Trump’s Covid Comments Complicate Business Liability Issues

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President Trump has returned to the White House after a three-day stay at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for treatment of his Covid-19 infection. But speculation that he might adopt a more cautious attitude toward the disease was quickly erased.

“Don’t let it dominate your lives,” Mr. Trump said of the coronavirus in a video recorded at the White House last night. “Don’t be afraid of it. You’re going to beat it.” Meanwhile, his administration is blocking proposed federal guidelines requiring strict scrutiny of potential Covid-19 vaccines, which he described in the video as coming “momentarily.”

His words may pose problems for business reopenings. They could make some people more cavalier about coronavirus protection measures, including at the office, said Robert Rabin of Stanford Law School. (“We’re going back to work,” Mr. Trump said. “Get out there.”) This raises questions about employers’ and business venues’ liability for infections, as Republicans continue to advocate a legal liability shield for companies as part of any stimulus deal.

• The purpose of liability law is to incentivize responsible behavior by making irresponsibility costly, said Justin Wolfers, a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan. “We’d expect to see many more irresponsible choices being made” by those taking the president’s comments to heart, he said.

What happens next? Mr. Trump said he would return to the campaign trail “soon,” with polls taken after his diagnosis showing no sympathy bounce. The stock market is up from its level before the president’s test was announced, which many take as a sign that investors are pricing in odds of a more decisive victory by Joe Biden, reducing fears of a contested result.

• A “blue wave” result, in which the Democrats control all arms of government, would result in higher corporate taxes and special levies on foreign income, which would hit high-flying tech firms the hardest. At the same time, unified control would make a big stimulus bill more likely, which would “at least match the likely longer-term tax increases on corporations and upper-income earners,” Jan Hatzius, Goldman Sachs’ chief economist, wrote in a new research note.

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Today’s DealBook Briefing was written by Andrew Ross Sorkin and Lauren Hirsch in New York, Ephrat Livni in Washington and Michael J. de la Merced and Jason Karaian in London.

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo blocks neighborhood lockdowns in New York City. The New York governor said Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to shut nonessential businesses where infection rates were rising would have been ineffective. It’s the latest conflict between the governor and the mayor, adding to the angst and uncertainty around New York’s economy.

• It was a sign that “you can’t count on the market because the market isn’t working for a large segment of our population,” he said.

They argue fair pay is good for business — and shareholders. “What we have to do is get away from this mentality that I’ve got to keep my labor costs as low as I possibly can,” said Mr. Tudor Jones, “because the only purpose of a business is to make a profit à la Milton Friedman.” He and Mr. Schulman argue that higher pay boosts the economy and helps companies recruit, both important factors for long-term success.

• “So many great C.E.O.s,” Mr. Tudor Jones said, “spend a lot of their time philanthropically when, in actuality, the first place to start is under the own roof of your business.”

Nearly 16,000 positive coronavirus cases recently went unrecorded in England’s tracking system, officials said yesterday. The glitch led to an undercount of the country’s tally and a delay in tracing infected people’s contacts, leaving tens of thousands of people in the dark about their potential exposure.

The system was felled by a spreadsheet glitch. It relies on files formatted for an older version of Microsoft Excel, which can only handle a certain number of cells. When key files got too big, thousands of entries were skipped. As the government’s central dashboard began to show suspiciously fewer cases than other sources, techies identified the problem. To fix it, large files are now split before feeding them into the system — in other words, more spreadsheets.

It’s another entry in the annals of Excel horror stories. Spreadsheets’ power comes from their flexibility, which also makes them dangerous. Spreadsheet snafus have thwarted genetic research, enabled billion-dollar trading losses and led to misguided notions about fiscal austerity, among other things. That England’s much-maligned test-and-trace system succumbed to such a mundane error — and that it relied so heavily on spreadsheets at all — led to geeky humor that might be amusing, if it weren’t so serious.

Deals

• The former co-C.E.O. of Bridgewater Associates, Eileen Murray, has settled a lawsuit against the hedge fund over $100 million in pay she said was being improperly withheld. (WSJ)

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