The Moral Equivalent of Wartime Equality: Public Policies in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic in Pennsylvania

Marc Stier |

The coronavirus poses a number of serious challenges to every country and to every state in the nation, and the challenge is not just to our health but to our political and economic institutions as a whole. This devastating virus will not just spread illness and death, and undermine our economy and our lives, but it will do so in ways that will fall unequally on our people. Those who have low incomes, or who are ill or disabled, will bear greater burdens—not just from the virus but also from the policies and practices we must all embrace to limit its spread. Our struggle to contain the virus is both difficult in itself and is also creating economic difficulties for many of our fellow citizens. The demands made on us by this struggle has been rightly called by more than one observer “the moral equivalent of war.” Both moral and pragmatic considerations teach us that we must embrace the moral equivalent of wartime equality in that struggle. Morality demands that the burdens of war don’t fall unequally on us. And our fellow citizens won’t fully participate in the effort unless they know that the suffering is shared. This struggle is no exception. To treat everyone fairly and ensure that everyone does their part we must ensure that the burdens of COVID-19 fall on more equally and take aggressive steps to protect those who will otherwise suffer the most.

This policy brief is an initial overview of public policies that we believe are necessary to address the crisis we now face. The brief is divided into three parts. The first contains some regulatory and legislative changes that the state can adopt to provide some immediate relief to those with low and moderate incomes. The second addresses the impact of COVID-19 on the state budget. It proposes some steps the state should take in addressing a likely recession and its impact on state revenues in the 2020-2021 budget year. The third contains some broader proposals that would not only provide immediate relief but also fix some of the underlying inequities in our lives that are responsible for both the unequal impact of the spread of COVID-19 and the broader injustice in our political community.

Click here to download the policy brief.