Commerce Department ghoul Wilbur Ross gloated about his belief the ongoing coronavirus outbreak in China is good for JOBS! JOBS! JOBS! in an appearance on Fox Business on Thursday morning, even as the confirmed number of cases and deaths keep rising and experts worry of sustained global spread.
While on the show, Ross said he didn’t “want to talk about a victory lap over a very unfortunate, very malignant disease.” Then, of course, he did just that.
“But the fact is, it does give businesses [cough] yet another thing to consider when they go through their review of their supply chain,” he croaked. “On top of all the other things, you had SARS, you have the African swine virus there, now you have this. It’s another risk factor that people need to take into account.”
“I think it will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America, some to [the] U.S., probably some to Mexico as well,” Ross added, per the Washington Post. He noted that Apple was “talking about figuring out how to replace some of the Chinese production” (something it already did to a limited extent but didn’t bring any manufacturing to the U.S. and has nothing to do with the coronavirus). He added that he thinks “there’s a confluence of factors that will make it very, very likely more reshoring to the U.S. and some reshoring to Mexico.”
Nevermind that the coronavirus in question, 2019-nCoV, doesn’t respect national boundaries and was recently declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization after hitting over 7,700 cases and 170 deaths, or that it’s spread to every province of China and over a dozen other countries. As the New York Times noted, Ross’s ridiculous economic logic doesn’t even work. Moving entire supply chains internationally is too expensive and/or logistically unmanageable for many companies. And as we’ve seen from the tariffs the U.S. has already imposed in its trade war with China, companies almost invariably move to other lower-income countries like Vietnam, India, and Mexico.
China also doesn’t exist in a vacuum and the sweeping lockdowns that health authorities have imposed there have significantly disrupted operations of U.S. companies. They’ve also spooked global markets that rely on China’s 1.4 billion people to help drive economic growth. SARS wiped $40 billion off world markets, with a 2004 study finding the impact was far from limited to “direct damages incurred in the affected sectors of disease-inflicted countries.” Though 2019-nCoV appears to have a low fatality rate, public health experts told Bloomberg that it could be much more difficult to control than SARS.
For Ross and the rest of the Trump administration, the world economy is apparently a zero-sum game in which what’s bad for China is automatically good for us. That kind of magical thinking—sort of like that time Ross advised furloughed federal workers to just take out some loans—does not inspire much confidence.
(On the other hand, Ross may have a point: the Black Death eventually provided better-paying opportunities for peasants, so long as you ignore that only came about because it ravaged the working population of Europe and Asia. Just roll the dice and hope you don’t get buboes!)
In a statement to CNBC, a Commerce Department official doubled down, writing that while Ross “made clear the first step is to bring the virus under control and help the victims of this disease,” corporations should “consider the ramifications of doing business with a country that has a long history of covering up real risks to its own people and the rest of the world.”