Observations on the Great Hunkering (12)

How is this news?

Coronavirus pandemic reveals Germans’ poor cooking skills

The Federation of German Food and Drink Industries (BVE) said the coronavirus pandemic has exposed poor cooking skills among Germans.

“We’ve known for years that cooking competence has drastically declined in Germany,” BVE General Manager Christoph Minhoff told the DPA news agency. . .

“People are rather dramatically forced to rely on their own culinary skills now that the offerings of fast-food restaurants, French fries stands and the Italian restaurant around the corner are not an option,” said Minhoff. “Now people stand in supermarkets and ask themselves, ‘OK how do I make a burger myself?'” Minhoff added.

It is not clear yet whether our response to COVID-19 will turn out to be the single greatest policy mistake in the nation’s history (not counting the Civil War, which shouldn’t be understood as a policy episode exactly), or just one of the top five. We await how soon we shall reopen the country, and what additional steps are taken to get the country moving again. Will we bail out profligate states like Illinois and reward the public employee unions? Will we elect Joe Biden or some other Democratic zombie in November?

It will take a long time to assemble the balance sheet, in part because a full accounting will need to calculate how many deaths from cancer, heart disease and other factors occur because we aren’t treating or screening for those much larger causes of mortality right now.

Another mistake is already apparent. We know from past recessions that extending unemployment insurance—to 99 weeks back in 2009-2010—actually delays recovery, as a lot of marginal workers delay entry back into the workforce, even when jobs come open. At the present moment, we have added an extra $600 a week to standard unemployment benefits, bringing the average weekly check to about $900. It was an understandably impulse amidst these circumstances, but it is already having some ill effect, as reported in yesterday’s note from the Committee to Unleash Prosperity:

CNBC has a terrific illustration of the insanity of the regular-unemployment-plus-$600-a-week the CARES Act saddled the country with until July 31:

“Jamie Black-Lewis felt like she won the lottery after getting two forgivable loans through the Paycheck Protection Program.  When Black-Lewis convened a virtual employee meeting to explain her good fortune, she expected jubilation and relief that paychecks would resume in full even though the staff — primarily hourly employees — couldn’t work.

“She got a different reaction.  ‘It was a firestorm of hatred about the situation,’ Black-Lewis said.

“The anger came from employees who’d determined they’d make more money by collecting unemployment benefits than their normal paychecks.”

Although the boosted unemployment benefits expire on July 31, you can bet that Democrats in Washington will demand that they be extended, especially if unemployment remains high. And it helps the Democrats’ election chances if the economy stays flat through election day. Will Republicans stand firm on not extending the extra benefits?

Incidentally, if you would like to receive by email the Committee’s daily hotline about the COVID-19 scene, sign up here. Good stuff.

As I say, too early to know how bad the lasting economic damage will be, or what the consensus will be about how we handled the pandemic. The consensus will likely be wrong, of course, like most elite consensus these days (climate change, cough-cough). But if the housing/banking collapse of the last decade was known as the “Great Recession,” I’m thinking this one might come to be known as “The Great Reset,” because I think there will some lasting effects.

Some time in the last decade or more, America crossed an interesting threshold, in which Americans spent more money eating out in restaurants than buying food for home consumption. I doubt we get back to that for a long time. I expect there may be an initial flurry to eat out after eight weeks of packaged food at home, but I think we’re going to see eating out reset at a lower level for the long term—or shift to different modes.

My other prediction is that with so much rice and pasta and other packaged foods being consumed at home right now, by next fall a lot of ventilators are going to be repurposed as liposuction machines.

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