Advocacy in Favour of Our Client, Belial.

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader wishes that it were possible in the current political climate, and frankly the general societal climate overall, to have a serious discussion. He means this just as broadly as he plainly stated it. No one, at least in the West, is capable of having a serious discussion. Certainly those with opposite political views can discourse seriously on whatever topic you like. It doesn’t happen frequently, but it can happen. When it does it is noteworthy. But getting those with opposite views together to seriously and sanely discuss an issue hasn’t happened in a while. Additionally, particularly in the West, we are not fond of analysis after a crisis event to figure out how we can do things better. And thus we start to segue into the point of this virtual epistle.

It would be, at least in your Maximum Leader’s opinion, worth having a serious discussion about how we in the United States should deal with the current Covid-19 pandemic. Of course, it actually seems too late to have this discussion now, in the thick of it. We really should have had a national discussion (or at least a Blue Ribbon Commission that studied and made recommendations) based on the H1N1, or SARS epidemics. It would have been nice to look over what was done, how it was done, what didn’t work, what did, and lay down a framework for future epidemics. But that didn’t happen and honestly is not going to happen after Covid-19 subsides.

In this discourse, your Maximum Leader wishes to just put a few points to ponder out there for you, loyal minion and dear reader, to consider. Thus far our national response to Covid-19 seems to be a patchwork of recommendations about self-isolation, followed by general closures of public institutions (schools, universities, and the like), and then the imposition of mandatory partial quarantines (such as in New York, Pennsylvania, California, and Washington). There is a general clamor for a broader national shutdown of all but essential services. The rationale for these actions is to slow the spread of the virus so as to not overwhelm the health care system. These actions are all about slowing the spread of the virus. If one is listening carefully, the number of people that will catch the virus isn’t changing just the period of time over which the infected will become infected. By limiting the spread, one allows the health care system to prepare for what is coming, better manage the crisis when it is fully upon us, and save as many lives as possible. The societal cost of this the national economy comes to a stand-still.

Some brave souls, and with this post your Maximum Leader supposes he is one of them, have asked us to consider alternatives. He doesn’t believe many are advocating doing nothing, though some are. The general thrust of many of the alternatives is think about the economy. That is the where your Maximum Leader is going to go. If we shut down the economy, as we are doing, the repercussions are great and worthy of consideration. Many small businesses will close permanently. It seems as though people are happy to believe that the Federal government sending checks to taxpayers and providing loans at low (or zero) interest will magically allow a small business to weather all this and reopen as though we had all taken a long vacation from everything. This is magical thinking. The trillions of dollars circulating through the US economy are not going to be replicated by gifts or loans from the Federal government. Restaurants, small shops, many of the self-employed, are not going to be able to reopen. If these businesses do not reopen, then their employees as well as the business owners will suffer. No one knows how the economy will restart or how much will restart. There is much talk of a bailout of the airline industry. But these bailouts will come with strings. Don’t buy-back stock. No executive bonuses. Companies must retain their work force. Your Maximum Leader asks, how exactly does this work out? If the government bails out Boeing, is the bailout coming with the certification that the 737-MAX is also safe to fly and start producing? Is United going to have to maintain, and fly jets on routes that are mostly empty due to a recession or depression? How does this work out? Heavy-handed government intervention in these areas often has unintended and disastrous consequences. The shocks will come at some point. If the bailouts come with conditions, as seems likely, the shock will be delayed. But they will come.

So why are we proceeding with an economic shutdown? To prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed and thus saving more lives. If the virus spreads unchecked, or even weakly checked, the health care system will be unable to keep up with the care of those infected with the virus as well as those who would have needed services without the virus. We are talking about potentially millions of people dying due to the virus or due to being unable to received needed care. On the other hand, by stopping the economy we are creating a crisis of unemployment, contraction, and medium/long-term dependency on public funds. We all should probably ask if it is worth it. If in fact those most at risk for death from Covid-19 are the elderly and those with immunodeficiencies, are these people fully-participating members of the economy? Where are our people who clamor for wealth redistribution here? We know that retirees have a fair amount of saved wealth which is supplemented by programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. If a substantial portion of this population were to die due to the Covid-19 epidemic, wouldn’t that wealth be freed up? Wouldn’t the pressure on the Federal budget be lessened because the number of transfer payments would be greatly reduced? Isn’t that an overall positive societal benefit?

What about other potential upsides for the economy? Your Maximum Leader will not argue that history repeats itself. He will, however, argue that history has leitmotifs. A leitmotif we might look to is Europe after the Black Death. The plague had pretty much run its course by the early 1400s. The (greatly reduced) population of Europe experienced a tremendous period of economic and cultural growth. A period that later became known as the Renaissance. You may have heard of the Renaissance. It wasn’t just a lot of painting going on. The manorial system of the middle ages had been literally destroyed by the plague and peasants (due to their scarcity) realized that they didn’t have to be tethered to the land of a single lord. It was the beginning of what we might call social mobility. The Renaissance saw the growth of cities, trades, art, music, and that crazy group known as the middle class. Your Maximum Leader will not argue that this would definitely happen in a post-Covid-19 world. But perhaps it is worth considering. Economic historians might also look to the periods of economic growth after the epidemics (plague, smallpox, and others) that occurred in the early 1600s and 1700s. Your Maximum Leader isn’t sure that there is a serious analogue to the Roaring 20s and the end of the Spanish Flu of 1919, but there might be some small connection there as well.

What your Maximum Leader is stating here is that we all ought to consider the trade-offs between shutting down our economy and saving (potentially millions) of lives, and not shutting down our economy and potentially saving ourselves from economic catastrophe.

That is all.

Carry on.

(Don’t forget the tweety-box @maximumleader.)

1 Comment »
the Metropolitan said:

The Metropolitan thinks that the reason that such a discussion is not and will not occur is that people can visualize their own death or the death of a loved one much better than they can the necessity for economics to continue. It will not sink in until they are out of work, or their favorite store closes. Then they will blame everyone except themselves. People want to square the circle–absolute protection against the virus, but no consequences for themselves.

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