Saturday, October 31, 2020

As society progresses, our tolerance for early death diminishes. Over 225,000 deaths from COVID-19 is less acceptable now than in the so called "good old days."

In many ways, society is becoming loss tolerant of early and preventable death. I've read that the 1918 flu pandemic killed roughly 675,000 Americans. This, out of a total population of only around 104 million. Society's response to control that epidemic was slow at start. It was more "business as usual" than today.

So far, this epidemic has killed around 225,000 Americans out of 325 million total. There have been more measures, early on; such as here in Washington State, to try and stop the spread.

Our prevention measures haven't been as good as they could be; especially at the national level and in certain states. The 225,000 death toll is appalling to our modern sensibilities.

Seems like some of the folks, who would want us to go back to business as usual, could bring us to a higher tolerance of death than most of society is accustom to in modern times.

Some will argue that death from the forced slowdown of our economy could be worse than that from the virus itself. The increased poverty, isolation, domestic violence and so forth.

These things are harder to measure as they are spread across many death rates and categories of statistics; versus a death toll from the virus itself which is easier to pinpoint.

Few politicians, in today's world, would want to have a high death count under their watch; especially if it can be blamed on something they did, or didn't do.

In today's society, we have better technology to prevent death. Along with the better technology comes less tolerance for unnecessary death.

Given the understanding of infection today, we could do better than we have done, up until now. A more robust social safety net would help. People shouldn't be loosing their health insurance and having to go homeless during a pandemic. Businesses should be able to operate with reduced crowds and pay their rent and fixed costs, but rents and fixed costs have gotten too high.

We could adapt to this situation better, but the high cost of life, in America, makes it more difficult. More generous fiscal support (Congress willing to spend money) is needed to prop things up.

Part of the problem is the many past years of low interest rates. People don't have much in the way of "rainy day savings." Money in regular "liquid" bank accounts doesn't pay much when interest rates are low.

Low interest rates have, instead, encouraged a mountain of private debt which still needs to be serviced.

Now it looks like more government debt is needed to prop up the other debts that businesses and individuals have incurred. Quite a few economists say that government debt isn't as much of a problem as they've thought in the past.

This is debatable, of course, but there is an emerging school of economics called "Modern Monetary Theory." Popular among Bernie Sander's camp, and in other places.

MMT places less worry on government going into debt. Rather than looking at the debt total, since government can create its own money, these economists watch for signs of inflation. If we are now in danger of deflation, spending can happen.

This thinking may be partially the result of years of high deficits and low interest rates. Interest rates remain low, so what's the worry?

I feel that the low interest rates have pushed up fixed costs, such as property values, while other things in the economy; such as most wages, have lagged behind.

Technology has pushed down the cost of many goods and services including the need for labor. It's time to try and rebalance.

Government bailout continues to be needed as businesses and individuals, that have been lured into high debt and fixed costs, struggle.

We could do better if we had an economy that could shift into lower gear more easily. Lower gear for a temporary period. Being able to survive on part time work, for instance. Then we could better ride out this situation till vaccines and cures become available. Ride things out as technology continues to advance.

Shifting into lower gears could help us adapt to climate change as well. There is always some economic disruption when transitioning to something new. Transitioning to clean energy; for instance.

We can do better looking forward.

I've often thought that around 35,000 Americans, dying each year in traffic accidents, was an appalling cost of "business as usual." This figure is out of step with other safety measures in our modern society; such as workplace safety and building codes.

Future generations, riding in safe self driving vehicles, might look back on our current highway death toll the way we look back on the high death toll, due to cholera, before better treatment of drinking water.

The death toll, from the corona virus pandemic, is much worse than the steady background of car crashes. It is a temporary and unique situation. Future generations could look at this death toll with horror the way we now view the 1918 pandemic.

Years ago, I think negative news was less available, so, to tell the truth, I never even heard of the 1918 flu pandemic until more recent times.

I'm assuming that future generations can still make progress over what we have now if we can put technology to good use and control looming threats such as climate change.