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The Hurtt Locker: Institutions Rise to Address COVID-19 Challenges

The Hurtt Locker is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

As governments at every level react (and sometimes overreact) to the ongoing COVID-19 situation, other institutions across society have risen to the occasion to fill in the gaps and confront the unintended consequences of shutting down the economy to address the present situation.

Across society, we observe four key institutions working in concert (and sometimes at odds) with one another: business, community, education, and government.

These institutions are the stable and lasting structures that guide how people interact with one another in society. Over time, they’ve evolved as society progresses through human action and cooperation.

Advocates of limiting the institution of government seek to empower and embolden the other three institutions to assume their proper roles in our society, allowing them to address pressing issues that affect our quality of life. When these institutions work in harmony with one another, our quality of life improves. When these institutions ignore their proper roles or act in bad faith, human progress is diminished, and vulnerable people are left behind.

Those who advocate for empowering business, community, and education might ask, “What if government didn’t do that?” in response to any number of activities that fall outside the proper role of government.  A common misconception from my friends who advocate for more government involvement in our lives is that if government didn’t do [insert activity here], then it wouldn’t get done at all.

That’s simply not the case. Let’s take a look at a few examples where business, community, and education have stepped up where government has missed the mark in the last few weeks:

Business

Businesses should use principled entrepreneurship to create products and services that not only improve their customers’ lives but society as a whole. When possible, they should also inspire their employees to create value for others outside of business.

Most non-essential businesses have closed across Arlington and Virginia for the foreseeable future, leaving hundreds of thousands without work and struggling to make ends meet. Thousands of small businesses will likely never re-open. But Virginia technology entrepreneur Pete Snyder and his wife Burson, with the help of business leaders across the Commonwealth, launched the Virginia 30 Day Fund to help small businesses stay afloat during these challenging times.

The money raised by business leaders and entrepreneurs through this fund are dispersed directly to small businesses and do not need to be repaid. Businesses who benefit from assistance from the 30 Day Fund are encouraged to “pay it forward” at a later date to another Virginia small business in need of assistance.

This is just one example of the institution of business flexing its muscle and stepping in to fill the gaps created by the economic shutdown. There are countless instances of business innovation in response to the COVID-19 situation across Virginia. Silverback Distillery, based near Charlottesville and owned by Congressman Denver Riggleman and his wife Christine, switched part of their production from liquor to hand sanitizer to provide to hospitals, first responders, and medical personnel.

Community

A robust civil society – like families, churches, social clubs and other voluntary associations – maintains a culture of mutual benefit that leads to safe, constructive communities.

Arlington’s most robust manifestation of the institution of community is the “Arlington Neighbors Helping Each Other Through COVID-19” Facebook group, which now has nearly 9,000 members. There are hundreds of posts directing community members to support local nonprofit relief efforts, sharing updates about resources, and humanizing the impact of COVID-19.

ARLnow reported earlier this week that eight churches in Arlington have raised more than $105,000 to provide direct rent assistance to those in need. A Northern Virginia man and his daughter paid for groceries for at least 30 people in Bailey’s Crossroads earlier this month.

Education 

An academic infrastructure that promotes lifelong learning – with or without the four walls of a traditional educational institution – is key to promoting progress and human flourishing.

A report that Arlington Public Schools would delay teaching new material until the 2020-2021 school year drew fire from parents who are struggling with balancing work-from-home (or unemployment) with educating their own children. “If not everyone can learn, no one should learn (APS)” reads the headline of one discussion thread, prompting some to ask, “Is this what the County means when they advocate for equity?”

But beyond the disappointment of the educational status quo, outside organizations are stepping up to the plate. A Facebook group called “Learn Everywhere” is connecting parents with educational resources to boost learning from home, while National School Choice Week compiled a list of links to more than 100 resources across 11 educational themes. Khan Academy is also providing resources to students, teachers, and parents during this challenging time.

Government

The silver lining through the lens of government seems to be the hundreds of regulations that have been waived at every level to better address the COVID-19 situation. Some activists are calling these regulations #NeverNeeded, given the circumstances surrounding their suspension or elimination.

From serious federal regulations pertaining to drug testing and research to more trivial regulations that allow consumers to order “to-go” alcoholic beverages from restaurants providing delivery and carry-out service, we should press our policymakers when the COVID-19 situation subsides if they attempt to re-institute these regulations by simply asking, “What if government didn’t do that?”

There are countless stories of the institutions of business, community, education, and government adapting and responding to the COVID-19 situation. To some extent, the present situation has brought us closer together and shined a light on our humanity, our kindness, and our generosity. I encourage you to use the comment section below to share examples of people across these institutions rolling up their sleeves to help their neighbors.

Matthew Hurtt is an 11-year Arlington resident who is passionate about localism and government transparency and accountability. Hurtt is a member of the Arlington Heights Civic Association and was previously the chairman of the Arlington Falls Church Young Republicans. Hurtt prides himself on his ability to bring people of diverse perspectives together to break down barriers that stand in the way of people realizing their potential. He is originally from outside Nashville.

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