The coronavirus pandemic is now having a major impact on the American way of life, right across the country. I'd guess we have at least two, and possibly three to four months of major social and economic disruption staring us in the face. After-effects will almost certainly continue for much longer than that, but I think by then we'll have adjusted to them and made accommodations in many ways.
I'm troubled that a lot of people are divided about the seriousness of this pandemic. On the one hand, you have the views exemplified by Heather Mac Donald, who writes:
The number of cases in most afflicted countries is paltry ... But the damage to people’s livelihoods through the resulting economic contraction is real and widespread ... The people who can least afford to lose jobs will be the hardest hit by the assault on tourism. Small entrepreneurs, whether in manufacturing or the service sector, will struggle to stay afloat. Such unjustified, unpredicted economic havoc undermines government legitimacy.
President Trump has been criticized for not being apocalyptic enough in his press conferences. In fact, he should be even more skeptical of the panic than he has been. He should relentlessly put the coronavirus risk into context with opioid deaths, homicide deaths—about sixteen thousand a year in the United States—flu deaths, and traffic deaths. One might have thought New York governor Andrew Cuomo a voice of reason when, a few days ago, he tried to tamp down the hysteria in a press conference, saying: “This is not Ebola, this is not sars, this is not some science fiction movie come to life. The hysteria here is way out of line with the actuality and the facts.” And yet since then he called a state of emergency in New York, and he and Mayor Bill de Blasio have all but shut down the New York City economy. They, like most all U.S. politicians nowadays, have shown an overwhelming impulse to be irrationally risk-averse.
. . .
It is hard to imagine that the panicked leaders and populace of today would have been able to triumph in the last century’s World Wars. America’s colleges sent off thousands of their young men to fight and die in those wars; those students went off with conviction and courage. Currently, colleges and universities are shutting down with no hint of the virus in their vicinity. Would today’s panicked leaders and populace be able to triumph in the face of a World War, or some other legitimately comparable threat? Let’s hope that we do not have to find out.
I'm not saying she's wrong: but in speaking as she does, she appears to ignore the fact that we make up our own subjective reality by the way we respond. We convert our understanding (flawed or otherwise) of the risks facing us into actions designed to mitigate those risks. If our understanding is formed by biased and agenda-driven media reporting (and they've been doing all they can to exaggerate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, and blame every shortcoming in America's response to it on President Trump and his administration), it's hardly surprising that so many of us are fearfully overreacting. The panic-stricken over-purchasing of toilet paper, paper towels, etc. is a classic example. We make all we need right here, on the North American continent. There will not be a production problem - but we're causing a distribution problem, through overwhelming the pipelines and outlets that get those products to us. It's not the factories' fault, or the distributors' fault. It's our fault.
Accurate information is out there, if we look for it. Sadly, too many of us prefer to just let the mainstream media feed us the slanted, unreliable coverage they dispense so freely. We won't take the trouble to verify what they tell us. Again, that's our fault. We should know better.
Two useful reports came in over the weekend. Donald Sensing posts a sober overview of how COVID-19 works, and debunks many myths about preventative measures. Here are a couple of key paragraphs.
This virus is not going away anytime soon. There are three courses a novel virus can take -
1. It can appear, be devastating, and disappear unexpectedly like both SARS and MERS. This one did not do that so this option is out.
2. It can cause a global pandemic and a lot of people will lose their lives or be disabled from the infection. May be happening.
3. It can become endemic in our population like the other 4 coronaviruses we see during cold and flu season and account for up to 30% of our "colds." This is highly likely.
. . .
"It's just the flu." Nope. At the worst, its 30x more fatal than the seasonal flu (Chinese/WHO figures) at its best, 10x more fatal (South Korea figures). This is NOT just the flu. Seasonal flu has a case fatality rate (CFR) of 0.6% annually. This virus, depending on which country you run the stats has either a 3.4% CFR or a 1.2% CFR. Both are substantially higher than the flu. For comparison, the Spanish Flu had a CFR of 2.5%.
For a more academic, medical perspective, there's a useful half-hour video discussion over at the American Medical Association (AMA) going into detail about what's happening in Italy, and what we can learn from their situation. The blurb reads:
Physicians in Lombardy, Italy, have been overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients requiring critical care. Based on an existing ECMO center network they developed an ICU network to rapidly identify, triage, and manage patients infected with SARS-2-CoV. Maurizio Cecconi, MD, of Humanitas University in Milan discusses the region’s approach to the surge, including clinical and supply management, health care worker training and protection, and ventilation strategies, with JAMA Editor Howard Bauchner.
I can't embed the video here, but I urge you - particularly if you're a health care professional - to click over there and watch it. It contains a lot of useful "No s**t - there I was" information, even if cloaked in dry medical terminology.
The economic impact of this pandemic is spreading far and wide. It's doing a lot of damage already, with more to come.
The speed of the crisis has outpaced economists’ ability to track it. As the stock market gyrated in recent days, economic data — most of it from February, before the outbreak was widespread in the United States — continued to look rosy. Even indicators that usually serve as early-warning systems have yet to catch up: New claims for unemployment insurance actually fell last week and remain near a multidecade low.
Still, there are early signs of a crisis that is still gaining steam. Measures of consumer sentiment fell sharply in early March, and indexes of business conditions have cratered. Airlines, ports, hotels and other directly affected industries have already announced layoffs or employee furloughs. Postings for restaurant jobs were down 26 percent last week compared with the same week a year ago, according to data from the job marketplace ZipRecruiter. Job listings in catering were down 39 percent and those in aviation down 44 percent ... The workers who are feeling the effects of the pullback first are the ones least able to afford it: low-wage, hourly employees, many of whom aren’t paid if they miss work.
Of course, the pandemic is also likely to produce long-term changes in how we live and work.
This time it’s a public health emergency that’s shaking up the world economy. In just a matter of weeks, people in affected areas have become accustomed to wearing masks, stocking up on essentials, canceling social and business gatherings, scrapping travel plans and working from home. Even countries with relatively few cases are taking many of those precautions.
Traces of such habits will endure long after the virus lock downs ease, acting as a brake on demand. On the supply side, international manufacturers are being forced to rethink where to buy and produce their goods -- accelerating a shift after the U.S.-China trade war exposed the risks of relying on one source for components.
In the white-collar world, workplaces have amped up options for teleworking and staggered shifts -- ushering in a new era where work from home is an increasing part of people’s regular schedule.
. . .
Universities stung by travel bans will diversify their foreign student base and schools will need to be better prepared to keep educating online when breakouts force their closure.
The tourism sector is seeing the most drastic hit, with flights, cruises, hotels and the web of businesses who feed off the sector struggling ... it may take some time before the industry that hires about one in 10 people recovers.
The virus has also turned the economic policy outlook on a dime and created new priorities.
. . .
“This outbreak is unprecedented in terms of its nature of uncertainty and associated social and economic impact,” said Kazuo Momma, who used to be in charge of monetary policy at the Bank of Japan. Tighter borders controls, wider insurance coverage and lasting changes to working and commuting patterns will be just some of the micro-economic changes that will endure long after the virus, Momma says.
Think about it. If you're a business that until now has rented, say, a couple of floors in an office building to house your administrative functions, but you now learn to do the same job with most of your admin workers telecommuting from home . . . why go back to renting that space? Why not continue to have them work from home, and save tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in rental every year? It's a no-brainer. Landlords should already be factoring that into their considerations for the future - and getting concerned. Similarly, why pay travel, accommodation and other costs for employees - often expensive senior personnel - to fly around the country attending meetings, when in many cases the same information can be exchanged through teleconferencing? Airlines must surely be growing worried about that.
Employees should be doing likewise. How will their lives, relationships, families, etc. be affected if they work from home? How will they keep them separated? What if both partners work from home, for different employers, at the same time? Will they have sufficient space in their home, internet bandwidth, computer equipment, etc. to accommodate such activities without disturbing each other? How will they juggle their work-life balance? How will they stop kids intruding into the scheduled workday - and how will they stop their employer intruding into family time with sudden demands? It's going to be a whole new level of challenge. There's also the question of their income. If they no longer have to pay to commute to work, and no longer have to dress as expensively, will employers offer lower salaries (or reduce existing ones) because they no longer have to cover those costs?
Of course, an economy working on those lines will be utterly dependent on sustained Internet services if it's to function. That's going to produce a whole lot more work for service providers and equipment manufacturers, as the "residential" internet - until now a slower, buggier version of the mainstream business networks - has to be upgraded to cope. It'll also mean new security threats to home computers and networks, as criminals and foreign powers seek to intercept and/or interrupt traffic for their own benefit. Any threat to a nation's Internet services may now have to be regarded as an attack on its commercial and industrial backbone, and treated accordingly - perhaps even as an act of war.
There's also the long-term economic effect of all those supplies that people have been panic-buying over the past week or two. It's going to have a so-called "accordion effect" on the supply chain from beginning to end. If you've suddenly got six months' or a year's worth of toilet paper and paper towels in your garage, you aren't going to buy any more until it's used up. What are the manufacturers supposed to do? They can increase their production to replenish the depleted supply chain - but then what? Do they suddenly halve their output, then halve it again, to make up for the fact that their products aren't moving off store shelves, because everyone already has enough? The same goes for many non-perishable foodstuffs. If you have a year's supply of pasta, or rice, or beans, or whatever, you won't be buying more until you've used up a lot of your stash. What will that do to farmers and food producers? That's not a trivial question. Their livelihoods, and those of everyone they employ, depend on the answer.
As far as hoarding supplies is concerned, we should also remember that our "stashes" can, and in some cases and areas probably will, become attractive targets for those who don't have reserve supplies. As Larry Lambert accurately points out: "In the event of an apocalypse, if you aren't armed, you are just collecting supplies for somebody who is." Keep that in mind, and prepare accordingly, just in case! (Yes, that is a Christian perspective, too. See Luke 11:21.)
Of course, if this pandemic is regarded as an apocalypse, gun owners and preppers already have a slogan and a meme for it (found online, origin unknown):
Oh - and for those who've stockpiled beans among their foodstuffs: I do hope you remember that they have a well-known (indeed, notorious) side effect? As the movie Blazing Saddles reminded us:
I hope you've stockpiled as many months' worth of Beano and/or Gas-X and/or equivalents - enough for all the members of your family - as you have beans!
Finally, I expect the coronavirus pandemic to become a very important factor in the 2020 election campaign. It looks very much as if the Democratic Party, and their cronies in the mainstream media, will do everything in their power to label this the "Trump Pandemic". They'll try to portray him, personally, as responsible for every mistake, shortcoming, error and mixup. That won't be true, of course, but it won't stop them trying - and those badly affected by this crisis, including those who'll struggle in the short term due to its economic impact, are likely to listen. They'll want to blame somebody, after all. That's human nature.
This may have a very significant effect on who wins control of the US government for the next four years. We certainly can't count on the news media or biased social media to tell the truth - they have their own agendas. It's going to depend on all of us to get the facts out there, and make sure they aren't hidden from public view. Citizen journalism such as blogs and social media accounts have never been more important than they will be now.