Chinatown in Lockdown

Food for Thought

Last weekend, my kid and I walked around Chinatown, the first time since early March. I didn’t know what to expect. Except for a few popular places, like Nom Wah Tea Parlor and Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, everything was closed. I asked my friends if there was a Chinese holiday I didn’t know about, but no, it’s just ordinary Saturday. I wonder if Chinatown can survive the current crisis.

I heard David Chang closed two of his restaurants. Famous chefs can close restaurants and reopen some years later because their fame would practically guarantee that they would be profitable. But ordinary chefs would have no such guarantee because a lot of luck is involved in successful restaurants, like being able to secure a nice space in a popular location for reasonable rent. All their hard work building their business could be flushed down the toilet; worse yet, they might even be saddled with huge debts.

On the other hand, some businesses are now booming, like those that offer solutions for remote working and teaching. One of the reasons the stock market hasn’t collapsed is that many companies in the Dow and S&P 500 are doing fine in the current situation. The world below them looks quite different.

These divergent experiences and trajectories are producing vastly different opinions. Although the idea of reopening the economy is generally associated with Republicans, there are many Democrats who hold that position too. My view is that the right solution is somewhere in between, and there are countless possible solutions within that middle ground. And, there is no single solution that would work well for all cities, states, and nations.

Naive ideologues would not allow anyone to die, which means completely locking down the economy until we have a vaccine, no matter the economic cost. Typically, they have never owned a business or employed anyone, and never had to think about the complexities of the economic realities.

On the other side, there are ideologues who have been ignoring the threat of the virus entirely, protesting and demanding to reopen the economy without any precautions.

Ideologues are full of energy and confidence, but no wisdom.