The following is opinion editorial authored by Joshua Bonner, President and CEO of the Greater Coachella Valley Chamber of Commerce. It was submitted to the press for publishing on Wednesday, May 15th, 2020.
A prominent phrase seems to have emerged from the current debate over how and when to reopen the economy, “we will use data and science” has become a tagline of choice. For some, that seems to equate to a focus on COVID-19 related health data as their sole source of decision making. For those that choose to make it abundantly clear what they mean, they will follow it up with “we are not going to prioritize profits over people.” For those that feel this way, I would suggest that perhaps your data is not factoring in the economic hardship and suffering being experienced by some of your neighbors.
Before I go any further, let me take a moment dispel a few false narratives. First, for political expediency many like to lump “business” into one large group and paint the same scarlet letter on all of them. I promise you the owner of the nail salon down the street occupies a vastly different place than the majority shareholder of a Fortune 500 company. Your local business owners and the people that work with them share more in common with labor than the person occupying a 20th floor mahogany board room on 5th Avenue in New York. On a side note, the rich irony in all this? With our current environment of small business being shuttered leaving us all to shop exclusively at big box stores, guess who is getting all our money now?
Second, let me address the “profit before people” line. It is always dangerous when you attempt to disparage an opinion that disagrees with your own by dehumanizing someone. You fail to account for the fact that the person who differs with you is just that, a person. I am the President of a Chamber of Commerce; I suppose to some that might make me the face of “profit”. But that would fail to account for the fact I am also a husband, a son, and a father of six children. Something deeply personal, one of my children has end stage kidney disease that will require a transplant. My child is extremely high risk of grave consequences if they contract COVID-19. There is not a single day that passes that I do not worry about the health of my family, my friends and community. No one I know, not a single local business professional I have spoken with, lacks concern for this health crises. Most reasonable businesses are willing – eager even – to take necessary precautions to keep their customers safe. This is not about denying the reality of a pandemic.
With that out of the way, let me turn back to “data and science”. We hear your argument, and we are all trying as best we can to understand the data you are giving us. The problem is your data seems to be one sided. Yes, we have COVID-19 related tragedy, but we also have sky rocketing unemployment, businesses that are teetering on closure, and life savings that are being exhausted. Because the inequity of economic suffering does not fall evenly, this is something not everyone can understand equally.
We are all trying to make the best of a horrible situation that at times seems to have no good answers. COVID-19 is a terrible thing that has caused pain, suffering and death to so many. I would encourage everyone to try to understand the perspective of those who fear it and those at high risk of suffering from it. Respect their choice to stay safe, respect their choice to stay home, and as a community do everything you can to support them both emotionally and financially.
But I would also ask everyone to understand the needs of those who are trying to get back to work. They are not evil, and they are not interested in profits before people. They just want to have the opportunity to earn and support their loved ones. That is something that does not easily show up on a graph but is just as real as COVID-19.
Joshua Bonner is the President and CEO of the Greater Coachella Valley Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at (760) 347-0676, or by email at email@example.com.