Something as brutally indiscriminate as this raging, lethal COVID-19 pandemic brings many things into sharper focus, and starkly strips away social pretenses about who is deserving and who is not, as well as what our priorities are as a nation.
Rather than standing on a moral ladder and demanding that everyone make massive, life-altering sacrifices to decrease the rate of infection and protect the most vulnerable, we need to take a few more steps up that ladder and see the broader view.
There is an ongoing debate, conducted with much emotional moralizing and partisan politicking, about whether virtually shutting down society and the economy is the best way to respond to this pandemic. What we need is more objectivity and science to determine whether this is the best or only way to respond.
There is so much yet to learn about the coronavirus and how it will behave, so no one, regardless of their credentials, is an irrefutable expert yet. However, the limited but increasing amount of data available confirms the high speed of contagion and the lethal virility of the pathogen.
It also informs us that the intensity of morbidity and incidence of death sharply increases with age. Anyone can get this stuff, but the younger you are, the less likelihood of severe symptoms or death. If you are old or have a major health issue, you are at much greater risk.
By shuttering most of the economy we are placing a disproportionate burden on the younger population, many, if not most, of whom have meager financial reserves and cannot long withstand an interruption in pay or their business incomes.
The unavoidable reality is that, pandemic or not, we cannot keep the economy shuttered very long, certainly not indefinitely, without descending into a new Dark Age.
The recently passed multitrillion-dollar coronavirus relief bill is intended to get the nation through the shutdown, but it also strains the “full faith and credit” of a nation already more than $23 trillion in debt — an amount higher than the national annual economic output of $21 trillion.
Nevertheless, the Federal Reserve bank has pledged to buy all the U.S. Treasury bonds necessary to provide the money to stabilize the economy. That means printing mountains of greenbacks. If enough people around the world lose confidence in America’s “full faith and credit” that backs all that paper, it is game over for much of peaceful civilization.
It is, therefore, essential that the American economy thrive and not flatline from an extended shutdown.
So, what is moral here?
Ultimately, we may have to exercise reasonable social distancing and hygiene practices, while opening up the economy, including the schools, and letting the virus run its course. If we do, there will most likely be more infections and more casualties. And, the economy, while reopened, may still sputter because many workers could become stricken — but it would not fall into ruin.
The health-care system would likely continue to be besieged, because our federal government was woefully unprepared for this pandemic — in spite of numerous credible early warnings. Consequently, there is grossly inadequate testing and lingering shortages of medical devices and protective gear to meet this viral onslaught.
People will die who would not have.
What is moral here?
If there is one ventilator but two patients who need it, one 80 and the other 40, who should get it? This is the choice our medical community may soon have to make. All lives matter, but in this situation, there are some qualifiers to consider in making the moral choice.
So, who still believes that government should be shrunk so small that it could be drowned in a bathtub? And what exactly is “socialism”? Is it always bad and never good?
What comes into sharp focus with this pandemic is our nation’s spending priorities. For decades now we have dedicated more than 50 percent of our massive annual federal budget to military defense — currently close to $700 billion. That is greater than the annual defense budgets of the next seven biggest spending nations combined. What is the existential threat to America that justifies that chronically gargantuan outlay?
It isn’t invading armies or nuclear missiles that are likely to get us, it’s more likely a microscopic pathogen. How effective will our big, extravagantly expensive military be if its personnel are ravaged by disease?
Prudent wisdom would redirect sufficient tax money to bolster our health-care system to ensure overwhelming force against an invading microbe. That may well include some form of universal health care that can detect and treat diseases among the broad population early enough to prevent or minimize epidemics.
As a graduate student back in 1971, my thesis proposal was that natural forces would always work to bring human population within ecologically sustainable levels — most likely through pandemics. That proposal was rejected by the head of the department — a crusty old retired Navy admiral — who told me a thesis should be based on science not science fiction.
The admiral was a man behind his times.
Survive this COVID-19 plague and get ready for the next one, because until we get our numbers down to ecologically sustainable levels, Nature will continue attempting to do it for us.
Figures from the Census Bureau for the 12 months ended July 31, 2019 — long before the coronavirus began to spread in the United States — reveal that America’s population is growing at its slowest pace since 1919, a year after the last great pandemic, the Spanish flu.
A drop in births and an acceleration in deaths has put the United States closer to an actual reduction in population, and demographic experts say that if the more dire projections of coronavirus-related deaths hold true, the country could face its first yearly drop in population.
I wonder what the admiral would say.
— Randy Alcorn is a Santa Barbara political observer. Contact him at email@example.com, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.