As the coronavirus-induced economic shutdown continues, a divide has emerged in Americans’ opinions over What To Do About It. Not so long ago, it used to be that most people agreed that pretty much everything should be shut down and that people should stay home until this blows over. The Trump Administration publicly declared on March 15 that the country would begin “15 Days to Slow the Spread” with the hope that two weeks of social distancing and closure of “non-essential businesses” would reduce the spread of the virus significantly. After the 15-day period, then we could see where things are and potentially allow things to go back to normal. Most Americans were on-board with this plan.
But as time has passed since March 15, two developments have caused a divergence in public opinion into two camps:
- “Testing in the US has ramped up significantly, revealing thousands of new coronavirus cases every day. Therefore, the 15-day economic shutdown period will not be long enough, and the country should be shut down for even longer. If we do not double down on our efforts to suppress the virus, then countless more people will die.”
- “The collapsing stock market (which has rebounded some over the past few days), spiking unemployment claims, and testimonies from small business owners hurting from the shutdown, show that we need to Get Back To Work ASAP and re-open the economy before this turns into Great Depression 2.0.”
And so now, many Americans are split into the two camps: one that thinks that if we don’t keep it all shut down indefinitely then 1-2% of the US population will die, and another that thinks if we don’t all go back to work ASAP we’ll have 50% unemployment and be lined up around the corner for the soup kitchen by April.
The two camps are increasingly intolerant of one another. The Quarantine Indefinitely crowd thinks the Back To Work crowd wants to sacrifice grandma so the stock market can go back up, while the Back To Work crowd thinks the Quarantine Indefinitely crowd are hysterical idiots.
I’ve got problems with both sides–especially how they act like the other side’s fears are completely unfounded and irrational–but I want to focus on the side panicking about the virus.
Re-opening the economy does not mean “sacrificing lives for the stock market.” This is nonsensical and disingenuous.
The virus is not going to kill a significant percentage of the population no matter what we do. As it stands now, the virus has a death rate of 1.4% in the US. But that death rate is only derived from the denominator of confirmed cases. Loads more people have it or had it and recovered already, and they’re not counted in the official figure of ~66,000 cases. So the death rate is definitely even lower than 1.4%.
You can’t claim that if half the country catches the virus, then 1.4% of those who catch it will die, resulting in the deaths of millions of Americans. The death rate only factors in those who have already been tested. And not only that, if you go to the tracking website, at the bottom it will give you descriptions of the people who have died from the virus. Overwhelmingly the descriptions are like this:
“March 21 (GMT) — New deaths include:
- 1st death in Minnesota: a Ramsey County resident in their 80s [source]
- 1 new death in Oregon, first in Marion County [source]
- 1st death in Tennessee: a 73-year old man with underlying health conditions in Nashville [source]
- 1st death in Arizona: a Maricopa County man in his 50s with underlying health conditions [source]
- 1 death in Ohio: an 85-year-old man was an Erie County [source]
- 2 new deaths in South Carolina: elderly people suffering from underlying health conditions [source]
- 1 death in California: the first death in Contra Costa County: a patient in their 70s [source]
- 1 death in Maryland: a Baltimore County resident in his 60s who suffered from underlying medical conditions [source] D.C. schools will be closed until April 27
- 1 death in Missouri: a woman in her 60s, who suffered from multiple health problems prior to being diagnosed with COVID-19 [source]”
Because we’re now over 100 deaths per day, the site doesn’t provide a blurb for every death anymore. But you can go back a few days when deaths were much lower and get some background information for most of the deaths. Older people with underlying health conditions are the ones dying. This is not to minimize their deaths at all, it’s only to point out that the death rate is not the same for everyone.
The death rate is also going down over time. On March 4, there were 138 people confirmed infected with 11 deaths. That’s a death rate of 8%. On March 13, with 2,126 people infected, there were 48 deaths, or 2.2%. And now, March 25, the death rate is 1.4%. It keeps going down the more testing we do.
A couple of Stanford Professors published an article today elaborating on this:
“If the number of actual infections is much larger than the number of cases—orders of magnitude larger—then the true fatality rate is much lower as well. That’s not only plausible but likely based on what we know so far,” the professors argued.
The professors cited data from Iceland, China, the United States, and Italy, which is arguably the hardest-hit region when it comes to the coronavirus.
“On March 6, all 3,300 people of Vò [Italy] were tested, and 90 were positive, a prevalence of 2.7%,” the professors said. “Applying that prevalence to the whole province (population 955,000), which had 198 reported cases, suggests there were actually 26,000 infections at that time. That’s more than 130-fold the number of actual reported cases. Since Italy’s case fatality rate of 8% is estimated using the confirmed cases, the real fatality rate could in fact be closer to 0.06%.”
The professors argued that current epidemiological models aren’t adequate for two key reasons.
“First, the test used to identify cases doesn’t catch people who were infected and recovered. Second, testing rates were woefully low for a long time and typically reserved for the severely ill. Together, these facts imply that the confirmed cases are likely orders of magnitude less than the true number of infections,” it reads.”
They also said this:
“Ultimately, while stressing the seriousness of the virus that has infected almost half a million people, the professors aren’t convinced a universal quarantine is the most logical course of action.
“A universal quarantine may not be worth the costs it imposes on the economy, community and individual mental and physical health,” the article concluded. “We should undertake immediate steps to evaluate the empirical basis of the current lockdowns.”
One might object thusly: “Okay, even if the death rate is actually much lower than current figures show, ending the quarantine and allowing people to go about their business as usual means lots of people are going to get it who wouldn’t have gotten it had they stayed in self-quarantine.”
But that’s what we’re having the debate over. Is it really worth it to keep the economy running on half (or fewer) cylinders over a disease that may have a death rate as low as 0.06%? Someone should be able to answer “no” and not be considered evil.
What if people want to take the risk and go back to work and start spending money like normal? I’m sure a lot of small business owners who are hurting due to the quarantine measures would gladly take that risk. Given the number of people who catch the flu every year–CDC says at least 38 million Americans caught it this season–it’s just as risky to go out in public and go to work during flu season as it is now.
It’s not as if right now is the only time that going to work and going out in public put Americans at risk of getting sick. At any point from November to March you have a pretty high risk of catching the normal flu by going out in public and going to work, but most people don’t care–they don’t even think about catching the flu. Now is not the only time it has ever been dangerous to leave your house.
But the Keep Everyone Quarantined! crowd doesn’t want to hear it.
What is behind their extreme precaution and fear? Many, I would guess, see America’s cases of coronavirus (and deaths) increasing exponentially and quickly conclude that we do not have this thing under control, so it is idiotic and borderline-wicked to reopen the economy.
If you look at the data, they’ve got a point:
We’re over 66,000 total cases as of right now after adding about 10,800 today. Yesterday was a little over 11,000 new cases.
In terms of deaths, yesterday was our worst day yet: 225 deaths nationwide.
Today, we’ve had about 151 deaths today as of 7:15pm EST. No telling yet if this the start of a reversal, or if it’s just a blip. Still, things are clearly much worse now than they were even a few days ago.
Italy, however, is starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel. It appears daily new cases are leveling off:
Today, Italy had about 5,200 new cases.
Deaths in Italy appear to be leveling-off as well:
Today’s tally for Italy was 683.
So the situation in Italy is by no means better yet, but it at least seems that things aren’t getting worse. It might be too early to say, but it appears the virus has plateaued in Italy.
This does not mean the same applies to the U.S. We began our 15-day period of self-quarantining on the 15th, so we’re only on Day 10. If Americans are doing their part (and that’s a big assumption given that our quarantine was a recommendation rather than a government order, like Italy’s was) then we shouldn’t expect to see things turn around for another several days.
If daily new cases and deaths do begin to slow in the next few days here in the US, then hopefully we’ll be able to avoid the “Everyone Dies/Great Depression 2.0” debate. You would think it’s a no-brainer to err on the side of caution and keep the country locked-down for longer, given that if things really get out of control and we do suffer massive amounts of deaths, we’ll have an economic depression anyway. So why not just play it safe and keep everything shut down for even longer?
Well, the Back To Work crowd would argue that it’s a false choice to say we have to choose between a hundred thousand people dying (or more) and another Great Depression. And they’re right: I don’t think there’s any scenario where tens of thousands of Americans die from the coronavirus.
Trump seems to have made up his mind already. Last night, he tweeted:
“The cure cannot be worse than the problem.” This is essentially what the Back To Work crowd is arguing; we can’t wreck our economy for a virus that has only infected 66,000 people in a nation of 330 million. The Back To Work crowd also points out that the Swine Flu epidemic of 2009 was worse than this, with over 115,000 confirmed cases in the US and over 3,400 deaths, and we did not freak out anywhere near as much as we are now. We never considered shutting our economy down for that.
Trump tweeted this today:
He’s completely correct. I don’t doubt for one second that a major reason most “news” channels and bluecheck “reporters” are pushing non-stop fear porn over the virus is because they think it’ll hurt Trump. Does the media want an economic collapse? Absolutely. They think it will turn the country against Trump.
Trump has figured out the game. While the vast majority of the Keep It Shut Down! crowd feel that way because they’re genuinely afraid of the virus, the media, which is chiefly responsible for making all these people so scared is completely exploiting this situation. And since Trump is aware of what they’re trying to do, he’s pushing for things to go back to normal soon.
In Trump’s most recent press briefing tonight, he said “There are large sections of our country, probably, that can go back to work sooner than others. We’re looking at that. People are asking ‘Is that an alternative?’ and I say absolutely, that is an alternative.”
Trump is targeting Easter (April 12) as hopefully the day everything can go back to normal, and that would mean almost a full month of social distancing. That seems like enough, but the Back To Work crowd says it’s too long, while the Quarantine Indefinitely crowd thinks it’s insanity.
But I don’t see why we can’t, after the 15-day period, lift the quarantine for parts of the country that haven’t been hit as hard as others. After all, more than half of the nation’s cases right now are in the immediate New York City area:
We definitely should not lift the restrictions on NYC anytime soon. But for the rest of the country, as long as we take the necessary precautions and avoid New Yorkers, it should be fine.
NY Governor Andrew Cuomo says the peak is still 2-3 weeks away for New York, but that shouldn’t mean the whole country has to remain shut down. Quarantine New York. Don’t go there unless you absolutely have to, and when you return, self-quarantine for 14 days. Don’t leave New York unless you absolutely have to, and if you do, you self-quarantine for 14 days.
We can and should keep the current restrictions in place for the most at-risk subsets of the population, namely the elderly and those with preexisting health conditions. Keep the elderly–nursing homes especially–cordoned-off while the rest of us go about our business as usual. This seems like the path Trump is leaning towards, and to me it makes perfect sense. It’s a smarter, more efficient selective quarantine policy rather than a blanket nationwide quarantine.
But the Quarantine Indefinitely crowd is still very upset by this. Most of them, I’d guess, are motivated primarily by fear.
Specifically, there’s a widespread belief that This Virus Is Just Different, uniquely bad, and that if you catch it, it will permanently damage your health. Is this true? It could be true. It’s not really known for certain yet because it hasn’t been around for very long. But stories about how the virus left male survivors sterile turned out to be false. As far as permanent lung damage, that could well be true. But it varies from person to person. Probably most people who get it will recover and be just fine for the rest of their lives.
The regular flu and the common cold can even can have lasting effects on your body, from hearing loss to Guilliane-Barre Syndrome and even lasting lung damage. The Wuhan Virus is not the only widespread virus that can potentially inflict permanent damage on your body. Yet all the scary stories in the media have people convinced they should be downright terrified of getting the coronavirus.
But others in the Shut It Down! camp–I’d say a minority, but definitely a sizable number of individuals, and predominant on social media–are motivated by something else. It’s not really fear of the virus and mass deaths, either.
Some people just want to watch the world burn. Most of them are younger people, and this, right here, is the closest they’ve ever been to Chaos.
Maybe they’ve grown up on too many post-apocalyptic movies and video games, but they feel like life would be more fun if society collapsed. I’m not sure the reason, but there are a lot of people out there who want society to collapse. To them, the near-total shutdown of the economy is “cool” because it’s such a break from the ordinary. And some feel that if it continues for longer, then society itself will totally collapse, and after that, a new type of society will arise from the old one’s ashes. And it will be Better, they imagine.
I know this because I have a little bit in me, although not nearly as much as when I was younger. Really, it’s more of a yearning for adventure that cannot be satisfied in our world of urban/suburban orderliness and 9-5 jobs. So, some people think, maybe if everything collapsed and we went back to the Stone Age, life would be full of adventure. And maybe, if there is a “great reset” of human civilization, I could end up on top.
This Societal Collapse Fantasy largely disappears once you’re invested in the stock market, but there are still lots of people who want to see the world burn.
Whether it’s young would-be socialist or anarchist computer-chair revolutionaries, or simply people who hate the modern world and wish for things to be completely different, there are a lot of people that are secretly (maybe even unconsciously) hoping the coronavirus basically brings the modern world to its knees. (And I’m not saying these are bad people for hating modern society! I’m no fan of modern life myself. But I don’t think society needs to collapse in order for me to get the kind of life I want out of it.
That said, I still think the broad majority of the “THE VIRUS IS GOING TO KILL US ALL!” crowd are motivated by fear of the virus rather than a desire to bring down the modern world.
Fear is a very powerful emotion. Some would say it’s the most powerful. Most people who are gripped by fear cannot be reasoned with (although some can). The only thing that will snap them out of the fear currently governing their words and actions is if real-world events prove their fears to be overblown and unfounded. And even then, they will credit their own over-cautiousness for the fact that the world didn’t end.
The people gripped by media-induced fear–while most of them certainly have noble intentions and valid reasons for being fearful–can’t be allowed to call the shots here. We just have to move forward and get the economy firing on all cylinders again. Eventually the people who want to stay quarantined until August will get over it.
All that said, when we do re-open the economy, we should still emphasize washing our hands and social distancing and generally try to keep our hands in our pockets as much as possible. We should wear masks and gloves whenever possible and not look at people who do wear masks like they’re crazy. We should avoid large crowds of people and mass gatherings for at least another month.
But we should re-open the economy ASAP. Small businesses can’t hold out much longer.
The government has told many of them to shut down, and so businesses–small and large–need a way to recoup lost revenues. You can’t just tell businesses to shutter and then not expect to compensate them for lost revenues. That’s pure evil. Bailouts or bust. Wall Street nearly killed the global economy back in 2008 and they got bailed out. You could even argue that the big banks that survived ’08 were rewarded for their recklessness.
Those were bad bailouts because the banks didn’t deserve them.
This time around, however, the bailouts are infinitely more justifiable. Most of these businesses are not in trouble because they were reckless and immoral, but because they were simply doing what the government told them to do. There is nothing wrong with a bailout here.
Not every case is the same, of course. For instance, the airline companies that nickel-and-dime the hell out of us (carry-on fee, booking fee, checked-bag fee, seat selection fee) and spent 96% of their free cash flow over the past decade on stock buybacks, now they want a bailout because they have no money?
That’s the kind of stuff that should piss Americans off. But still: what else are we supposed to do? Let the airlines go belly-up? It might Feel Good for a little while to see those greedy bastards get what’s coming to them, but it would be terrible for our country in the long (and short) run. (Thankfully, it appears the stimulus bill will prohibit stock buybacks for any company that gets government money. I still think the weasels will find a way to weasel around this, but it’s at least encouraging that this language has been included in the bill.)
If, by keeping the economy shut down well into April and we force businesses to fold–both mom and pop stores and the larger publicly traded companies–then it will only accelerate the consolidation of our economy, in other words, monopolization. The big trend of the past 20 or so years has been consolidation: the big firms get bigger by buying up the smaller firms. The market share of the various sectors of the economy held by the largest corporations has only increased over the past couple of decades, and if we let businesses fail now, that will only get worse.
This is what happened in 2008-2009 and it’s what’s going to happen today if we let small businesses fold.
What I’m trying to say is that there’s a lot of validity in what the Back To Work crowd is saying. It will be very bad for our country if lots of businesses have to close, and not just because of all the people who will lose their jobs. The big corporations that can weather this storm just fine will emerge with more power and market control.
Which is why I wonder if this has been the plan all along: a mass economic genocide of small businesses so that big businesses can swoop in and buy all their assets up for cheap. The conspiracy theorist in me fears that this has been the plan all along, and until I see very generous terms from the government on the small business bailout that make it clear the government wants small businesses to come back, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to disabuse myself of that suspicion.
I saw something about the government promising small businesses “low interest loans” and that phrase set off my Conspiracy Alarm. The government is going to force small businesses to shut down and then act like it’s doing the small businesses a favor by offering them “low interest loans” to deal with problems they encountered for doing what the government told them?
I certainly hope this is not what happens when all’s said and done. But it might. I guess low-interest loans are better than nothing.
That said, I do think some of the Back To Work crowd’s concerns are overblown.
This chart of the ridiculous spike in unemployment claims is misleading:
I filed for unemployment, but I wasn’t fired. Not all of these people have lost their job. Many of them have actually just been temporarily furloughed.
As for the US economy not being able to handle a two-week pause: European countries shut down for a whole month every year. Scott Adams provoked a good discussion the matter today:
But if the American economy shuts down for a week then everyone goes bankrupt and businesses can’t keep their doors open? What happened to rainy day funds?
Yes, that’s because 300 years ago we were all farmers and our economy did not rely on complex international supply chains and financial leveraging products. People didn’t rely on much other than themselves. They knew how to budget–and I’m not just talking about money, I mean crops and food. They had to stretch the harvest through the winter months or else they died.
The replies to Adams’ tweet from Europeans were interesting:
This Businessweek article from 1993 provides a small glimpse into how life is in Italy during August:
“It’s just no fun being a journalist in Europe during the summer. I had wanted to write about the spiffy new Punto subcompact that Italian auto giant Fiat will be rolling out next month, but nobody answers the phone at company headquarters in Turin. Then I thought, surely BUSINESS WEEK readers will want to know about how the Sicilian Mafia finally seems to be on the run? Alas, every prosecutor I try to call in Palermo is at the beach. Hey, I’ve got it! I’ll do a Letter From Rome–and describe how no one over here works in August. “Now that’s not a bad idea,” says Antonella, my Italian wife, who has been on holiday since July. “And while you’re at it, fetch me another Diet Coke.”
It’s mandated by most governments in the big European countries that employees get about a month’s worth of paid vacation:
“It’s August again and in Europe that means “out of the office” messages, “closed” signs, and desolated streets. August 1st marks the unofficial start of summer vacation in Spain, France and Italy, and even in times of economic crisis, most employees are dead-set on taking their summer days.
And why not? According to a report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, European countries lead the world in guaranteeing paid leave for its workers. Among OECD countries, 16 of the 18 most generous governments when it comes to paid vacation are European.
Spain and Germany are among the most holiday-happy, both offering 34 days of paid leave each year. Italy and France guarantee 31 days of paid vacation, and Belgium requires 30. These numbers include both mandatory vacation and public holidays.
CEPR reports that the United States is the only nation among advanced economies that does not provide a legal guarantee of paid leave. New Zealand and Australia ensure respectively 30 and 28 days of paid leave, and Canada’s federal government stipulates 19 paid days, with some provinces adding on additional time. Even in Japan, where thousands commit suicide every year because of work-related stress, all employees are guaranteed 10 paid vacation days.
To be clear, many American companies do provide paid leave. According to CEPR, 77 percent of private sector companies offer employees at least some paid vacation, and those workers get an average of 21 paid days.
Still, that leaves nearly 1 in 4 Americans without any guarantee of paid time off from work. Those workers are noticeably overrepresented in the lower classes, notes CEPR. Half of the workers whose wages scale in the bottom 25 percent enjoy no paid leave.”
It seems like a matter of respecting basic human dignity to simply not expect employees to devote their entire lives to increasing The Company’s Profits. Maybe Americans who are off work right now will realize how nice it is to have a European-style vacation, and perhaps there will be a new push for some form of government-mandated paid vacation time for the most over-worked nation on earth.
To be sure, even though European countries have very generous state-mandated paid holiday requirements, it’s not as if it all happens at once. Lots of Americans have this belief that basically the entire continent of Europe shuts down for the month of August, but that’s not entirely accurate. Lots of Europeans do take their vacations in August, but not everyone. There’s a big difference between “much of the economy” and “the whole economy.”
But then again, it’s not as if the whole American economy is currently shut down. I’ve been out and about a few times over the past 10 days and plenty of businesses are open. I guess we’ll see when the Q1 GDP print is release just how much of the U.S. economy was shut down, but I don’t think it’ll be as bad as the alarmists are saying.
The whole point of the European example is that European businesses plan ahead for August, and the fact that all their employees get a full month of paid vacation. I’ve never heard any stories about how Europe descends into chaos and economic depression every August. They get by just fine.
In a globalized world of free trade, free travel and largely open borders (at least in the West, i.e. the countries everyone else wants to move to), we’re going to have to get used to events like this. A viral outbreak in one country will quickly spread and overwhelm the whole world. Maybe it’s time we structure our economy to be more prepared for stuff like this. It’s all part of the game our elites have chosen to play.
Now, all that being said, the one thing both the Back to Work and the Stay Quarantined crowds ought to be able to agree on is that
Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats she leads are not taking this seriously. They’re totally exploiting this crisis to load up the stimulus bill with pork and leftwing wishlist items that are not even remotely pertinent to the matter at hand.
By no means am I saying every last thing the Republicans put into the stimulus bill is pertinent and awesome. I am under no illusions that this is the case. There’s probably tons of corporate welfare and other bullshit handouts put into the bill by Republicans.
But Pelosi is on another level:
She’s trying to squeeze “Green New Deal” agenda items into the coronavirus bill, as if limiting airplane emissions has anything to do with re-starting the economy.
Not only that, she’s pushing for mass amnesty:
Amnesty for DACA illegal aliens? Unbelievable. She’s saying, “If you want to provide relief to small businesses, you have to legalize 800,000 illegals, too.” Can you make it a little less obvious you want to destroy America, Nancy?
I understand that Nancy has to do this kind of shit to appease the Sanders-wing of her party. She’s upholding her end of the deal, as required by Ocasio-Cortez and the rest to allow her to be Speaker: intransigently push for the most radical and idiotic Social Justice™ and Climate Change Cult agenda items at every opportunity.
But still, it makes me wonder: if Nancy and the Very Opinionated Young Women Of Color Whose Voices Will Be Heard she serves aren’t taking this coronavirus situation seriously, then why should I?
As I wrote earlier, I think this economic shutdown was probably part of the plan–whether China’s as part of the trade war, or the elite’s. I still don’t know who exactly was behind this but the goal was to tank the economy and make people give up their freedoms out of fear.
I’m ready to go back to normal. I like normal. It takes abnormal for us to realize how much we like normal.
But I can’t help but think that’s what the special interests and lobbyists want us to feel. They want us to be so afraid of losing our jobs and the economy tanking that we’ll acquiesce to whatever they want in the stimulus bill and just get back to normal. And the rest of us, they want so terrified of the virus that we
This headline just about sums it up:
The government is preparing to hand out $2 trillion and the lobbyists for the most powerful special interest groups in the country are preparing to feast.
I think it’s a little more than convenient for the special interests that this coronavirus crisis will be capped off with a $2 trillion spending bill.