Covid v. the Economy

During most of the pandemic Mr. Trump, Fox News, and Republican followers have preached that stay-at-home orders to “flatten the curve” would wreck the economy. Against almost all reputable medical and epidemiological advice, they argued in favor of loosening recommendations, laws, and mandates that were aimed at quelling the spread of disease. Many in this camp argued that Covid-19 was no worse than the flu, that those most susceptible to dying from the disease should simply isolate themselves from society and let the rest get on working and spending, fueling the economy: Go forth with abandon! The sooner you get Covid-19 and get over it, the sooner we can get back to business as usual! Think of all those people who will lose their jobs if everyone stays home, all those people gone crazy from staying home! The common thread of all this is the idea that we just needed to quickly plow through to herd immunity, get it over with, and get back to normal life.

Elsewhere in the world there were several examples of governments that followed some version of Trumpian “save the economy” principles nearly from the outset of the pandemic. The two most cited examples are Sweden and Brazil.

Sweden did modest social distancing recommendations but kept the economy open, while trying to isolate and protect the elderly, hoping to quickly acquire herd immunity sufficient to protect the vulnerable. It proved impossible to keep the virus out of the older population while society remained mostly open. Sweden experienced a higher death rate (54/100,000 population) than any other European country in spite of universal health coverage and advanced medical care. The Swedes are now self-examining their failure through investigation by a coronavirus commission–and they are nowhere the herd immunity they sought. 

One of the would-be autocrats for whom Trump expresses affection, Jair Bolsonaro, has been blusteringly anti-science from the beginning, consistently downplaying the effects of the disease, refusing to socially distance or wear a mask, promoting hydroxychloroquine enthusiastically despite credible contrary evidence, and finally catching Covid-19 himself. Unfortunately, his case so far is mild enough that it is unlikely to reduce his bluster. The death toll in Brazil as of July 13 was 72,000 already reported dead of Covid-19 (a number second only to the U.S.), a number in Brazil that is still rapidly growing. The Brazilian health care system is overwhelmed.

With these two save-the-economy-let’s-just-plow-through-this models as examples, have the Swedish and Brazilian economies remained resilient? After all, that was the point of this headlong rush into the Dance of Death, wasn’t it? Brazil is experiencing widespread unemploymentl and its deepest depression since the country began keeping track of economic numbers,

Sweden’s economic result is harder to assess. In every country there is some lag in reporting both health and economic data. Available statistics at the end of April suggested the Swedish economy was headed for a deep dive despite the “soft lockdown.”

The detailed history of the economic effects of different approaches to battling the spread of Covid-19 won’t be written for some time, but it strikes me that among three examples of varying degrees of rebellion against conventional control efforts (Sweden, the United States, and Brazil), all demonstrate degrees of economic suffering not much different from countries with stricter controls. That seems small benefit for the price paid of overtaxed health infrastructure, higher death rates and suffering, and the specter of refrigerated trucks storing the bodies of the dead. Choosing the economy over science-based efforts to control the spread of the virus so far seems only to heighten the misery.

As the virus spreads through the population more and more people know someone who contracted the disease and many know of someone who died from it. Covid-19 is not the flu, Donald Trump, Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh, and Tucker Carlson to the contrary. The more areas for the United States that experience a surge of Covid-19 infections and death the more caution people will take. The folks demonstrating against mandated mask wear as “unconstitutional,” for instance, miss the point. Mandating mask wear was always mostly a moral argument, not a legal one, an argument to be followed by education, cajoling, and leaders setting an example by wearing one. There isn’t and never was enough law enforcement or jail space to enforce a mask law against an unwilling populace. These people shouting about their “constitutional” rights clearly lack the native intelligence and common sense to understand to do the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do. 

Wear a mask. We’ll get back to a functioning economy sooner if we work together. Do you homework on the Washington State Primary election ballot you should soon receive and especially avoid those who make inane arguments about the coronavirus.

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. For candidate examples of science denial, unreality-based thinking listen to the Spokane Public Radio interviews of two State Rep candidates in LD4, Spokane Valley north to Mount Spokane, both Republicans: Rob Chase is a glaring example. Leonard Christian is not far behind. Lance Gurel is the reasonable candidate in this race–and, as an accountant, he offers experience in dealing with budget deficits. There multiple examples of among Republicans running for county, legislative, and statewide offices with anti-science views on the pandemic. Do your homework. Keep them out of government.