Playing God

  • Hard pass on mainstream coronavirus symposium
  • Renowned public health authority… Bill Gates?
  • Basic question: “saving lives” versus “opening up the economy”
  • But is lifesaving really a false flag?
  • Millions more in the unemployment rank and file
  • Fantastic moments in accounting (the NEW math)
  • Sterilizing Dubai’s famous Gold Souk
  • Readers to the defense of Dave and NON-denialism… A formerly peeved reader’s “my bad”… And more!

Um, no thanks…

CNN CDC

Up until today we thought it was passing strange — the people screaming loudest about “Donald Trump is not a scientist!” nonetheless ascribing scientific expertise to… Bill Gates.

Bill Gates

Renowned public health authority Bill Gates, whose credentials include… what exactly?

But Greta Thunberg? Really? They’re just trolling us all now.

Not that we’re surprised. From the beginning we sensed the climate-change crowd seizing on the pandemic as an opportunity.

Our suspicions were confirmed last week when 200-some celebrities signed an open letter declaring “it is unthinkable to ‘go back to normal’” — coincidentally, at the very moment we were learning that thanks to the lockdowns worldwide, global carbon emissions had reverted to levels of a decade ago.

But leave aside the climate-change angle of the pandemic. Let’s take up the more basic question of “saving lives” versus “opening up the economy.”

In the first place, we don’t like that framing. “Saving lives” sounds concrete and personal. “Opening up the economy” sounds abstract and cold — which is probably why many people recoil when Donald Trump says it over and over.

And then there’s this statistical model. Perhaps you’ve run across it elsewhere. It was bugging us for days, and at first, we couldn’t put a finger on the reason…

COVID-19

These estimates came from the “Coronavirus Policy Response Simulator” developed by the Wharton business school at the University of Pennsylvania.

The Penn researchers are adamant they’re not taking sides in the debate. “We are not going to take a position on how you think about that trade-off, but they’re very stark choices,” says Kent Smetters, director of the Penn Wharton Budget Model.

We’ll take them at their word. But there was a subtext to the whole thing that nagged at us. You can go to their site, play around with a host of different scenarios and see a host of different outcomes.

After a few days’ reflection, it finally hit us. It’s as if they’re saying, “Take a test-drive of our super-cool Coronavirus Policy Response Simulator! It’s your turn to PLAY GOD! Open up the economy and sentence people to death? Or keep things locked down and create untold hardship in the here and now? THE CHOICE IS YOURS!!”

At this moment, we wish to introduce an impertinent question…

What if it’s a false choice? What if the whole “saving lives versus opening up the economy” thing is bogus?

On a worldwide scale, that appears to be the case already. It’s right there in the Los Angeles Times: “The economic devastation the pandemic wreaks on the ultra-poor could ultimately kill more people than the virus itself…

“The United Nations predicts that a global recession will reverse a three-decade trend in rising living standards and plunge as many as 420 million people into extreme poverty, defined as earning less than $2 a day. As for the 734 million people already there, the economic tsunami will make it harder for them to ever climb out…

“Hunger is already rising in the poorest parts of the world, where lockdowns and social distancing measures have erased incomes and put even basic food items out of reach.”

So maybe there’s no Grand Moral Dilemma at all? Or if there is, it’s confined only to developed countries? It’s literally a first-world problem?

Don’t know. Unlike the professors and the pundits and the politicians, we don’t presume to play God around here. But we’re pretty sure the world and America would be a better place the sooner they stopped.

Meanwhile, another 3 million Americans have joined the ranks of the unemployed.

It being Thursday, the Labor Department is regaling us with the number of first-time unemployment claims.

From its peak seven weeks ago, the weekly figure is sloooowly climbing back down. But as you can see from a 10-year chart, it’s still horrific — a hair under 3 million.

Still Horrific

The total over the last eight weeks is now 36.5 million. That’s out of a workforce of 162.9 million. That translates loosely to an unemployment rate of 22.4%.

Of those 36.5 million newly unemployed, 1.4 million worked in… the health care sector. Go figure.

As the AFP newswire explains, “Elective procedures have all been put on hold since March, people with chronic illnesses or even emergencies are avoiding coming to hospitals out of fear they may become infected with the virus and lockdowns have reduced the numbers of accidents.”

Yes, a lot of the job losses have been among paper pushers, but nearly 10% of them have been hospital workers. “The hospital can't afford all of the staff to be on duty and just sit around," says Dayna James, an ER nurse in south Florida.

Dave Gonigam

Dave Gonigam

Dave Gonigam has been managing editor of The 5 Min. Forecast since September 2010. Before joining the research and writing team at Agora Financial in 2007, he worked for 20 years as an Emmy award-winning television news producer.

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