Opening up the economy won’t save the economy

Politicians hoping to jolt the economy back to life might be in for some disappointment when they discover governors can let businesses reopen but they can’t force people to patronize them.

This week, governors in states like Florida and Georgia are moving to reopen bowling alleys, nail salons, and dine-in restaurants in an effort to get economic life moving again. And an organized campaign by conservative economic interests is underway to lift restrictions faster in more places.

This will be an experiment, of course, but the best available evidence casts doubt on the idea that enough customers will return to make it possible for small businesses to stay viable without additional government assistance.

For example, we know customers began abandoning America’s restaurants before they were ordered closed, that the handful of states that have avoided broad lockdown orders are still feeling economic pain, and that huge swaths of the economy that have not been shut down are nonetheless experiencing a precipitous decline in sales.

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