During the 2008 crisis, the government understood this principle well. It bailed out large financial firms for much the same reason: They were facing temporary shocks that, without intervention, would unnecessarily become permanent ones. Whatever else one may feel about those bailouts, that economic logic was sound. Those investments yielded healthy profits for the government.
Send cash where it is needed most.
If it made sense to help American International Group then, surely it makes more sense for the local pizza shop. Beyond freezing rents and mortgage payments, the government can infuse cash into these businesses. That need not be a transfer — it can be an investment. While government agencies cannot easily take equity in small businesses, they can give credit. It makes sense to offer zero-interest loans with long maturities for the sole purpose of paying the staff.
Governments around the world are beginning to act.
President Emmanuel Macron has proposed suspending business rent payments in France. Proposals in Washington include loans to help cover lost revenue. As of this writing, a national rent moratorium has not been declared, but some policymakers recognize the need to do something for small businesses. Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, said on Wednesday, “There is broad general agreement that small businesses in this country will not be able to survive unless there is extraordinary assistance.”
Individuals can take action, too. Small businesses are asking customers to buy gift cards for future use. Those who can afford this kind of investment will be doing some good.
Many workers need help, too.
It is not only businesses that face economic distress. A sad fact of the economy in recent decades has been that far too many people have been relegated to economic positions that are even less secure than a small business.
They get the worst end of entrepreneurship: exposure to bad circumstances with little benefit if things go swimmingly. All those people — hourly workers, gig economy workers, off-the-books cleaning and day care workers — now face a sudden drop in income.
For these people, too, the temporary economic shock threatens to leave lasting damage. Without income flowing in, they are in deep trouble. Payday loans leave them trapped under a mountain of debt. Missed payments mean late fees and a permanent marring of credit scores. Missed rent can mean eviction.