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The Intelligence Briefing: America’s Medical Supply Shortage

IQ2US Staff
Thursday, April 30, 2020

President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to compel a Maine-based company to produce swabs for coronavirus testing. This law, which dates back to the Korean War, gives the federal government considerable authority to compel private companies to produce materials in the interest of national defense. While the administration has employed this law in recent weeks, many are calling on the government to do much more. In fact, Joe Biden said that the president's underuse of the act is a "national disgrace." But just what is the Defense Production Act? And how might the government help medical professionals get access to the supplies they need to combat coronavirus? 

Welcome to the Intelligence Briefing where we’ll bring you the latest on the debates shaping your world. Sign up here to find us in your inbox and share the debate with a friend here. You can always reach us at info@iq2us.org with ideas and feedback.
  • Central Intelligence: The Defense Production Act
  • Intelligraphic: The data behind the DPA
  • Points of View: Get the latest analysis and insight from our past debaters.
  • Double Digits: President Trump plans to suspend immigration in light of COVID-19. Should he?
  • That's Debatable: Is remote work here to stay?
     

CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE

Your top news from Intelligence Squared. 
 
The Defense Production Act Is Being Underutilized
This week, President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to compel a Maine-based company to produce swabs for coronavirus testing. This law, which dates back to the Korean War, gives the federal government considerable authority to compel private companies to produce materials in the interest of national defense. While the administration has employed this law in recent weeks, many are calling on the government to do much more. In fact, Joe Biden said that the president's underuse of the act is a "national disgrace." But just what is the Defense Production Act? And how might the government help medical professionals get access to the supplies they need to combat coronavirus? We thought this had the makings of a debate – so let’s have it.
 
John Donvan hosted two of the nation's leading experts on the DPA in our first-ever "at home debate.” Historian of American production Margaret O'Mara and national security expert Thomas Spoehr took on the motion, "The Defense Production Act Is Being Underutilized." Here's what we learned:
  • Despite being a lesser-known law, the Defense Production Act has been invoked not hundreds, but hundreds of thousands of times since it was established 70 years ago.
  • Margaret O’Mara (FOR) argues that the private sector isn’t meeting the demands of the crisis on its own. Even the most successful companies in the world, like Amazon, have major shortages and delays.
  • Thomas Spoehr (AGAINST) claims that despite any initial shortcomings, the United States remains the best model in combatting coronavirus. The unique system of free enterprise, where customers and producers self-connect, is what led to success during and after World War II, and can be replicated.
     
Margaret O'Mara
“When you have a sparing application of the DPA, and relying on the good will and the volunteerism, you don't get the level of coordination that you need. And this is clearly what has been missing in the response to this crisis. We need national level coordination.”
Margaret O'Mara, Historian & Author, “The Code”
 
Thomas Spoehr
“The DPA is an important tool and the administration is using it wisely but sparingly. And a broader use would in fact detract from the current efforts.”
Thomas Spoehr, Director, Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense
 
Listen to the full debate here, and be sure to cast your vote today!
 
 

INTELLIGRAPHIC

The Data Behind the Defense Production Act
How the DPA is being used.

POINTS OF VIEW

Top insights and news from the intellectual leaders who have
battled it out on the Intelligence Squared stage.
  • Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro warns of a looming housing crisis and offers solutions to safeguard American renters and homeowners. (City Lab, Julian's debate)
  • How will social distancing reboot your life? Katherine Mangu-Ward looks at the long-term lessons of moving our lives online. (PoliticoKatherine's debate)
  • Gillian Tett concedes that assigning a dollar amount to a life may seem “taboo,” but argues it’s worth calculating just how much the economy should sacrifice. (FTGillian's debate)
  • Meanwhile, Zeke Emanuel argues that reopening safely can only happen once we have testing, contact tracing, and other necessary health infrastructure in place. (NYTZeke's debate)
  • Turning to the 2020 campaign, Peter Beinart dives into the debate on just how hawkish Democrats should be toward China this election. (The AtlanticPeter's debate)
  • A bonus: For all the word nerds out there, we recommend John McWhorter’s fascinating linguistics podcast, “Lexicon Valley.” The latest episode is on the origin of the -o suffix in words like sicko and weirdo. (SlateJohn’s debate)
     

DOUBLE DIGITS

When one number tells two stories. 

60

The number of days the Trump administration plans to suspend immigration into the United States.

Fox News:
“At a time when many American workers are hurting or out of a job, it makes sense to protect jobs for them. And not only protect their jobs – protect wages as well.”
Tom Homan

Cato Institute:
“[I]mmigrants are disproportionately involved in providing essential services during the pandemic. It makes no sense to keep out workers who are helping keep America running.”
David J. Bier

THAT'S DEBATABLE

Two perspectives on one of the nation's biggest debates this week.
Is Remote Work Here to Stay?
Now turning to "domestic production" – or at least the type that happens in your home – many sectors are putting this working-from-home experiment to the test. There are noted the benefits for employees and employers alike: It can save commuters precious time and provide a flexible schedule; companies can reduce their environmental impact while broadening their hours of operation. And while a recent Gallup poll concludes that remote work is, indeed, effective, what are the potential drawbacks? Does flexibility always translate into productivity?

In Favor of Remote Work
Fast Company: We’re in the midst of a massive work-from-home experiment. What if it works?

Opposed to Remote Work
TIME: The Coronavirus Is Making Us See That It's Hard to Make Remote Work Actually Work
 
Which also begs the question, is this even the time to be worried about productivity?
 
In Favor of Productivity
New York Times: Working From Home Feeds Market’s Woes in Little Ways That Add Up
 
Opposed to Productivity
The New Republic: Against Productivity in a Pandemic
 
 
 
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