"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Great American Corona Shutdown–A Very, Very Bad Idea

Panic has set in. A virus that is relatively benign compared to cancer, heart disease, or the Spanish flu is shutting the world down; and while there is no doubt that internment can prevent the spread of the disease, is there not a cost to fracturing the American economy, throwing thousands out of work, dissolving the financial reserves of the middle class, forcing small business to shut their doors never to recover, and unraveling the social, communitarian fabric which is at the very center of American life?

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The ‘prevention at any cost’, ‘saving even one life’ mentality betrays a naïve idealism, a modern rejection of philosophical, existential truths, Biblical wisdom, and common sense.  Investments to save relatively few at the expense of the many is bad economics, dodgy philosophy, and very questionable morality.  Triage has always been a variable in every economic equation and political decision-making. 

The facts are simple – the Corona virus spreads rapidly among most segments of the population.  The elderly and the immunologically compromised are at the highest risk and account for the vast majority of deaths and ICU admissions.  The young and healthy who are infected will either be asymptomatic or experience relatively minor symptoms; and most importantly will survive.  Corona may be ‘everyone’s disease’ from the point of view of infection, but it is the disease of the elderly and infirm when considering serious morbidity and mortality.

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In other words, 80 percent of those infected will do fine – either move on with a cold or the sniffles, or be in bed for a few days.

The problem of course is the denominator of the equation.  If the virus infects tens of millions, then the 20 percent means large numbers of sick and hospital-bound.  Is this not a call to shutdown every aspect of American public life? Of course not.  Epidemiology and public health policy have always been based on risk analysis, narrow-casting, and triage at the least public cost.  That is, how to slow or stop an epidemic at the least pain, cost, and disruption to the majority; and perhaps most importantly, to limit deaths.

Someone will have to pay.  No one is excluded either from the direct or indirect costs of any epidemic.  In this case, refusing to shut down the country would certainly result in more infections than if a more restrictive approach were taken; but if high-risk populations were targeted and protected as much as possible from the virus, then although infection rates would rise, horrific morbidity and mortality would not occur.  Young people might get sick and even hospitalized, but if the most vulnerable are kept out of health institutions, everyone benefits.

For the country not to be shut down, government must devolve decision-making to the individual – a very difficult proposition given the intrusion of progressivism and the arrogated authority of government.  If young people can indeed exert social restraint, the rate of infections can be slowed; and if older people, the immunologically comprised, and the infirm can be identified, targeted, surveilled, and assisted, the overall impact of serious complications can be lessened.

In other words, the young, if they persist in taking few precautions against Corona – their prerogative as young, idealistic Americans – they will get sick; but the vast majority will pass through the epidemic without noticing.  Most of those who do fall ill and become sick enough to require hospitalization will survive and their private health insurance will cover the cost.  The political and moral conundrum is this – if such morally indifferent behavior results in a demand for hospital beds which cannot be met, who is responsible, and who pays?  Practicality demands that moral judgement be reserved.

So, how to confront the Corona virus without destroying the economy, disrupting normal social intercourse, marginalizing tens of millions of economically productive citizens?
1) Open up economy for business;
2) Intensify information campaign in causes, prevention, personal risk and responsibility to reduce rate of new infections;
3) focus government prevention efforts on most vulnerable;
4) Mobilize all possible government health resources , especially in the armed forces to treat the 20% of cases likely to need hospital attention and to supplement private care; and
5) use the billions of dollars in Congressional mandated relief  to build temporary hospital facilities, to provide medical equipment and intensive training paramedical staff at good pay; and defray costs of medical care for those without insurance
Any Congressional rescue package designed to mitigate the pain and suffering from employment furloughs and dismissals will do little to jump-start the economy.  Where will  Americans with a few thousand dollars in their pockets thanks to government largess be able to spend it if the economy is still shuttered?  While these economic migrants can buy from Amazon, and the company’s fleet of drivers, handlers, and inventory staff will certainly benefit; there will be no true investment in the service economy – food stores, bars, restaurants, cafes, etc.  The stimulus package might feel good, but it will be wasted in terms of reviving an economy killed by government draconian policies.

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The Corona hysteria is a consequence of many factors – not the least of which is a me-first progressive philosophy according to which personal responsibility, individualism, and individual enterprise are devalued consistent with the rise of the State.  It is up to the State, say young progressives, to sort out the pandemic and to put no untoward demands on the individual.  In an earlier era, one envisaged perhaps naively by the Founding Fathers, the individual, endowed by his Creator with a righteous soul, would always act in the interest of his community.  The pursuit of happiness, reminded Jefferson, was not an open market of personal pleasures, but a responsibility to regard others in the course of achieving one’s ambitions.

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The decline of Christianity in the increasing pluralization of America has also contributed to the ‘me-first’ response to trouble and crisis.  In an earlier era, faithfulness to God and and assumption that all was according o His plan, moderate human excesses.  In today’s multicultural world, despite the potent Abrahamic messages of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, moral principles, once taken as absolute, are challenged or dismissed. 

Cato the Elder prepared educational diptychs for his students, future leaders of the Empire.  Courage, honesty, sacrifice, duty, and honor were among the principles that were the sine qua non principles of leadership.  Individual acts must always be considered within the context of these moral principles.  No such thing, progressive advocates claim.  All is relative.

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Materialism and the pursuit of wealth is today’s far cry from Christ’s poverty and lessons for right living.  Hinduism, long before the arrival of Christ taught that the material world was but a distraction to life’s only purpose – enlightenment – and the Buddha made this negation of the world’s venal promises the cornerstone of his philosophy.

Finally, the increase in life expectancy has had its own unintended consequences.  If the control if not elimination of the scourges of infection and disease which sent  everyone to their graves before age 35 was possible, then consideration of the finality and eternality of death could be postponed.

In short, the young want no part of death, disease, and dying.  Personal responsibility for others is second fiddle to individual prosperity; and government – so maligned in civil times – is still thought to be the be-all and end-all of last resorts.

The time for sane reversal has past and only lessons are to be learned.  Most of us will emerge unscathed by the Corona hysteria,  Our financial portfolios will rebound albeit slowly.  Favorite cafes, bars, and restaurants will return; and things will go back to normal; but the disruption, damage, and consequences of our untoward, precipitous, and wholly unnecessary responses to the Covid-19, aka Corona, aka Wuhan virus will last a long, long time.

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