industry is going to engage with social distancing, especially if the machine stops (as was envisioned more than a century ago). "Engage with" might be a bit much for the porn industry, though.