More Pandemic Perspective

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As we all slowly begin to emerge from our shelter in place lockdown we need to continue to examine and think about what happened, what we did in response to this pandemic and what we should do next. It presents a heck of a complex set of issues. I won’t pretend to have the definitive answers. Lord knows there are enough “experts” out there already telling us what to do. I don’t claim to be an expert about anything. I do have lots and lots of expertise on quite a wide range of topics though. And I do explore, question, learn and think all the time. So take my perspective, add it to your own, make your own decisions and take all the political pronouncements and media hype with the proverbial grain of salt.

So, definitive answers? No. I will, however, point out two things that are sorely lacking in the COVID-19 rhetoric from our political leaders and the media coverage.

  1. Insufficiently broad perspective
  2. Insufficient – painfully insufficient – consideration of unintended consequences

I’ve already done a few episodes regarding the lack of sufficient perspective. Like “Sunset the CARES Act,” so this massive multi-trillion dollar, hastily slapped together, 247 page bit of legislation does help get us over this unprecedented crisis in the short term, but does not drag us under in the long term. Like “It’s Still Half Full,” which points out that while this pandemic is genuinely serious, that mankind’s overall health and longevity is fantastically better and longer and richer than any other time in the history of the world.

Like “Value of a Statistical Life,” that examines the fact that the U.S., since the 1940s, has routinely made and continues to make decisions based literally on a hard-nosed calculation of the dollar value of a human life. Various departments of our federal government peg that value of a life at around $8 Million. You don’t have to like that fact. But it IS in fact, a fact. Oh… and yes, Progressive Democrats have actively participated all along. It’s not just the cold-hearted, evil, extreme right-wingers. Then there’s “Perspective,” that considers the crises, gloom, doom and misery that someone born in 1900 lived through. A couple of world wars, a bunch of smaller wars, a sprinkling of famines, a few pandemics – that sort of thing… And recently, “I Trust My T-Cells,” that points out the importance of age and existing health issues regarding the timing of who should come out of shelter in place and when.

Again, it’s perspective you can add to your own to acquire a still-better, broader perspective. In my own quest for still more perspective, I began to wonder how COVID-19 stacks up in the World Series of Pandemics. Is it the worst in the history of the world? Second worst? Third?

How about 15th? COVID-19 is the 15th worst pandemic in history.

Now that certainly does not mean it’s anything to sneeze at. An aggressive, globally coordinated response was most certainly in order. But did we overdo it? Take a look at the remarkable infographic published by Visual Capitalist.

The Bubonic Plague of 1347-1351 is the King Kong of pandemics, killing some 200 million people. That’s 2,000 times the number who have died of COVID-19 as of early June. The perspective doesn’t end there either. Global population is now 7.3 billion. Back then, the global population was 440 million. Do the math and that means 45% of everybody died. As creepy as it is to consider that, consider it. Imagine what it was like to lose half of everyone you know? COVID-19 to date has taken not 200 million, but 382,000 or 0.005% of the global population.

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No doubt this is an extreme comparison, so let’s consider another one. The Hong Kong flu of 1969 comes in at #13 on the lethality parade with a death toll of 1 million people. That’s more than 2 1/2 times COVID-19 deaths to date. It was also 0.027% of population – meaning it was over 5 times deadlier.

About 100,000 of those Hong Kong Flu deaths were in the U.S. Pretty close to the toll so far from COVID-19. What was our national response in 1969? Woodstock. 400,000 people clumped together for 3 days. I remember Woodstock. I was 15. It was big news. Hong Kong Flu? I have no memory of it whatsoever. None. Granted, I was a stupid 15 year old boy focused on you-know-what, but I’m thinking that today’s 15 year olds, in 2072, will have vivid memories of this lockdown and the catastrophic economic consequences of what we’ve done.

Again, I’m not suggesting we should have done nothing. I am suggesting we might not be putting this thing into the right perspective.

Events of this past week leave me scratching my head even harder and more often. Massive protest demonstrations over the death of George Floyd. I have no right to try and convict that awful perpetrator, but I’ve watched the video. In my mind, he’s guilty – end of story.

So I get the outrage. I understand the compelling urge to march in protest. But all those crowds gave me this cognitive dissonance induced headache. And I’m not talking about the rioters and looters here either. I’m referring strictly to the peaceful protestors.

I decided to do a test. This morning, I went to Whole Foods and walked up to the entrance with my face mask in my hand. The police officer at the door refused to let me enter. It was 7:00 AM. MAYBE there were 10 other people in the store. I’m not allowed to buy a box of corn flakes without a face covering, but 10s of thousands of protestors clumped together is OK?

And are you reading and watching the news? Coronavirus stories literally disappeared for a couple of days. As of today, it’s still a distant second place for media attention. As I nurse my cognitive dissonance induced headache, I return to the 2nd item I listed above as missing from the pandemic coverage – Unintended Consequences.

Do you think maybe the magnitude of the protests and the size of the crowds had anything to do with the lockdown? Let’s see… It’s springtime. The time of year when we all bust out of our self-imposed rule of stay-in-the-house-because-it’s-winter-and-too-cold-to-do-much-outdoors. Nobody relaxed that rule this year. Springtime came and we all stayed huddled inside at home.

Then, a trigger event. That awful muder in Minneapolis. Ba-Boom! All that pent-up energy that we normally expend by celebrating spring, comes spilling out. Would the crowds have been that big and would the protesting have been that intense if this pandemic had not occurred? There’s no way to know for sure, of course, but it seems blatantly obvious to me. What do you think?

What other unintended consequences are hurtling towards us?

Google “coronoavirus suicide rate” and read a few of the many articles. Will the number of suicides exceed the number COVID-19 deaths prevented by the lockdown? Hospitals across the nation are laying off nurses and other staff in droves. Is that not bizarre in the midst of a huge health crisis? The number of mammograms taken has dropped precipitously. Does that mean a spike in breast cancer is coming? More than a few have stopped or delayed chemotherapy and other treatments for chronic conditions. How severe will the results of that be? Who in Washington or our state capitals thought through – or even thought of – these possible consequences?

Prisoners have been released to avoid mass infection in prisons. Might those criminals commit crimes? I’m just asking…

Obesity is a major U.S. health problem. How much weight have you gained year-to-date? Is the level in your liquor bottles dropping faster than normal this spring? Are you getting any exercise?

And what about the economy? What jobs will come back? What jobs won’t? What about student loan debt incurred to launch a career in XYZ and now demand for XYZ has evaporated? What impact will another $7 Trillion in federal government liabilities have? On top of the 24 Trillion we already had that so many economists said was unsustainable?

I could go on with the questions indefinitely… So could you. So could just about anybody else. And you know what? No matter how many of us try to think up all of the questions, we’ll collectively not think up of all the questions. And some of them will have gigantic implications. That’s the nature of unintended consequences. They’re unknown. They’re not considered. They spring up from nowhere and bite us on the ass.

So what do we do? Wait around for our political leaders to tell us? Or do we do what they did to bounce back from the Bubonic Plague and the other 13 pandemics that were worse – most of them far worse than this one?

No question in my mind. First, take care of yourself. If you don’t, then shame on you because now you are part of the problem. With your own affairs in order, you can help your family. When your family’s affairs are in order, you can help your extended family. Then your neighbors. Then your friends. Then your community. Then as far up the chain of societal levels as you can.

Take the bull by the horns and do what you can. Make it crystal clear to the powers that be in Washington, DC that power flows from the bottom up, not the other way around.

I’m your Intentionally Vicarious host Todd Youngblood – Frankly tired of what every day looks more and more like over-hyped, over-wrought hysteria perpetrated by political power seekers and their media minions. Encouraged by the re-emerging entrepreneurial spirit demonstrated by those willing to live with and take responsibility for the unintended consequences of their own decisions. (That would be opposed to the political players who make sweeping decisions then retreat to their own personal havens when those unintended consequences hit the fan.) And you better believe that I’m still having  more fun than anyone else I know.

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Thanks for paying attention…

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