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Thoughts on this Pandemic Inspired by Life
It feels silly to even describe the present situation because it is so pervasive, so, for lack of a better descriptor, heavy. But the internet is forever, and I don’t know when (or if) this will be read, so here’s a brief ‘beginning of the season after a cliffhanger’ update. Donald Trump, the reality TV star, is President. 40% of the country hates him for reasons, legitimate and made up. As a relative outsider it seems to come down more to not what he does or doesn’t do, but how he does it. They will deny this of course. 40% of the country believes that he is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and he probably has an edge over sliced bread. They would, as he once famously said, still support him if he killed someone in the middle of Broadway. Their love seems to stem from the exact place that the hatred stems on the other side. They too will deny this. But he has enacted policies that liberals have wanted for years, like prison reform, and he is mocked, ridiculed, and even impeached by the left. He has enacted policies that the right would crucify anyone else for (red flag laws and other firearm limitations) and the right has cheered. It’s a strange and dangerous world when a leader leads by force of personality. The other 20%? I don’t know. Some are apolitical. Some are amused by all this. And some, like me, are living with an existential dread for what comes next. I fear the sensation seeking nature of humanity will lead this country astray, in very bad directions.
But that’s just prologue to the real craziness going on right now. We have a virus, a pretty bad one I guess, traveling around the world infecting everyone. It has been estimated that over 2 million people will die in the United States. That estimate has been steadily revised downward, and as of this writing the number is 60,000. The media and the model makers are claiming that our efforts at mitigation are what’s driving the numbers downward, but that’s a lie that’s easy to see through. After the very first estimate, all the models included all the same quarantining and social distancing. The reason the numbers are falling is that the more we find out about this virus, the more we realize it is less dangerous than we first thought. That is not to say that it is not dangerous, 60,000 of my fellow human beings, my fellow Americans, is a big deal.
In order to protect people from this virus, which has according to the press has a mortality rate of 15% if you are admitted to a hospital, 3.4% or so if you contract it we have shut down, more or less, the world’s economy. However, a large scale study in Germany found the fatality rate among people contracting the disease to be 0.4%. Further, a study in Iceland found it to be 0.47%. Le’s be pessimistic and call it 0.5%. If everyone in America gets it we could lose 1.6 million people. That’s really bad, but lower than initial estimates and includes nothing. Not washing hands. Not wiping down shopping carts. Not covering your mouth when you sneeze. And certainly not shutting down the entire bleeding economy. So to me, the only number that is important Is the difference that all of this makes between 1.6 million and 0.
But let’s assume, for a moment that every single one of those 1.6 million passes away. Most will be elderly, and/or in poor health. And it sucks. I will be in that position before too much longer and I wouldn’t want to die because people weren’t willing to sacrifice. I would understand, but I wouldn’t like it. Anyway, we have 1.6 million people saved, within a rounding error, and a shut down economy. (Never mind that many of the 1.6 million wouldn’t have been exposed anyway and so on, we’re doing worst case.) We literally crashed the economy. We put 6.6 million people out of work. There are many different estimates of GDP damage. We’ve had a 6% loss, and we are due for another 12% to 24% loss according to the people who track this stuff. GDP was $20.5 trillion in 2018. Let’s just say that this gets over quickly and we lose 18% total due to this thing. This amounts to $12,812,500 per saved person. We passed a $2 trillion dollar stimulus bill. That’s $1.25 million per person saved. Finally, the Federal Reserve will be doing something Federal-ly (I use this on purpose, as someone might say squirrelly) to create another $4 Trillion dollars. I’m sure we’ll end up paying for that somehow, but I’m not sure how that works so I’m not going to put it on the tab of those poor 1.6 million people who didn’t die.
To sum up, literally. Each life has cost us, as a nation, ($12,812,500+$1250,000=$14,062,500) and let’s say 4 jobs. That’s worst case life lost matched with more or less best case economy. I know that we say we don’t put a price on human life, but insurance companies and juries do it every day. Besides that, even if you’re a greatest good for the greatest number type of person, Taking four families’ livelihoods away per life saved and adding $6,051 to the debt load that every man, woman, and child in America today must cover seems like a steep price.
I’ve had these notions in my head for a while, kind of stirring around. There has been a vague discomfort in my mind about the response’s proportionality to the event. I’ve ‘felt’ that it was out of balance, but haven’t delved into the numbers until now. I was nudged to do this because last night was my son’s last day at work. He’s been laid off. The business he worked at has been closed for the foreseeable future. The lights are going off in the community one by one. Things are remaining civil for now. It seems that the toilet paper thing has finally sorted itself out, but businesses are closing. It is both like, and unlike the businesses closing in Atlas Shrugged. I can see that if we don’t alter course we will descend into anarchy. Government is certainly causing this catastrophe, to a certain extent. And they are encouraging it, hopefully unintentionally. People at my son’s workplace will be making up to triple what they made working there on unemployment. What is their incentive to return, as long as there’s money for nothing? Only the business owner will suffer. So what is being incentivized? I have yet to discuss with him the ‘business owner bailout’ but other business owners I’ve talked to either don’t qualify or tell me that the process for qualification is very onerous. That might lead a conspiratorially minded individual to believe that the idea is to support workers while driving the business owners out of business. But all of this together is just making me wonder how long until September 2nd.