Our Coronavirus Situation: A Recap and Some Speculation

On the one hand we have the virus, a very nasty bug, almost the pandemic we have worried about for so long, but probably not the pandemic to end all pandemics. This virus got away from us. It was not isolated and squashed as happened with Zika and Ebola, Mers, Sars and H1N1. Perhaps it was able to infect many people who showed no symptoms and this helped it become more prevalent. The response of our Federal government and the President, who insists that he is all-powerful, clearly played an enormous role in the path of destruction that the novel coronavirus has cut through America. Although it affected every country more or less, President Trump had more advance warning than most other nations.

We had already dealt with several potential pandemics and there were structures designed to deal with any microbial disaster that might arise. But these structures were dismantled. Some of the conditions that favor oddball viruses and microbes seem to have arisen because we live in a more global world where people without immunities are exposed to germs or bugs they would rarely have met up with before travel became so popular, and before so many consumers were so flush with money to spend abroad. There is also evidence to suggest that lab research on infectious diseases may have run amuck and several oops-moments may have loosed these tough invaders on an unsuspecting world.

Of course the Federal government could not be to blame for the disease even if a lab accident caused it. But what the Federal government does get the blame for is botching the treatment of the disease. Getting this government to move at all was difficult at first because a President focused on the economy could see the ruin ahead and he thought denial and just bulling his way through might serve. When that assumption proved to be incorrect and the disease took over the news cycle you would think the President would have switched gears and pitched in to help in whatever ways he (in his infinite power) could. But it was like he was operating in a time warp which made him always out of sync with the facts on the ground. Denial works for small government crises which are often protected by real or imagined national security concerns, but you cannot deny an epidemic this widespread. Our leader did try though and his refusal to accept reality most likely made the effects of the virus worse.

On the other hand we have the economy. America cannot remain closed, even though it is not completely closed. The entire American economy is based on sellers and buyers, in other words, Capitalism. Now that the discussion about opening things up has begun to reach critical mass it is only a matter of time before we are operating full-tilt once again. Because this virus is not conquered, life will, most likely, still be strange. How many businesses will come back? Will cities be full of boarded up shops of bankrupted businesses? The coronavirus seems to be mutating with the new attacks on younger people and the strokes and the blood clots. Will that trend continue? We seem close to a vaccine which would solve many immediate problems but much could happen before we have a reliable vaccine.

There are many speculations. Will the virus dictate the changes in our economy? Will we use this moment of a pause in commerce, which may never happen again, to contemplate a different path for the future? Would it be possible to choose a sort of Capitalism Lite, and keep some of this time for families? I know families are under pressure from too much enforced proximity, but I can’t help thinking that parents and children will wish for some of this time back if the normal rat race returns; running to work, picking children up from afterschool activities, dropping them off at clubs, lessons, play dates, racing through the days. Do we have any control at all over what economy we get or is all that in the hands of the top 1% or even the top 10%?

Paul Krugman in the NYT says we will never pay off this deficit and we don’t need to. I found that comforting, although no Conservative will ever agree with it. They will begin to talk of cuts because of the deficit any minute now. For all their love of Capitalism they do not understand it. Healthy Capitalism does not work without buyers. Buyers cannot buy without income, money. If you starve all your buyers, all your consumers, will the 10% at the top generate enough consumption to keep Capitalism booming? If we could design the reboot of the economy what would it look like? If we don’t design it what will we get? Can we get off the ride, slow the roll given the current wins Capitalism has experienced; all the regulations undone, all the environmental protections thrown on the rising heaps of global garbage? The people who want to reopen, who insist that we just go, open the faucet all the way, are unlikely to accept anything that slows down the return of the old economy. They would be happy if it was raging tomorrow. If we can’t ease into a calmer economy, an economy that offers room for leisure (Conservative anathema) then will this virus come roaring back and force the issue? So many things we do not know, cannot answer.

Articles talk about changes already occurring in the environment, even from this short reprieve. Animals are wandering into spaces temporarily abandoned by humans. Smog and dirty air, unbreathable air, has disappeared over manufacturing centers. Crowded nations have had time to clean streets and let the works of man shine. Although if the works of man shine for no one, who is there to appreciate them. People do need to return to this equation, but will we have a new respect for our surroundings? This is a time of grief and loss, and it is  also a time of opportunity. I think it is an opportunity we will miss because the drumbeat of commerce is the most insistent music of our times and the most powerful, the wealthiest, will not allow us time to lick our wounds and think our thoughts and see our way through to a new day. It will be a shame to waste the sorrowful lessons of these tiny organisms who would not mind surviving even as they the kill their hosts. How can so many big brains be so clueless?

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – World Science Festival