Like WWII: Here’s how private sector has backed U.S. response to virus crisis

by WorldTribune Staff, April 6, 2020

As they did during the war effort in the 1940s, America’s large and small businesses “are now stepping up to aid both in combating the invisible enemy and in helping Americans who are hurting physically and financially at this time,” a columnist noted.

“This is in part the genius of a free market system and why it’s ultimately more successful than, say, socialism. Businesses and free people can quickly respond to the needs of society,” Jarrett Stepman wrote for The Daily Signal on April 5.

Ford will produce 50,000 GE ventilators by July 4. / Ford Motor Co.

Stepman cited several examples of American companies coming through during the coronavirus crisis:

• MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell announced that 75 percent of his company’s production will be converted to making face masks.

• AK Wet Works in Seabrook, Texas, a small business that makes industrial painting and coating products, is now using its specialty to sanitize public places and other businesses. “We actually came to the idea of, why can’t we take our blast pots and actually create a vapor that can be mixed with a disinfectant, so we can actually sterilize things around us,” operations manager Dennis Hotz told KTRK-TV, Houston’s ABC affiliate.

• The Young & Yonder distillery in Healdsburg, California, is now making hand sanitizer and giving it to customers who come in for to-go pickups. “The community has been incredible. Most people who came in also picked up a bottle or two of spirits,” said Sarah Opatz, who founded Young & Yonder with her husband in 2013, according to The Press Democrat newspaper of Santa, Rosa, California. “It’s kept our business alive and growing. … We just wanted everybody to stay clean. We had the supply and ingredients.”

• General Motors, Ford, and Tesla are ramping up production of much-needed ventilators.

Parkdale Mills Inc. has joined efforts with a team of textile manufacturers to ramp up production of face masks and other similar materials, Stepman noted.

“This is … a time of crisis that many people have not seen since the time of the world wars, Vietnam, you know, situations like that,” a Parkdale Mills spokesman said in an interview with The Daily Signal. “And [in] these times, there is a call to action. Who is going to step up and supply a need and do the right thing? We are trying to do the best we can to do what we can for the country.”

Stepman noted that “Perhaps just as importantly in this time of stress and deep uncertainty, innumerable businesses are doing what they can to give additional aid to employees, many of whom are facing the prospect of losing their jobs and salaries.”

The owner of Federico’s Pizzeria & Restaurant in Belmar, New Jersey is opening up a $50,000 line of credit to continue paying employees.

“It just seemed like the right thing to do,” Bryan Morin, the owner of the pizzeria, said on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on the Fox News Channel. “I didn’t want them to worry about me paying my mortgage. I didn’t want these guys … [to] have to worry about paying their rent, their utilities, and insurance, and other stuff.”

The restaurant can still do deliveries, but the potential for employees to get sick and end up in quarantine remains high.

“I just took this [line of credit] out to guarantee that my employees, no matter what, they’ll continue to be able to pay their bills. You’ve got to take care of your employees,” Morin said. “Without your employees, you don’t have a business.”

The closest comparison to the coronavirus response is to World War II, “where practically the entire economy was devoted to the war effort in one way or another,” Stepman wrote.

“During that war, the power of American government was certainly expanded, as it is now during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. But America’s strength in war, or at any other time, is not in the power of its government.

“The genius of the U.S. war effort was that, rather than relying on the government to fulfill the needs of the nation, the government merely acted to marshal resources to the front lines. Otherwise, the country relied on the surge of private production and the natural inclination of Americans in a crisis to devote all of their energy to tackle the challenge.”

During World War II, the auto industry switched production from cars to tanks, planes, and other weapons of war. “The results were remarkable,” Stepman wrote.

Edsel Ford, who ran the Ford Motor Co. at the time, “vowed that the automaker could produce a bomber an hour at the Willow Run production facility in Michigan, which it did in 1944. It was an incredible achievement.”

Today, Ford “is making a similar switch in production—not to bombers, but to ventilators to care for COVID-19 patients,” Stepman noted. “Ford is partnering with General Electric to produce 50,000 ventilators in 100 days, according to The New York Times.

“Just as Ford in the last century moved its manufacturing might seamlessly from auto to tank production during World War II, the Ford team is working with GE Healthcare to use its awesome engineering and manufacturing capabilities to voluntarily help this nation solve one of its most pressing problems,” the White House’s Defense Production Act coordinator, Peter Navarro, said in a statement.

During the coronavirus crisis, there will be plenty of people “who claim that socialism or other radical solutions are the answer to what ails us in this moment,” Stepman wrote. “Some, like Jacobin Magazine, are calling for the nationalization and government takeover of Amazon and other companies.”

But, Stepman noted, “Amazon and Walmart, truckers and grocers, and the countless hard-working people who comprise our remarkable supply chain have been keeping the nation fed as the government struggles to meet its basic requirements in this pandemic.”

Even as businesses and industries are decimated by the virus, “our eventual turnaround will rely on the ingenuity of Americans across the country to reboot when the coronavirus pandemic passes,” Stepman wrote.

“It’s time to ignore the haters. Defeating COVID-19 requires joint efforts from both government and businesses — as well as communities and individuals. Private enterprise, as was the case in crises of the past, will play an essential role in getting America back on its feet.”

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