'Economic Deniers' Court Devastation to Naively 'Stop Every Infection'
Somewhere over these last 30 fever dream days, the COVID call to arms to Americans has moved from “flatten the curve” to “stop every infection.” Flattening the curve meant social distancing, aggressive handwashing, and avoiding large crowds – and would no doubt have slowed the pace of contagion dramatically compared to doing nothing.
It also would have allowed most of the economy’s workplaces to continue to function on at least a limited basis. But that’s not what we’re doing. Instead, the abrupt transition to a full containment strategy – attempting to stop every infection through forcibly-imposed lockdowns – spread from state to state and nation to nation like an authoritarian virus in its own right.
This astonishing series of clampdowns has now unleashed a spiral of economic ruination at a speed and scope literally never before experienced in human history. Those who refuse to see and believe the scale of long-lasting devastation we’ve now brought upon ourselves can only be called one thing: Economic deniers.
The response we should have to our misguided political and public health leaders?
To quote Time’s Person of the Year: “How dare you?”
Denying the horrific damage we’re inflicting on ourselves – and the threat to our entire way of life it brings – is either borne of utter economic ignorance or of profound immorality. In all likelihood we have before us a Hobson’s choice of unprecedented severity and complexity -- but we are being led to believe we have no choice at all.
What’s more likely is that precious few public health officials have significant economic training and are therefore unable to see the ruinous outcomes their advice is inflicting on the public they’re supposed to protect. To them, wild hyperbole – that we can successfully contain the coronavirus, when many experts early on already let the cat out of the bag that we cannot – is merely a tool to try to gain a more compliant citizenry.
What’s even more likely is that no elected official has the backbone to say that the statistical data is inherently deeply biased and misleading, since a huge number of Americans with COVID symptoms have been told they won’t be tested unless hospitalized. That it is patently obvious this virus doesn’t represent anything vaguely resembling an existential threat to our way of life – but that the destruction of our economy does.
And they won’t say that therefore some measure of restraint must be exercised in anti-pandemic measures. Such as concluding the obvious – that we cannot stop or contain this wildly contagious (and often asymptomatic) virus – and that the best we can hope to do is “flatten the curve.”
Finally, they won’t say that means some measure of lives will indeed be lost if we are to preserve our way of life for the living. Just like real leaders actually say in wartime.
But when confronted with the all-too-apparent cold facts of the choices in front of us, economic deniers tend to default to deflection and misdirection.
“It’s not either – or,” deniers say. Except that in total lockdowns, it is.
“I’d rather deal with some lost jobs than lost lives,” deniers say. Except they pretend that a wrecked economy doesn’t cost as many or more lives than a pandemic, while grinding billions of other lives into want and misery.
“The coronavirus can kill anyone, but a bad economy only hurts some,” deniers say. Except it appears that the diametric opposite is true.
The economy might sound like an academic/Wall Street/Washington construct with all its data and graphs and overpaid analysts. The reality though is that this massive Gordian knot of billions of agreements, transactions, laws, and societal norms is what enables us to live free and self-sufficient lives.
Its wreckage, when it comes, will be strewn with debris from our family lives and work lives and social lives and sporting lives. Its aftermath will be harrowing. Trashing the societal machinery that has allowed us to prosper (until now) during this best-time-in-human-history is likely to spawn violence, civil disorder, and even warfare. As wrecked economies always have.
We must move away – and now – from the fanciful notion that we can contain or stop coronavirus infections without destroying the economy. We need to return – immediately – to the idea of flattening the curve.
And economic deniers, please note: Flattening the curve never meant we could change the area under the curve, the total number of infections. It means we can spread them out over a time frame that will allow our medical resources to flow and surge to respond appropriately.
That means testing. Tracking. Technology. Targeted quarantines. Self-directed social distancing, hand washing, aggressive sanitation, crowd avoidance. It means re-mobilizing what once was the most powerful economic machine in civilization’s arc to find ways to protect, support, and connect with the elderly and the immuno-compromised. And it means wild, grotesquely generous funding of every effort to defeat the virus at the cellular level through vaccines and treatments, paid for by a still-functioning economy.
It’s not back to normal – but it’s a dramatic turn away from this crushing public health overreach to which we’re currently subjected.
Such a path, enumerated and launched, lies entirely within our grasp and would captivate the imagination and the human spirit of people across the globe.
Unless, that is, we allow the economic deniers to continue as the only masters of our destiny.