From Scott Ellison:
Sometimes, the best solutions to big problems are very simple. Regarding the current outbreak of COVID-19, I propose a solution that—on the surface—might seem preposterous, but if one manages to stay with it and really think through the potential benefits, then it emerges as a much more credible course of action.
I propose temporarily stopping time. This means that today’s date, Tuesday, March 17th, 2020, will remain the current date until further notice. This also means that everything that happens in time (e.g. mortgage due dates, payrolls, travel bookings, stock market trading, contractor gigs, concerts, sporting events) will be paused. It also means that all of these events remain on the books, and will continue as planned once time is resumed.
Before reacting to this crazy idea, let’s start with a very simple example of how manipulating time is already both commonplace and effective. I’m talking about daylight savings time, a practice that everyone in the US is already accustomed to where we set our clocks forward one hour every Spring. This simple, small action instantly changes the behavior of all 330 million US citizens. Suddenly, every single one of us shows up to work a little earlier than we did the week before, and this massive collective action occurs seamlessly and with only minor need for rectifications (e.g. some over night shift workers must be compensated differently for that paycheck).
It’s the impressive unity of action that is significant about this idea of manipulating time, and this feature is key in responding to a global pandemic. Right now, we’re dealing with all the fallout from this outbreak piecemeal, which isn’t sustainable nor very effective—both from the standpoint of stopping the spread of the outbreak and from the standpoint of preserving our society and economy. We’re spending trillions of dollars to keep time going (e.g. sending every American $1,000 so they can pay their rent, sending airlines $50 billion so they can pay their jet notes, providing billions to banks to cover distressed assets), but none of this really relieves the need to keep going out and working and thus further spreading the virus. What’s worse is that, in spending all this money to keep time going, there’s no guarantee that the economy will be there to take back up the baton once government payments stop. How many travel plans, conferences, sports leagues, and other plans have already been cancelled along the way?
We should be targeting this massive government money for mission-critical items like expanding hospital capacity, ensuring the food supply, and maintaining distribution networks. These are the mission critical activities that must continue even if the date is frozen. It will be readily apparent which of these activities is mission critical, and the trillions of dollars flowing from the government can be directed toward footing these bills.
In my opinion, the most important feature of this solution is that it can be easily implemented again in the future. Right now, we’re using all of our energy to keep time going. Imagine a scenario in which—a few months after this current outbreak subsides—this virus mutates and strikes again. After all the work (and money) we’ve already put into keeping things on track, I sincerely doubt we will be ready to meet any follow up challenge.