Charles Fain Lehman of the Washington Free Beacon highlights challenges associated with restarting the American economy after the COVID-19 shutdown.

With millions out of work and a tidal wave of small business closures on the horizon, many policymakers are clamoring for an end to coronavirus lockdowns and a “reopening” of the economy.

Just as state and federal lawmakers moved to “shut down” the economy to slow the spread of the coronavirus, leaders are now weighing when to start it back up. President Donald Trump has officially convened a panel to weigh when and how to reopen; blue state governors have followed suit with interstate planning committees. Some congressmen have pressed for weeks for a reopening, arguing that the “cure is proving worse than the disease itself.”

These statements assume that Americans are waiting for lockdown orders to be lifted so they can get back to work and visit restaurants and movie theaters. Nationwide data, however, indicate that vast swaths of the country had sequestered themselves before state, local, and federal government mandates pressed them to do so. As a result, restarting the economy may take more than the lifting of bans and social-distancing guidelines.

Contrary to what some lawmakers imagine, America’s current pause is substantially self-imposed. From restaurant reservations to airline flights, data show that America brought itself to a halt, reflecting more a fear of disease—and a sense of solidarity with those most at risk—than the following of government orders.

If accurate, these data indicate that merely declaring the economy “open” will not have a major impact. Rather, they suggest a successful reopening is less about making rules and more about helping Americans make informed decisions about what is safe for them to do.

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