It’s Not Time…Yet

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Michael Siegel

Michael Siegel is an astronomer living in Pennsylvania. He is on Twitter, blogs at his own site, and has written a novel.

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  1. Christopher Bradley Christopher Bradley
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    says:

    Republicans in 2010: Obama wants death panels
    Republicans in 2020: Your grandparents must be willing to die for the DOW and S&PReport

  2. Avatar Saul Degraw
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    says:

    There are lots of unknowns, people are obviously under a lot of stress because of the uniqueness of this situation. We have not had a pandemic on this scale for 100 years. But it seems like lots of people are making their reactions based on ideological priors and senses of negative partisanship. Trump’s venality is well known but how many people in the conservative sphere are making their responses based on “own the libs” knee jerk reactions?

    The big thing that people do not know is whether life will return to normal. I already see people taking the stance that COVID-19 is here to stay as a worse version of the flu and this means no more packed bars, restaurants, concerts, etc. Public places will need to admit fewer people at a time. I admit that I find that idea very depressing.

    Lots of professions do need to find ways to get COVID-19 to work though.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw
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      You simultaneously acknowledge that there are lots of unknowns, note folks are basing their reactions on “negative partisanship”, and then immediately ascribe to those who disagree with you a disingenuous motive (i.e., conservatives “‘own the libs’ knee jerk reactions”).

      Is it possible that others are just looking at all those same unknowns and arriving at different conclusions? Perhaps informed by their priors but not necessarily motivated to “own” anyone?

      Or is there a “right” way to think about this and everyone else is wrong? If that is what you think, stop pretending at something else.Report

  3. Avatar greginak
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    says:

    We are indeed only at the beginning of the beginning. There will be a return to something like our old normal maybe in couple years or more. For now life is , has to be, very different. Stopping the virus has to be priority one. One of our first mental tasks is going to be dealing with the wave of virus/icu/death pix coming at us over the next month or so. What is happening in NY is coming to the rest of the country to at least some serious degree. By easter people wont’ be rushing to think we can get back to full work. Heck trump will be denying he ever suggested it.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to greginak
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      Years is daunting. Do you really think it will be years before we get back to restaurants, bars, barbershops/salons, concerts, coffeehouses, bookstores, eetc? That is pretty bad. Drastic even, 3.28 million people applied for unemployment last week and economic predictions imply as many as 40 million might be out of work by April. This has not happened for a long time and might exceed the unemployment rate of the Great Depression.

      I predict that people can put up with this for 90 days before saying fuck it.Report

      • Avatar Michael Siegel in reply to Saul Degraw
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        says:

        “I predict that people can put up with this for 90 days before saying fuck it.”

        This is why I think the next month or two is so critical. We’re going to see secondary explosions — in prisons, in poor people, etc. We have to get on top of this before people decide they can’t live like this anymore.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw
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        says:

        Governments can always do the police and troops on the street asking for papers quarantine. France is apparently doing the traditional quarantine. I’m not sure whether our governments have the wherewithal to do this or how long they can enforce a police and soldier enforced quarantine before people start to rebel.Report

        • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to LeeEsq
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          Any “traditional quarantine” needs cooperation from the quarantined when it’s on such a large scale, If the area to be quarantined is larger than a small city. (That may be what you were suggesting when you said “before people start to rebel.”)

          Of course, how “traditional” of a quarantine our US governments can impose probably depends, and maybe they can do more.

          (Also, if I’m not mistaken, yo u live in NYC, correct? I realize your situation is probably more dire than mine. Best of health to you!)Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Saul Degraw
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        says:

        Years before all that is back? No. But i wouldn’t bet it would be back until next year. When we get a vaccine it will still take time to produce and inoculate hundreds of millions of people. My vague prediction is mask wearing and designer hand sanitizer bottles will become much more common and used.

        We may have 2-3 months of hunkering down with a bit of breather then cycles of house time. The stories out of NY are clarifying.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Saul Degraw
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        Depending on exactly how you count, it took between four and six years for employment to return to the prior level after the 2007-8 financial crisis and recession. From the 1990-1 recession forward, employment recovery has taken longer each time. There’s no obvious reason to believe it won’t take five-to-seven years for employment to recover this time.Report

        • Avatar Road Scholar in reply to Michael Cain
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          says:

          I would add the caveat that this isn’t a normal recession caused by the financial sector shitting the bed. If Dr. McCoy could materialize over the U.N. building with a few billion doses of Star Trek miracle cure in hand the economy could/would bounce back real quick.

          That won’t happen of course, but businesses are shuttered not because of a dropoff in demand or a credit crunch but because the government put padlocks on the doors. Do economists even have models for this sort of thing?Report

          • Avatar James K in reply to Road Scholar
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            Not really, nothing like this has happened recently enough for us to have decent data on it. GDP hadn’t been invented yet when the 1918 pandemic happened.

            I’m on leave right now, but once that ends I’ve been classified as essential personnel. My job is going to be working in a team to figure out what high-frequency data we can get to figure out how the economy is reacting to the lockdown.

            Since predicting the economy’s present is hard enough right now, It’s going to be tricky to predict its future. I expect were’g going to learn some interesting things from the pandemic response, one way or the other.Report

          • Avatar Douglas Hayden in reply to Road Scholar
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            says:

            This was a dropoff in demand, however. Restaurants were losing business hand over fist even before the lockdown orders came. And people will be hesitant to go back out and mingle as long as there’s still a risk of coming down with the virus. That’s not going away until you have a solid vaccine and cure, so maybe twelve to eighteen months given current projections.

            (I also accidentally hit the report button at first and not the reply button, so please ignore the report!)Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Michael Cain
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          And with 40 million out of work that is a tinderbox for social unrest. I was thinking more about slice of life stuff which I have been missing a lot lately.Report

        • Avatar Pinky in reply to Michael Cain
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          says:

          I’m more in Road’s corner than Michael’s on this one. Recoveries struggle because of mis-allocation of skills, capital, what have you. Too many defense workers in California, too much money in subprime housing, dotcoms overvalued. Where’s the underlying mis-allocation in the economy? Individual industries may have trouble regaining people’s confidence, depending on how the crisis is resolved. If it’s everyone getting a shot, we could be back up and running in no time.

          I wouldn’t be investing in new movie theaters. But they were operating under an obsolete model anyway. Retail and restaurants should bounce back quickly.Report

          • Avatar North in reply to Pinky
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            says:

            I agree. Husbando and I usually are once a week kind of restaurant goers but we’d probably go several times a week if we could right now.
            If the government waved an all clear flag I bet the restaurants would be packed out the door.Report

  4. Avatar atomickristin
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    says:

    great piece! Thanks for sharing it.Report

  5. Avatar Mike Schilling
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    says:

    So it turns out that the party that controls two and a half of the three branches of the federal government isn’t just slavishly loyal to a buffoonish, narcissistic kleptocrat, it’s now turned into an insane death cult.

    And how has your week been?Report

  6. Avatar LeeEsq
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    says:

    I’m joining my brother. Nearly everybody is basing their response and what version of the medical reports to believe based on their ideological priors. Lots of libertarians were really advocating the this isn’t as dangerous as we think Oxford report. The people on the left are arguing from the Imperial War College report and believe we can and will do shelter in place for twelve to eighteen months.

    When infectious diseases, epidemics, and pandemics were more common, people mainly dealt with them by going on with their lives as normal. There were quarantines and occasional changes in pattern put people mainly went on with their lives. I think that will happen with Covid-19 if there isn’t a vaccine soon. You aren’t going to convince seven billion people to put their lives on hold for one and half years or more while scientists work on a cure.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to LeeEsq
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      Even the Imperial College folks aren’t standing by the Imperial College report: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2238578-uk-has-enough-intensive-care-units-for-coronavirus-expert-predicts/Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to LeeEsq
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      At some point, we’re going to have to run serum antibody tests on a significant portion of the population and find out whether the assumptions about how contagious it is, and how common no-to-mild symptom cases are, are accurate. Without that, we have no idea what we’re dealing with.

      Anecdata… On Jan 13, a week before what is considered the first confirmed case in Colorado, I presented at Kaiser with a horrendous cough. (My wife presented three days later with the same hideous cough.) Over the next week I developed very painful back spasms. My lungs sounded good and a chest x-ray was clear. No fever. Over the two weeks after that I slowly got well. Other than the antibiotic killing off my gut fauna, none of the prescribed drugs, including narcotic cough suppressant, accomplished much of anything. The PA and docs I saw all remarked, “The winter respiratory crud that’s going around is much worse this year.” In hindsight, it could easily have been Covid-19.

      If the accurate number of cases in the US at this point is not the 70K the CDC website currently lists, but several million, we’re dealing with a very different situation.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Michael Cain
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        More anecdata…

        The boys’ mom has a confirmed case. She presented with symptoms and because she works in health care was approved for a test.

        The boys were with her during her contagious period. They then came to my house and have been with me for 11 days since*. None of us show any symptoms, though technically we have 4 more days during which we could present. My girlfriend and her daughter have been with us. They have shown no symptoms and are a similar time frame for presentation.

        All of which my non-expert eyes tell me is a positive sign, all things considered. It means that it is either harder to transmit than we believe OR many/most of us get it and never get sick.

        Add in the very real possibility that I was the initial carrier. We can’t know that for certain but it seems possible if not likely based on several factors. IF that is the case, it meant I spent several days in my school, interacting with dozens of people, and we have received zero reports of any cases within our school community. That would be a VERY positive sign.

        Again, anecdata and lots of unknowns within it. But the narrative being pushed by some that if one person has it, everyone nearby to them gets it and dies doesn’t comport with our lived reality over these past few weeks.

        We’re still taking it seriously. We’ve tightened up our quarantine even further. Thankfully, the boys’ mom seems to have a manageable case and will hopefully be out of the woods soon. A NYC hospital is soliciting plasma donations from recovered folks to research antibodies and she will hopefully be able to participate in that.Report

        • Avatar Michael Siegel in reply to Kazzy
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          Best wishes to their mom for a full recovery! And thank goodness none of you have gotten sick [touch wood].Report

          • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Michael Siegel
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            Thank you. She was actually happy to get the diagnosis… not because she wanted Covid actually but once she fell ill, she was in a terrible limbo not knowing what was going on. Now she at least knows what she is dealing with and what the next steps are. The progression of her symptoms are improving so barring a setback, she’ll be in the clear within a few days.

            Our quarantine period ends Monday. I’m checking temps daily and none of us ever moved above a 99. It’s still possible we get hit but the odds are in our favor.

            We’ve pursued testing but would need a doctor’s script because we are experiencing no symptoms. The boys were denied that and I’m waiting for hear from my doc. NJ’s powers that be refer to us as the “worried well” and they are trying not to expend tests on us. We just tighten quarantine… no more food shopping or hikes, which was basically all we did outside our property.Report

      • Avatar Road Scholar in reply to Michael Cain
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        Yep. My wife (who’s immunocompromised) came down with a crud about that same time that laid her out for a week.Report

    • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to LeeEsq
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      I think that will happen with Covid-19 if there isn’t a vaccine soon. You aren’t going to convince seven billion people to put their lives on hold for one and half years or more while scientists work on a cure.

      That. That exactly.

      We have about 76k sick people. We have 1120 dead. We have 328 recovered (which rounds to zero).

      By Easter… unclear. Worst case is we will have a lot of sick people, millions, maybe tens of millions. We will still have almost no one recovered because 100k rounds to zero.

      Two weeks after that the bulk of those people will be immune, and it will be a very different situation. Millions of immune people, most in heavily exposed industries, gives us options we don’t currently have.

      The best case is this shutdown makes a lot of these cases isolated fires which burn out and by Easter our curve up is now matched by a curve down (see South Korea)… but I find that hard to believe from New York’s experience.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Dark Matter
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        I’ve mentioned this before, but a covid antibody test is crucial to bringing the workforce back on line.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Dark Matter
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        says:

        There isn’t much evidence that getting Covid-19 and recovering from it gives you immunity. My argument was more like people will learn to live with Covid-19 in a rather fatalistic manner and get on with their life rather then change their life for a very long period of time.Report

        • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to LeeEsq
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          There isn’t much evidence that getting Covid-19 and recovering from it gives you immunity.

          We don’t have evidence of anything, but the way to bet is some type of immunity.

          That’s what I’m hearing from silly high level experts, that matches up with the whole “mutates less frequently than the flu”, etc.

          Looking at his relatives: …there has been no evidence to suggest that SARS-CoV causes chronic or relapsing disease in humans. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC305318/Report

        • Avatar JS in reply to LeeEsq
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          says:

          Well, we don’t about this coronavirus, because obviously we can’t tell what the immune response will be at a year when the first recovery was just a few months ago.

          However, we have a long familiarity with this type of virus — there are many coronaviruses out there.

          In general, immunity lasts from between one year to three. In some cases (either MERS or SARS, I can’t recall) it’s 8 to 10 years. I’m not really aware of any in that family where immunity lasts less than a year.

          That’s immunity, not immune response. In cases where immunity has lapsed due to time, the immune response is still much faster — leading to a shorter, milder illness, with a corresponding dropping of it’s transmissibility.

          Coronaviruses in general do not have high mutability — and comparisons between initial samples and what’s currently floating around show that this one isn’t an outlier, and they certainly don’t have flu’s ability to swap stuff around when it meets other flu strains and basically screw immune response every year.

          In short, the most likely outcome is that anyone who gets it now is likely to remain immune through testing and deployment of a vaccine. As the people who get it now are generally high risk vectors (which is why they got it first), they’ll be a nice buffer against spread between now and deployment of a vaccine.

          In the case of no vaccine, we’ll all end up getting it over the next five years, but each successive ‘wave’ will be smaller and less severe (due to the immune among us helping slow or stop spread), and less likely to overwhelm health systems.

          After several years, it’d likely just be another cold, as practically the whole population would have had it, and if not immune would have rapid immune responses.Report

      • Avatar George Turner in reply to Dark Matter
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        says:

        Lots of epidemic models are built around the assumption that interactions are uniformly spread through a particular population (we all have X interactions per day with Y people). But I think there would be some distribution curve where some people have vastly more interactions than others (social butterflies vs. hermits and third-shift security guards).

        That would imply that the disease would spread first and fastest among the social butterflies (party people, bartenders, clerks, Manhattan subway riders, etc) and spread slowly among the rest, who are mostly getting infected from their interactions with the social butterflies. If the lock downs lets the social butterflies recover, they’ll be immune, and that may make it much less likely to spread as quickly once the lock downs are lifted – in areas where it’s already hit hard, like New York.

        The pure math on that might be quite interesting.Report

        • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to George Turner
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          This exactly… but the big “butterflies” would be hospital workers.

          Slow this thing down at the start and we’re also giving manufacturers times to make protective gear. The whole problem with everyone getting sick at the same time is we end up with lots of untreated people, which is very much compounded by the hospitals losing their staff and/or gear.

          Hopefully a lot of the people currently sick work in hospitals and will have time to recover before the huge wave comes… well hopefully our spike up is followed by a drop down but I’m too Dark and Cynical to think that.Report

          • Avatar George Turner in reply to Dark Matter
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            Italy has lost a lot of health care workers, and we’re starting to see the same here. The Pentagon is asking retired medical personnel to volunteer, but I think we’d also be well served by putting med and nursing students into the mix, since their youth will help protect them.

            Interestingly, during a plague the Ancient Greeks would use recovered patients as care-givers, noticing how they’d become immune. With workplaces shut down anyway, I would think we’d soon have a ready pool of volunteers who could help out with the non-specialized medical tasks.

            On a related note, I think the FDA has already approved using anti-bodies from recovered patients to treat new patients. Flattening the curve really makes that more workable, too.Report

            • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to George Turner
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              The Pentagon is asking retired medical personnel to volunteer…

              We don’t have PE (protective equipment) for you
              You’re in the primary risk group for dying.
              If you get sick we don’t have the resources to take care of you right.
              And basic triage suggests we won’t take care of you at all.

              Yup, med student time. High School even.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Dark Matter
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                Antigen testing. I suspect my wife and I are both recovered and probably immune for at least several months. But we’re in the worst demographic, and I want the test before I volunteer.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Michael Cain
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                Three weeks ago I felt like crap and was so tired I slept 20 hours a day for two days. Minor cough.
                Occassional headache.

                This is a couple of days after a week on a plague ship, visiting another country, and two plane trips.

                If you squint the symptoms match up… but four weeks ago maybe one person in the state of Florida had it and one person in that state of Mexico.

                If there’s a question, then it was probably the flu.

                Think of it this way, that week there were tens of thousands of people like you with the flu and only one with the virus…

                …now if you tell me you shared that with other people who went on to be tested, or even just lots of other people in general and you’re now a hot spot, then that’s something different.Report

    • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to LeeEsq
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      “When infectious diseases, epidemics, and pandemics were more common, people mainly dealt with them by going on with their lives as normal.”

      That doesn’t mean that was a good idea – it’s just what they did. To some extent this was because we didn’t have the germ theory of disease, to some extent it was because most of the population was in such precarious financial state that much of any time without income meant starvation.Report

  7. Avatar Road Scholar
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    Contrary to popular belief the economy hasn’t actually ground to a halt. At this moment I’m delivering a load of extruded fiberglass pieces to a window manufacturer in Spokane. It’s not just the bare minimum of grocery stores and gas stations left standing. What *has* closed up for now is mainly retail, hospitality, and entertainment that happens to be very visible and social in nature.

    IF exposure and recovery confers immunity (unknown) and we can get massive testing on line, both for infection and blood tests for antigens (indicating past exposure and presumably immunity) there’s a lot of stuff that can open back up with appropriate safeguards. There’s gonna be a lot of pain but there’s also opportunities for delivering goods and services in safe ways.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Road Scholar
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      There are very few times an economy completely shuts down except maybe at the end of a very brutal war or very big natural and even then, there is some economic life.

      But I suspect that this is only the first and most obvious wave. There are going to be more layoffs in the coming month or so in less obvious and less social sectors.

      Law is a good example. Right now I know California Courts have basically shut down for everything except non-emergency matters and those matters are getting to be defined more and more narrowly. A NY lawyer on LGM stated that courts in NY are the same and are even rejecting filings for non-emergency matters. Some courts are figuring out how to stay open.

      One hearing have mine was continued from the end of March to early May and now to early July. I would not be surprised if it does not get continued again. A lot of law adjacent services are shut down.

      Eventually, law firms are going to need to figure out how to balance between paying employees when billing clients is hard to impossible vs. not being understaffed when everything reopens again.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Saul Degraw
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        There are very few times an economy completely shuts down except maybe at the end of a very brutal war or very big natural and even then, there is some economic life

        Like now. The economy hasn’t completely shut down. Of course, things are bad for a lot of people.Report

  8. Avatar Pinky
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    Has anyone else been thinking about Theranos? Billions of dollars poured into advanced medial testing equipment research, all of it fraudulent. Imagine if it had been real. What a crime.Report

  9. Avatar George Turner
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    I found this video informative on the basic math of an epidemic.

    Report

  10. Avatar LeeEsq
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    Vox still naively believes we can get hundreds of millions of people to put up with social distancing and other methods recommended by public health experts for months at a time or longer. The medical experts might be right on what needs to be done but I really can’t see so many people putting their normal life on hold for as long as they believe it needs to be done.

    https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2020/3/26/21192211/coronavirus-covid-19-social-distancing-endReport

    • Avatar Philip H in reply to LeeEsq
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      Lots of us haven’t put our normal lives on hold. Lots have. So its a mixed bag. But if you incentiveize people to put their lives on hold the will. Cover the unemployment claims as the new crisis bill does and you relieve stress. Help businesses make payroll as the bill does and you relieve stress. Remind people why it matters and you develop a sense of community.Report

  11. Avatar James K
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    Their concern, they claim, is that if America is effectively shut down for several weeks or a couple of months it will destroy our economy and plunge us into a second Great Depression.

    I’m usually the person in conversations like this that points out that human life isn’t infinitely valuable, that no one treats their own life as infinitely valuable, let alone anyone else’s and that we have to consider life and money exchangeable at some margin in order to have a functional society.

    That said, if someone is going to argue that life must be sacrificed for the sake of prosperity, I’d like to see their working. Because we don’t have a lot of data on how our economy is going to handle this, so we’re going to have to play it by ear. Shut things down for a while and see what happens. If the economy suffers badly we’ll have to rethink the level of control involved. But we have to remember that while life isn’t infinitely valuable, it his highly valuable and some economic loss to prevent loss of life makes sense, and that’s before considering the economic damage from having a lot of people dead or in hospital.

    But there’s a lot we can do to soften the blow. I’m not a fan of large-scale government interventions, but there’s a difference between amputating a gangrenous limb and sawing off people’s legs at random. The big risk here is that the drop in activity becomes permanent – if people lose their ability to consume to to income loss, that will magnify the medium-term economic effects of the lockdown. So the key is to keep businesses and workers solvent in the short run so things can pick up quickly when lockdowns end. If lots of people go broke and have to cut consumption as a result, well it will be fine in the long run, but a lot a damage will be caused in the meanwhile.Report

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