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Wilbur Ross sees the coronavirus outbreak as a moneymaking opportunity for the US

“I think it will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America.”

United States Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross Visits “Varney & Co.”
Wilbur Ross in the Fox Business studios last month.
Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

During a Thursday morning appearance on Maria Bartiromo’s Fox Business show, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross made a ghoulish effort to find an “America First” silver lining to the coronavirus that has already killed 170 people and infected nearly 8,000 more, and threatens to become a global pandemic.

In short: Ross thinks it’s potentially a good thing for the US economy.

Asked by Bartiromo if the new coronavirus puts economic growth at risk, Ross responded by offering thoughts and prayers to those directly affected, before saying, “I don’t want to talk about a victory lap over a very unfortunate, very malignant disease.” But he then proceeded to take a victory lap by making a case that the outbreak might present a moneymaking opportunity in the United States.

“The fact is, it does give business yet another thing to consider when they go through their review of their supply chain,” said Ross. “It’s another risk factor that people need to take into account. So I think it will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America.”

“Ah, that’s a good point,” Bartiromo replied.


Ross’s economic analysis is dubious at best. SARS, for instance, wiped nearly $40 billion off world markets in 2002 and 2003, and the new coronavirus has already infected more people in China than SARS did. A similar global slump would undoubtedly negatively impact the United States, even if it isn’t hit as hard as other countries, much like Trump’s trade war with China has.

But an economic evaluation of Ross’s claim is ultimately beside the point. What matters is that a top Trump administration official barely hesitated before reducing a global outbreak that has already killed nearly 200 humans and could kill thousands more to a business opportunity. In that way, Ross’s comments represent a distillation of the zero-sum worldview Trump has repeatedly articulated about how what’s bad for China is good for the US — although it appears economic hostilities have ceased at least for the moment due to the trade deal the administration and China announced earlier this month.

Ross has a penchant for putting his foot in his mouth. Almost exactly one year ago, he generated similarly negative headlines for the administration when he downplayed the impact of the then-ongoing government shutdown by going on CNBC and suggesting affected workers should go further in debt to make ends meet.

“The 30 days of pay that some people will be out, there’s no real reason why they shouldn’t be able to get a loan against it,” Ross said.

The news moves fast. To stay updated, follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter, and read more of Vox’s policy and politics coverage.