Former California Gov. Jerry Brown talks COVID-19 as new biography released

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Former California Gov. Jerry Brown has many opinions on how the COVID-19 outbreak could be handled better, but most are aimed at the federal government.

“California is doing a good job, but to get the country going again, we need a massive federal investment,” Brown said during an online interview conducted Wednesday by his biographer, Jim Newton, a journalist, author and lecturer at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The country needs a massive investment in infrastructure, said former California Gov. Jerry Brown, shown in 2017.

The former governor supports federal funding for state and local government. He also thinks Congress needs to unlock money to build infrastructure; and the Trump administration should mirror policies adopted before and after World War II by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and compel manufacturers to shift to making tests and protective equipment.

Writers Bloc and the Los Angeles World Affairs Council & Town Hall hosted the interview in which Brown fielded a range of questions from Newton, mostly about how government is handling the outbreak.

The interview coincided with the release of “Man of Tomorrow: The Relentless Life of Jerry Brown."

Brown has a unique political perspective, having served as governor during two eras, first from 1975 to 1983, then from 2011 to 2019.

The former governor serves on a 100-person committee established by Gov. Gavin Newsom to advise on the current crisis.

“Newsom is getting good advice," Brown said. "He has a lot of experience. I think we are doing great in California."

Brown himself has taken some blame for California's slow response, in a report that detailed how he dismantled a medical reserve system created by his predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, to prepare for an emergency such as pandemic, to save $6 million a year.

Now Brown would like to see more coronavirus testing, which needs to come from leadership from the federal government.

President Trump should look to how FDR governed the country following the Great Depression in the 1930s and when the country decided to enter the war, Brown said.

Roosevelt said this country will be manufacturing no more private cars, instead making tanks and airplanes, Brown said.

“This country has extensive manufacturing capabilities that are not being put to use, and I don’t know why that is,” Brown said. “We are testing 30,000 to 40,000 people a day; it should be hundreds of thousands a day.”

As a result people are suffering, and more are going to suffer, he said.

More testing is coming, because “Trump is cooperating in some ways,” Brown said.

He added that he thinks Trump could be capable of a Roosevelt-like moment, because he is so changeable.

“It could happen,” Brown said.

At issue is that Trump’s base, from Brown’s viewpoint, follows more of a Friedrich Hayek style of economics, as opposed to a Keynesian style.

The Hayek method doesn’t function well unless there is minimal interference from government, while a Keynesian outlook allows for government assistance to the market.

“Roosevelt was a Keynesian,” Brown said.

Even when a vaccine finally comes, which Brown said could be two years from now, American life isn’t likely to return to how things were before.

“The airlines will not come back, nor will the restaurants,” Brown said.

The question is: “Will we learn from this pandemic?” Brown said.

What is occurring is not something that will allow the economy, or previous American life, to return in a week or two, but rather a persistent change to reality, he said.

He expects that people who are now cooking more will not return to eating out as regularly as they did before.

“When I was young, we might have gone to a restaurant once or twice a year,” Brown said. “I never went to Europe until I was in law school.”

What he would like to see change in the future is a recognition from government and the American people that when there is a threat, “we need to act quickly.”

Taiwan acted quickly to respond to the outbreak, based on little information, he said.

“Europe, Italy and the U.S. wanted more information, before taking action,” he said.

As news of the coronavirus began to emerge from Wuhan in January, officials at Taiwan’s National Health Command Center moved quickly to respond to the potential threat, according to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dr. Jason Wang, the report’s co-author, who is director of the Center for Policy, Outcomes and Prevention at Stanford University, credits his native Taiwan with using new technology and a robust pandemic prevention plan put into place at the 2003 SARS outbreak.

“The Taiwan government established the National Health Command Center (NHCC) after SARS and it’s become part of a disaster management center that focuses on large-outbreak responses and acts as the operating center,” Wang said in a March statement. The NHCC also established the Central Epidemic Command Center, which was activated in early January.

Taiwan rapidly produced and implemented a list of at least 124 action items to protect public health, Wang said.

“The policies and actions go beyond border control because they recognized that that wasn’t enough,” Wang said.

Taiwan acted while other countries were still debating whether to take action. Those actions included ramping up face-mask production, rolling out island-wide testing, including retesting people who had previously unexplained pneumonia, and announced punishments for spreading disinformation about the virus.

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