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How Will Coronavirus Impact Voters' Decisions?; How COVID-19 Highlights America's Wealth Disparity. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired March 14, 2020 - 09:00   ET


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: What a difference a week makes. I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. Last Saturday, I assessed the impact of coronavirus on all of our lives and I asked in our survey question whether you had undertaken any preparations.

The results? More than 15,000 voted. On the question have you undertaken any coronavirus preparations, 55 percent said no. I was among them. I said I'd not altered my daily routine and unintentionally found myself even busier than normal, not only my daily radio program on "Sirius XM," but trips to Washington aboard Amtrak for CNN's election coverage, the need to make an emergency trip to Florida, lots of Uber car rides.

I said that we allowed one son to keep college Spring Break travel plans and that I'd not yet cancelled any of my upcoming live presentations around the country. There seemed no in-between in your reaction. Many appreciated my words, even if misunderstanding what I was saying like, "Finally, someone with the guts to say the, 'The Emperor has no coronavirus.' Thank you, Michael." Not exactly.

Others told me to go to "Fox" or called me irresponsible, even wished me ill. "You are playing hard and fast with people's health, you idiot. I taped your show as a test. Never again. I don't wish harm on anyone, but karma if you get COVID-19 and only luck prevailed if you don't. You've hurt Americans."

The reaction was intense, so I thought that you might want to take my temperature today. After all, much has changed. The World Health Organization has now classified coronavirus as a global pandemic. What we thought we could do a week ago, we simply no longer can whether because we've figured out it's too risky or because lots of doors once open are now locked. This week, I found myself checking on sick and older loved ones. I worry about the most vulnerable among us.

After Washington state governor Jay Inslee issued an edict, I canceled a speech outside of Seattle which would have had more in attendance than the 250 people permitted and I cancelled another speech at Arizona State University where classes have moved online for at least the next two weeks. When I went to Washington D.C. to participate in CNN's Tuesday election coverage, I found myself alone in the cafe car.

Grocery shopping at an ACME in the suburbs of Philadelphia on Thursday afternoon felt like it was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The place was packed and like many other stores, the toilet paper was gone. I live in Montgomery County. That's home to 18 known cases of coronavirus, now under a directive

from Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf that has closed gyms, schools and entertainment centers. That son of ours who went on Spring Break? Well, he came home to a university now under orders to move out by Tuesday and prepare for online instruction. His final month of college will be nothing like he had hoped.

And I watched as my retirement evaporated as the Dow lost more than 6,000 points since its peak February 12. Thursday was the largest one- day drop since 1987, Friday the largest single gain since 2008. It's taken resolve for me to follow the advice of my friend Jack Bogle, the late legendary founder of the Vanguard Group who used to advise to own the total market in an index fund and hang on for the long haul. Looks like I won't be attending any Flyers playoff games after all, nor Phillies home opener.

Thursday, I had caller to my "Sirius XM" radio program. He was Rich from Tampa. He suggested the nation take a two-week timeout for testing, assessment, cleaning, a time to slow down, social distance and get a hold of the situation. That's what the nation seems to be doing, albeit organically and ad hoc, not with any federal admonition despite the president's declaration of a national emergency.

And that pretty much sums up my approach -- concerned, cautious, but carrying on, mindful of the data as to who among us is most in peril and determined not to allow our worst fears to become self- actualizing. I want to know what you think. Go to my website this hour,, and answer this week's question. What concerns you more -- becoming ill from coronavirus or its financial impact on your life?

Joining me now is Dr. Jeremy Faust. He's emergency medicine physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. He's an instructor at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Faust, I know you're concerned about infrastructure. We're not talking roads and bridges in this example. Explain.


JEREMY FAUST, EMERGENCY MEDICINE PHYSICIAN, BRIGHAM AND WOMEN'S HOSPITAL: Great to be back, Michael. What I am concerned about right now is that we've been promised tests. We know that -- I think the conversation has moved on that. I'm very pleased to see that people have accepted the rationale that more testing is better even if it reveals more cases. That sounds scary, but I think that argument is gone and it's won.

Now the question is where are the tests and what I'm concerned and seeing around the country is that people are waiting for them, but there's not -- in some areas, they are building out the test facilities in advance of the tests showing up, but in many areas they're not and I'm worried that there's going to be a bottleneck there. We need to fix that. So I got on the phone just as a one-man sort of wrecking crew and reaching out to public officials.

What's really reassuring is people say that all sounds good, we need to do it, let's talk tomorrow, but yesterday here in Boston, the mayor's office told me, look, we 100 percent agree, we'll call you tomorrow. Right now we're dealing with the school closings and I said that's really important except that the school closings may or may not help. In many cases they will, but the testing setups, getting the tents and the assembly lines together, that actually will save lives.

And so that's what I'm trying to do is to sort of push the things that actually help us turn the tide here. We can do that, but we have to stay -- we have to keep our eyes on the prize.

SMERCONISH: Let's talk about what the results might be because last week here on this program, you said you found the Diamond Princess to be an interesting lab experiment. It occurs to me, Dr. Faust, that if we're testing on a very limited basis and we're not testing everyone, that may throw off the fatality figures. Am I wrong?

FAUST: You're absolutely correct and it's the argument that I made before. The fewer people you test, the more we focus in on the very sick people and then we hear fatality levels that are very alarming because we're not testing so many more people who have this virus and who will be fine from it the problem is feared uncertainty. Now, that's a moving target. Just because I'm not personally worried still, and that could change, doesn't mean that you or your family might not have different risks. That's the thing. There's no nuance in this conversation.

But fear and anxiety itself that's not in the service of coherent action is actually counterproductive in some cases. Not only do we do the wrong things, but we need -- if we don't do the right thing, then I'm actually worried that we're going to be kind of in a paralysis where nothing positive happens and by the end of the week, Michael, I'm going to have less hair than you are -- then you have and I don't think that helps --


FAUST: -- with the situation. What we need to do -- what we need to do is to actually focus still on those areas of concern that I mentioned, which is the really at-risk people.

SMERCONISH: So I want to talk about social distancing in the context of fear. Is there such a thing as too much social distancing? I want your learned opinion.

FAUST: Thank you. That's a great question about social distancing because everyone has the assumption that more is better and in reality, they're easy decision, just close it, sounds great, but there are downsides and let me give you an example.

First of all, Jennifer Nuzzo, great column in "The Times" last week about some of the downstream effects of a school closure that might actually be bad and if you actually look at it, the CDC just released a guideline to tell schools what to consider in terms of closing, not just closing them because they see the downsides such as that the kids might actually go home and be more exposed to older people. The CDC -- people have lost faith in their institutions in this country, Michael. That's concerning, but the CDC is an agency that, in my experience, is staffed by grown-ups and they know what they're talking about. They occasionally get something wrong and I'm the first person to say that, but it doesn't mean that most of the time they don't do a very sober and reasonable assessment and they've got a seven-page document on their website that helps schools look through every single thing and they even say, look, if you've got a confirmed case, you got to close down for a day or two, clean the place up and then consider starting over.

But right now, everyone's thinking about months and months of being off, but the CDC, and I agree with them, is saying take it day by day and respond to the facts on the ground. Don't just assume that more is better.

SMERCONISH: OK. Final question and I hope this doesn't sound too flip, but you talk about how far into the future we should be cancelling plans. I like The Avett Brothers. The Avett Brothers just put out a statement last night canceling all of their concerts through the end of April. There it is. Until at least May 1. Here's my question for you. How far in the future should we be cancelling our plans?

FAUST: This last week has been the longest year of my life and so I just think that I expect that to occur -- to keep occurring as we move forward. To cancel things that are far down the road to me seems premature. There's really no downside to saying, look, we're going to carry on with the best intentions and no one's going to second-guess you if, at the last minute or even closer to an event, it's determined that it's not necessary.


FAUST: Every social distancing decision has to be based -- has to be based on the facts of who's going to be attending, you know, how can we change things and I really want to start hearing about nuance because we can't be shut down forever. We've got to actually turn the tide here at some point and when that happens, we're going to learn to do -- to work together to move forward.

SMERCONISH: Dr. Faust, thank you. Appreciate your expertise.


FAUST: Thanks for having me.

SMERCONISH: What happens to the economy with all of this social distancing? Austan Goolsbee, former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Obama, wrote this in "The New York Times" this week, "Advanced economies like the United States are hardly immune to these effects.

To the contrary, a broad outbreak of the disease in them could be even worse for their economies than in China. That's because face-to-face service industries, the kinds of businesses that go into a tailspin when fearful people withdraw from one another, tend to dominate economies in high-income countries more than they do in China. If people stay home from school, don't travel, don't go to sporting events, the gym or the dentist, the economic consequence would be worse."

Austan Goolsbee joins me now. You were not advising people to go out, but rather you were making an assessment as to the difference between the Chinese economy and the American economy. True?

AUSTAN GOOLSBEE, FORMER CHAIR, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: True. And look, the thing is that was written -- now it seems like forever ago, but that was written at a time when people were just trying to factor in, well, how big of an impact will this have? If you look at China, it was a very big, negative impact in China and I was just trying to caution people, K, get ready because if the same thing that happened in China happens here, it's going to be worse.

And since then, Italy effectively shut down most commercial activity and so now that's kind of the lesson and I think everybody's got to get on board here with what I call virus economics. Virus economics is different than regular business cycle economics, first of all, because the most important thing you can do for the economy has nothing to do with the economy.

It's to slow the spread of that virus because as that happens and people are afraid and they need to distance from one another and withdraw, there is going to be a severe slowdown in the -- in the economic data and so anything you can do to slow the spread of that is, in itself, good stimulus or good at rebuilding the economy. So paying people who are sick not to go to work through paid leave in a normal calculus of the economy, that's bad for the economy because they're not going to work, but in a virus, that's the best thing you can do because it slows the rate of spread.

And then the second thing is you've got to make sure that what is hopefully a temporary phenomenon doesn't morph into a permanent phenomenon by people going bankrupt, by people can't pay their bills and things going wrong on that side. So I think all effort has got to be on trying to slow and mitigate the effects on the health side and the permanent effects of damage to people's lives because you see it everywhere. You know, it's not -- it is gig workers, but it's not just gig workers. All the service sector of the economy, which is the majority of the economy, is really, really hurting at this moment.

SMERCONISH: Here's what I'm taking away from Austan Goolsbee, the best economic stimulant would be getting in control of the virus. So this is quite unlike, say, 2008 and how do we address this banking collapse. We need to control the virus, hood things will then flow, economically speaking, from that.

GOOLSBEE: Step one, yes, that's exactly right.

SMERCONISH: What would you say to folks who are watching their retirement evaporate? If we get hold of the virus, does it all come back?

GOOLSBEE: Look, I hope so. One of those people is me. You know what I mean?


GOOLSBEE: The first thing I tell people is don't look, don't pay attention. This is exactly why, you know, as you say, the conventional wisdom is if you're a long hold investor, don't pay attention to these daily gyrations. Now, that said, our hope would be that if we have a peak of this virus and then it goes down, economic activity would come back and as economic activity comes back, our hope would be that the stock market would also come back, that the people will be able to go back to working at their jobs.

And so that's why the critical component here is to prevent what would be a temporary shock from turning into a permanent problem by people losing their jobs, going bankrupt, unable to make the payments in this period where we've got to get by. So we need to have a lot of sympathy and empathy on the economic side as well as on the health side because there's a great danger here.


We're going to see numbers, most likely, that we have never really seen before. It's going to be different than 2008 in that way. A normal, serious recession, let's say, would have output fall by 5 percent. That'd be a pretty tough recession. If you look in China, output fell something like 20 percent. So the intensity of what we're about to see in the data, everybody knows. Look, you know that your standard of living has been severely altered because of social distancing and ...

SMERCONISH: It's good advice.

GOOLSBEE: ... people just are not going out.

SMERCONISH: Austan, thank you for your expertise. We really appreciate it.

GOOLSBEE: Great to see you again.

SMERCONISH: Don't forget the question this hour at Go there, answer this question, we'll give you the results later in the hour. What concerns you more -- becoming ill from coronavirus or its financial impact on your life?

Up ahead, so about coronavirus and its effects, how might it impact the presidential election? We'll hear from a focus group of swing voters.

And when Bernie Sanders called a press conference after losing most of the primaries this week, I thought he'd be suspending his campaign. Instead, he remained resolutely in the race. By doing so is he helping or hurting his Democratic Socialist agenda?



SMERCONISH: By remaining in the presidential race, is Bernie Sanders helping or hurting his Democratic Socialist agenda? When I heard that he'd scheduled a press conference after his disappointing showing in last Tuesday's primaries, I assumed he'd be announcing his departure.

After all, who has a presser to announce that they're staying in the race? The answer, it turns out, is Bernie Sanders. He used the platform to name the questions he would pose to Joe Biden on the debate stage tomorrow night on CNN, which now will have no live audience because of coronavirus.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And let me be very frank as to the questions that I will be asking Joe. Joe, what are you going to do for the 500,000 people who go bankrupt in our country because of medically related debt and what are you going to do for the working people of this country and small business people who are paying, on average, 20 percent of their incomes for health care?


SMERCONISH: As I watched the presser, I tweeted this observation trying to picture Bernie's thinking, "Joe, how can I pull you farther to the left and make it more difficult for you to beat Trump?" He continued to raise all his major talking points, Medicare for All, climate change, college for all, student debt, mass incarceration, the immigration system, income disparity. Lest anyone think that he was trying to put Joe Biden down, he closed by saying this.


SANDERS: Donald Trump must be defeated and I will do everything in my power to make that happen.


SMERCONISH: My feeling was if Sanders locks Biden into making promises that please Sanders supporters, will that necessarily help or hurt Joe Biden in November? Maybe he's taking one for the team by extending a campaign he knows he cannot win, but before dropping out, he wants to try to shape Biden's candidacy, but there's a more cynical view which is perhaps it's now all about Bernie. In 2016, he stayed in longer than his expiration date and caused Hillary Clinton to spend time and resources that would have been better trained for her toward the general election and now he could be behaving the same way.

Joining me now to discuss is Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, former Democratic candidate for governor of Michigan. He supports Bernie Sanders. Abdul, how do you see this in terms of what it does for the Sanders agenda, not him personally?

ABDUL EL-SAYED (D), FORMER MICHIGAN GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Well, look, I think -- I think Bernie recognizes that the most important thing we can do right now is to beat Donald Trump and if we want to beat Donald Trump, that means we have to turn out every last voter and that means the young folks who were so excited about Bernie's message.

And so if we have a choice in the fall, it's going to be because Bernie Sanders brought the party together and realized that it was only going to be through a focus on the issues that bring those young people out that allow us to bring the party together and beat Donald Trump in the fall and I think this is about making sure that there is a viability on that message, but it's also about making sure that we take down the most dangerous president in American history in a moment where we're seeing what the consequences of his failures look like day to day as this epidemic plays itself through.

SMERCONISH: But the landscape for Bernie doesn't look so good on Tuesday when you take a look at those states. So if he gets hammered Tuesday, I don't know how it turns out, but if he has a bad night Tuesday, won't that cause some folks to say not even Democrats were supportive of, for example, Medicare for All?

EL-SAYED: Well, the momentum is what it is, but I do think that Sunday's debate, which is what he's focused on right now and what we have coming down the pike, albeit the news is very much focused on more important issues around coronavirus and protecting ourselves, but on Sunday's debate, I think what Bernie Sanders did is laid out an open-book test of sorts. He said, look, these are the issues that young people have come to my campaign for. These are the issues that I've been fighting for 50 years.

We want to understand where you stand on them because I think in having that conversation and laying it bare in a moment where people see that some of the momentum has fallen out of this candidacy, he has the opportunity then to look at Joe Biden and say, look, these are my supporters. I believe that they can support you too. These are the things that they're looking for and if you want to inspire them to come out in November, then this is the conversation you need to have.


And so, you know, we can't underestimate Bernie's force in the past five years in our politics moving us left. He's framed the debate and in a lot of ways, Joe Biden's positions on a lot of these issues are framed around what Bernie Sanders has been talking about and so this is an opportunity, I do think, to point to a set of issues and say if you want young people to come around and come together around moving you forward, making you president, beating Donald Trump, this is what it's going to take and we need to understand your positioning on these issues and that way, we can move forward as a party, bring every last voter out and have a real shot at beating Donald Trump in November.

SMERCONISH: Final question. Do you think that Bernie will pull some of his punches? In other words, will there be concern on his part that he can't be too aggressive in going after Joe because of the state of the race?

EL-SAYED: Well, I'll tell you this. I've never known Bernie Sanders to pull a punch on an issue, but I do know that Bernie is an exceedingly kind human being and he realizes the responsibility to beat Donald Trump. So, you know, you even look at the vernacular he used in that press conference, he was talking about Joe Biden, my friend, he was talking about beating Donald Trump.

I think he realizes that there's a real responsibility not to beat down Joe Biden and to contrast himself with Joe Biden, but instead to leverage these issues and be able to empower Joe Biden if and when he is the nominee for president and so this is not, I think, about a contrast exercise, this is about an empowerment exercise so that we can unite together as a party, whoever comes out of this thing and beat Donald Trump in the fall.

SMERCONISH: Abdul, thank you so much.

EL-SAYED: Thank you for having me.

SMERCONISH: Let's see what you're saying on my Smerconish Twitter and Facebook pages. This, I think, comes from Facebook. Let's take a look. "Bernie should stay in so the people can see a debate in real-time and judge Joe Biden and what is being said about cognitive issues."

Look, you've been watching Joe Biden for a year. Are you going to learn more in one debate on that? At some point, I worry that becomes a cheap shot in the same sense that I thought it inappropriate when you had mental health professionals weighing in about President Trump. Very touchy subject matter. People can watch, judge for themselves.

Make sure you're voting at my website this hour at Can't wait to see the result of this. What concerns you more -- becoming ill from the coronavirus or its financial impact on your life?

Up ahead, what worries swing voters most about the coronavirus and has it changed the minds of any Trump-leaning ones? I'll ask the man who's been meeting with them for a year.

Meanwhile, how's the 1 percent approaching the virus? For some of them, by flying their families on private jets to vacation homes. For the rest of us, here's a useful PSA from disco legend Gloria Gaynor via Twitter.


GLORIA GAYNOR: I'd crumble. Did you think I'd lay down and die? Oh no, not I. I will survive. Oh, as long as I know how to love, I know I'll stay alive.




SMERCONISH: Coronavirus will no doubt have an impact on the 2020 presidential election in a number of ways when voters head to the polls. Will this issue be top of mind? Throughout the campaign, we have been checking with Rich Thau of Engagious. He's been conducting very specific focus groups with people who flipped from Obama to Trump or Romney to Clinton.

So far he's hosted 13 of them in locations that include Dubuque, Iowa, Youngstown, Ohio, Erie, Pennsylvania. Each location is chosen because it is in a county that had a disproportionate high number of swing voters between the 2012 and 2016 elections. This week took him to Edina, Minnesota. The group of swing voters told him they were more concerned about the economic impact of coronavirus than the virus itself.


RICH THAU, MODERATOR, SWING VOTER PROJECT: Can you tell me why you are more concerned about your finances than you are about the virus itself?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why? Because of the stock market and how much it fell. Look at what happened last year, how it went up 19 percent or something. And then January and February, gosh it took another, what, 10 percent hike or something like that?

And then all of a sudden now the bottom is just dropping out. They even stopped trading today, it was that bad. So to me, that's alarming.


SMERCONISH: Back with me now is Rich Thau, the president of Engagious where he's also co-founder. You partly inspired today's survey question. I will be very interested to see whether a national audience -- an international audience agrees with the folks at Edina.

I couldn't help think as I watched that as the diagnoses and fatalities stack up and increase potentially exponentially, that those answers might change.

THAU: Well, indeed, yes, they might change. The thing we uncovered, though, Michael, is that these voters, most of them, are very confident that President Trump can handle the problem as it unfolds. They did not think that this is something that we get out of hand for him.

The other thing I would point out is that these respondents also said that they are more than willing to give up some of their personal liberty and their privacy in order to protect themselves. One example was they are willing to have their temperature taken before they get on an airplane.

SMERCONISH: So these folks have gone from Romney to Clinton, or they have gone from Obama to Trump, which fascinates me. And I know from your prior visits you say to them, OK, if you could have Obama or Trump, because you voted for each, which would you rather? What was the result in Edina?

[09:35:02] THAU: The result was that seven of these voters would take President Trump and four would take Obama. And the interesting thing, though, was we asked about Trump versus Biden and Trump versus Sanders. In that case, Trump would get even more votes. He would get 8 out of the 11 for both -- against both of those candidates.

SMERCONISH: Rich, I should mention this was Monday night in Minnesota. A heck of a lot has happened in the last couple of days. The president had that national address that didn't go well. He had a presser yesterday announcing a national emergency.

So with that caveat, what you're telling me is that these swing voters, at least through Monday, were standing with the president?

THAU: They are standing with the president. They like the way the economy has been performing. They think the fundamentals of the economy are strong.

They voted for a disruptor. They got a disruptor. And they are satisfied with President Trump. And believe me, I tried to push and prod every way to see what might dislodge them from their support for the president, and I did not see it.

One of the thing, though, is that against Joe Biden, the president is still standing strong. And there are three things we uncovered about their feeling about Joe Biden.

The first one was there were matters of trust related to Burisma and Joe Biden's son. The second were questions about Joe Biden's mental agility. And the third thing was they still don't feel like they know Joe Biden even though he was vice president for eight years.

SMERCONISH: How can that be? It's just mind boggling. But you have said to us previously these are low information voters. You should explain that.

THAU: Well, these are folks who pay most attention to news that is local, not national or international. They are typically not watching CNN or FOX or MSNBC. And the thing I've said to you before, and I will repeat it, we have to pay a lot of attention to people who don't pay much attention at all.

SMERCONISH: Scary proposition, at least to those of us who are news junkies and in the biz. Rich Thau, thank you, as always.

THAU: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: I want to remind you to answer the survey question at

What concerns you more, becoming ill from the coronavirus or its financial impact on your life?

You heard the result from the focus group in Minnesota. Still to come, for many of us the growing uncertainty about the virus means extra precautions, stocking up on essentials. For others it means airlifting your family on a private jet to a vacation home, or even a dooms day bunker.

This is just the latest example of what my next guest calls the velvet rope economy. I'll explain.



SMERCONISH: For years Bernie Sanders has been championing the cause of income inequality and wealth disparity. There's no more vivid, an example of that, than how the response to coronavirus is playing out.

As the virus expands worldwide millions of working Americans find themselves left behind unable to stock up on price gouge supplies, missing working, having to find child care. Meanwhile, there are reports of the wealthy getting access to private tests, escaping problem zones by chartering private jets and retreating to isolated vacation homes.

One company, PrivateFly, told us this kind of business is up 30 percent for them and every day clients are air lifting their entire families from say Spain to a holiday home on the Cayman Islands to -- quote -- "sit it out." And if that doesn't make you feel safe there are always dooms day bunkers. One company, Vivos, which has 5,000 of them worldwide, told us that compared with last year serious inquiries are up 1,000 percent. Sales are up 350 to 400 percent.

Joining me to discuss, the perfect guest, Nelson Schwartz, who covers economics for "The New York Times" and has written a very timely and terrific book. It's called "The Velvet Rope Economy: How Inequality Became Big Business."

Nelson, this virus and the response it sort of embodies everything I took away from you book.

NELSON D. SCHWARTZ, NEW YORK TIMES ECONOMICS REPORTER/AUTHOR, "THE VELVET ROPE ECONOMY": It really does, Michael. It's pretty amazing the way people can jump the line even when there is a national emergency like the coronavirus.

SMERCONISH: What example comes to your mind from this particular situation? What are you seeing that is indicative of "The Velvet Rope Economy"?

SCHWARTZ: I spoke to one concierge doc who had the foresight to stock up on virus swabs a few weeks ago before the emergency reached American shores. And now he can offer tests. And he is going to offer drive-thru testing for the virus in Silicon Valley. So you just drive your car up. Maybe your Tesla, if you will, and you get a viral swab. And you can get the results back in a few days. And, meanwhile, a lot of other people are waiting.

SMERCONISH: So in the book you go through sporting events, you go through tourism, you go through insurance, you go through education. And you give examples of "The Velvet Rope Economy." As I said, I said to myself I had never put it all together before. But isn't this the way that it's always been? What's changed, if anything?

SCHWARTZ: I think something is new. I mean, you see this "Velvet Rope Economy" in areas where, at least years ago, you had the pretense to a more egalitarian system. I'm thinking education. I'm thinking health care.

I mean, you're seeing it now in travel. You always had first and second class. But now you have nine different lines to board a plane. And it really comes to the fore in moments of crisis like this, like with the coronavirus.

I spoke to the builders of these bunkers. They told me the phone does not stop ringing. The one guy who builds bunkers and safe rooms he has to turn his phone off at night so he can get some sleep it's ringing so much. And, meanwhile, people are leaving the city, leaving Manhattan and going to second homes in the Hamptons or Greenwich and kind of trying to get away from it all while the rest of us deal with the realities of being here.

SMERCONISH: Is it possible to balance egalitarian interests and capitalism?


I mean, in the book you talk about not wanting to get rid of sky boxes but you want to preserve the ability of a kid at Yankee Stadium to be able to get a signature, an autograph.

SCHWARTZ: I think you can. The Green Bay Packers do a great job of it. I mean, they have got luxury boxes. But still the fans have great seats. And when they redid the stadium a few years ago, they didn't go whole hog velvet rope. They kept a lot of great seats for ordinary fans.

You take Southwest, in the airline industry, no classes and it's the most profitable airline in U.S. history. It shows you you can do a more egalitarian system, something fair for the rest of us and still make a different profit.

SMERCONISH: Nelson, another aspect of coronavirus much in the news this past week, cruise ships. And in the book you analyzed the different classes in cruise ships. What I thought was really interesting, again, nothing new about there being differentiation in classes. Think of the Titanic. But the amount of psychology that has gone into, for example, whether people were paying less should get an eye view into those who are paying more. And it's all by design that they do get that glimpse so they will be inspired to spend more in the next go round. Another example of "The Velvet Rope Economy."

SCHWARTZ: Yes. I found it really fascinating as a reporter to discover these things that you might not notice until someone points them out. Like on Royal Caribbean, you have got two different restaurants. You've got the Windjammer and you've got the Coastal Kitchen. Windjammer is for everyone.

Coastal Kitchen is only for suite guests and has frosted glass windows. But to get to the Windjammer you've got to walk by those frosted glass windows on Coastal Kitchen and see it. And you can see where you can't go. And the idea is that creates a marker that you will aspire to on the next cruise, you're going to trade up.

SMERCONISH: Final quick question, I hope. Are you fearful of where the divisiveness that sometimes springs from "The Velvet Rope Economy" leads?

SCHWARTZ: That's my concern. And that's something I tried to really address in the book, is the sense that we are not all in it together. And I think this coronavirus national emergency is really going to be a test of whether we're a cohesive society that where everyone looks out for one another, or whether it's each man for himself. And I think we're going to find out.

SMERCONISH: I'm on a reading roll lately. A lot of great books and yours is at the top of the list. Thanks for being here.

SCHWARTZ: Great to be here. Thank you.

SMERCONISH: If you have questions about the coronavirus, including what to do, what to avoid, when to see a doctor, CNN has a new podcast to answer your questions. Join Dr. Sanjay Gupta for "CORONAVIRUS FACT VERSUS FICTION." Listen wherever you get your favorite podcasts.

Still to come, your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments and final chance now to vote on the survey question this week at Go there now and tell me.

What concerns you more, becoming ill from the virus or its financial impact on your life?



SMERCONISH: Time to see how you responded to the survey question at

What concerns you more, becoming ill from the coronavirus or its financial impact on your life?

Survey says -- 15,000 -- man, a lot of votes, 15,599, becoming ill, 53 percent. I watched the numbers progress. And it had been the reverse. And frankly, will probably continue to grow in that resolve. And we've got, what, 49 deaths, 2,216 cases in the United States. I think that's the up-to-date number.

Most of us don't know someone who's been diagnosed, lest someone who has perished as a result but sadly that's going to change. Very, very interesting result.

What do we have in terms of social media, Catherine?

Smerconish, thank you for being level headed and trying to calm the hysteria. People are ignorant and are letting fear cloud their judgment.

I am trying to be, as I said at the outset, the way I am in my own life is the way I'm trying to represent myself here. Which is to be concerned, to be cautious, and to be carrying on, and to tell people to rely for medical judgment on medical practitioners.

By the way, I think Sanjay Gupta has been unblanking believable here on CNN in the last couple of days.

What else has come in?

Wrong question. The major concern isn't that I will become ill or that I'll lose some money. It is that I may be the reason for someone else becomes ill because I'm ignoring my responsibility as a human.

You know what? You bring to my mind, I made reference in the program -- I hope I have time to do this -- to a radio caller. Sometimes I get gems from radio callers on my SiriusXM program, listen to what Rich from Tampa said to me, two, three days ago on radio. Roll that tape.


RICH, TAMPA, FLORIDA RADIO CALLER: We declare a national emergency and we have a preparation period of approximately two weeks. Everyone stocks up on enough food. We ramp up manufacturing of the test kits. And then we have a declared two-week period where only essential services are in movement. We shut down all the schools; we shut down everything. And we test as many people as we possibly can.


SMERCONISH: I like his plan. By the way, he referenced national emergency before the president said what he said yesterday. But it seems like ad hoc. Organically, that's pretty much what we're doing. Maybe, just wondering out loud, maybe it needs some type of framework to it.


Like, yes, let's go into a shut down mode for a defined time period and try and get control from a testing perspective of this virus. You heard Austan Goolsbee said, that would be the best thing for the economy. So perhaps best for our health as well as the economy.

Anyway, thank you for watching. Appreciate it very much. I'll see you next week.