Does The Private Sector Have A Role In Deciding When To Reopen Businesses?
Policies intended to force Americans into electric vehicles, and taxpayer-financed subsidies that have propped up the EV industry aren’t consistent with those who believe government has limits. But this doesn’t mean that a company such as EV maker Tesla can’t contribute to the economy in some way.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been in a now-famous fight with California’s Alameda County (and with a certain member of the Legislature). Frustrated by the county’s pandemic lockdown orders, he decided to reopen his Fremont plant without the government’s approval.
“Tesla is restarting production today against Alameda County rules,” he tweeted last week. “I will be on the line with everyone else. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me.”
A few days earlier, Musk had threatened to sue the county and even leave California altogether for Texas or Nevada, both of which are ahead of California in restarting their economies and letting people get back to work.
On Tuesday, the day after Musk tweeted that the Fremont plant was going resume production, the county sent him a letter ordering him to shut it down.
The warring parties have since come to what might be called an uneasy truce. Reuters reported the county “said that following talks with Tesla it agreed that the electric carmaker can take steps ‘in preparation for possible reopening as soon as next week.’” Car and Driver has suggested the friction between county officials and the automaker was primarily over the reopening date.
“It seems that Tesla was working with the county to reopen on May 18 when Musk decided to speed up the process and open up on May 8.”
Even if the argument was over nothing more than timing, Musk’s insistence that the plant open early shows the private sector should have a role in reopening businesses.
Consider incentives and motivations. Who has a greater interest in keeping employees (and customers) healthy and alive? Businesses themselves or politicians and unelected bureaucrats who run health departments?
This isn’t to say government officials are indifferent to the health and welfare of workers and consumers? But it’s irresponsible to ignore the private sector’s potential role in safely reopening the economy.
“Tesla workers getting back to work could offer a good blueprint for how to do it — taking workers’ temperature, social distancing, testing, hand washing, etc.,” says PRI senior fellow Henry I. Miller. “It’s good that somebody has devised a coherent plan for a safe reopening; otherwise, manufacturing could be stalled indefinitely by the bureaucrats.”
CNBC reports that the company “has a back-to-work plan and a response team, which includes a physician” at every facility. It’s also “establishing health and safety guidelines based on location and job-specific risk assessments, according to the company. In some cases, partitions and barriers have been added to minimize employee interactions.”
“We are taking the time we need to get our personnel properly trained before they begin work and all employees must complete an online video training before returning to work at any Tesla facility,” the company said in a statement.
“We are also requiring additional personal protective equipment, along with rigorous cleaning and disinfecting protocols.”
The private sector responds promptly; the public sector moves like a glacier. The private sector is flexible and adapts; the public sector is rigid and unaccommodating. The private sector innovates; the public sector gets bogged down by bureaucracy.
The government is going to have the final say in reopenings around the country (unless we get more court rulings such as the one in Wisconsin). But businesses can lead rather than follow by moving forward with plans to keep employees and customers safe. In doing so, they will provoke policymakers to act when they would otherwise be content with a status quo that is looking more unsustainable by the day.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.