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Coronavirus: Human Costs vs. Economic Costs

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Covid19 Update #5: 29 March, 2020

Oppurtunity:

Covid-19 has resulted in a great deal of suffering and death. Besides the physical suffering of those infected with the virus, there are people whose lives have been turned upside down. Livelihoods and businesses have been and will continue to be lost. Economic loss can lead to real human costs, especially for those living on the economic margin.

We have a responsibility to not only navigate the human and economic costs but to do so in a way that ensures that we come out the other side of this crisis on the best long-term path for our future. We need to see this crisis as an opportunity for change and real long-term progress. Anything less will mean that those that are suffering and those that die will have suffered and died in vain.

How we will do that is by getting our priorities straight and by realizing that in the long run serving people and serving the economy are not mutually exclusive they are complimentary. They only seem mutually exclusive when we look at things from an overly short time horizon like the next shareholder report or the next election.

Priorities:

When I looked out at the Earth from the cupola of the International Space Station I saw an iridescent biosphere teeming with life. That is the reality of the world we live in. We are all part of an intricately linked interdependent living system. A living system that is under attack on many fronts and facing numerous crises of enormous proportions. But these crises are only symptoms of the underlying root problem. The problem is we have our priorities completely upside down.

Not only do we ignore the undeniable fact that every living thing on this planet and the planet itself is an integral part of a fragile living system, but we also treat everything, including the very life support systems of our planet as the wholly-owned subsidiary of the global economy. What should be obvious to everyone whether or not you’re in space, is our economy is dependent on our society and our society is dependent on and embedded in the biosphere we call Earth. But since our political, business, and cultural focus is on protecting and growing the economy at all costs it’s obvious that we are living a lie. A lie that is catching up with us very fast.

But we’ve recently poked the global economy with a stick. We said you’re not more important than people. We are going to slow you down a little so we can save lives. The economy responded as any cornered animal would by lashing out. Now, in the US we’re about to do the unthinkable. We’re about to double down on the preeminence of the economy and elevate its well-being above the well-being of people.

A course of action that reopens non-essential business and puts people back in offices, restaurants, and movie theaters by Easter clearly indicates that flattening the curve to keep the number of coronavirus cases below what our health systems can handle is less important than protecting and propping up the economy. Our most vulnerable citizens are being asked to sacrifice themselves for the economy. Making matters worse, encouraging people to abandon social distancing and get back to work will only help the economy in the short run. The feeble attempt to keep entrenched financial interests placated will blow up in our face sooner than we think. So those grandparents we are asking to sacrifice themselves will be sacrificing themselves in vain.

Our overarching concern in this country and throughout the world should be protecting life. By putting earthlings first we also, in turn, can help the economy. With the guiding principle of “life first” we then can navigate the dangerous path in front of us realizing that all decisions we make, including economic decisions, have a long-term human cost that must be figured in.

The Path Forward:

There are many things we can do right now to protect the health of our citizens while also protecting the economy. One way we can flatten the curve, keep the outbreak within our health system’s capabilities, and keep the economy moving is to test, test, test.

I personally know of people who have Covid19-like symptoms who were turned away from testing because their fever was not high enough. The US is woefully under testing. Making matters worse, unnecessary bureaucracy is impeding efforts like in-home testing and other initiatives that could increase our testing capabilities exponentially.

With a comprehensive effective testing system in place, we could take the blindfold off and start dealing with this crisis with all our senses. Medical resources could be focused precisely where they are needed. This would enable our finite healthcare system to better meet the demand. Once we have all the data in front of us we could make informed decisions on what to do in affected areas. We could also make informed decisions on the correct course of action in areas where the outbreak has been avoided or stopped. This could potentially lead to a reopening of non-essential businesses in those areas if the data supports the decision. The important thing here is, to the best of our ability, we need to make these critical life or death decisions with data and facts motivated primarily by a desire to save lives.

A Wakeup Call:

I am convinced that this latest crisis is a wakeup call and a call to action. A call to action to stop the bickering and finger pointing. Instead, we are called to come together as a planetary community to deal with a crisis affecting the planet’s entire interdependent living system. In order to get our attention and to make sure that we don’t yet again hit the snooze button, this crisis, unfortunately, is hurting and will continue to hurt. But all growth comes with some discomfort and at times pain.

Please let’s not lose this opportunity to set aside our differences and come together as one human family. Please let’s take collective action to stop the suffering and death. Please let’s use this crisis as a catalyst for real long-lasting change so the suffering and death of those affected by the virus are not in vain.

Please let’s not hit the snooze button on this wakeup call—we may not have another opportunity to turn things around.