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What Have We Learned from the Pandemic?

pandemic
By Randy Gage in Critical Thinking, Prosperity.

One of the wisest things economist Milton Friedman ever taught was that only a crisis — actual or perceived — produces real change.  It is times of crisis that cause our preconceived beliefs and confirmation biases to get shaken and stirred.  Things that weeks ago seemed politically impossible become politically inevitable.  Countries and cultures mirror individual people in the sense that we usually learn a lot more from our challenges than we do from our victories.

For a large part of the world, we have yet to experience the worst brunt of the coronavirus pandemic.  But there are many lessons that are already blindingly obvious.  Unfortunately, some of these lessons should have been learned from previous crisis situations.  The real question is whether we will be wise enough to learn them this time around, or choose ignorance and remain vulnerable to future disasters.  Allow me to suggest a lesson plan. (A small part of this discussion is U.S.-centric.  But most of it is applicable worldwide.)

Every country should have provisions in their employment system for sick leave.  Not just isolated cases provided by enlightened companies, but as a standard for all employers to follow.  Otherwise poor and even many middle-class people have to choose between two cruel alternatives: 1) Staying away from their jobs to protect those they would interact with and experiencing financial hardship as a result.  Or, 2) Going to work because they can’t afford the lost wages, and likely passing on infections and diseases.

All families would be wise to rethink disaster preparedness kits.  If you live in certain areas, you hopefully have an emergency hurricane, tornado, or earthquake kit.  But many families don’t, even though they live in danger areas.  Personally, I’ve discovered the items in my hurricane kit (tracking maps, battery powered radios, etc.) are sorely lacking for an epidemic or pandemic (face masks, disinfectants, etc.).  You don’t have to go full prepper with a bomb shelter but ask a Mormon friend for some advice on this.

Current governments disaster preparedness is negligent.  We stockpile nukes and other weapons of mass destruction. We finance studies on the rate flow of ketchup, legislate how many electrical outlets are required in people’s kitchens, and want to regulate their sex lives.  How could we be so ridiculously unprepared with supplies of masks, gowns, and other gear for medical professionals and the public health? This lesson could have easily been learned with previous flu epidemics, but we chose to ignore it.

We need term limits for politicians.  By the time party leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell reach their respective positions, they are so indebted to lobbyists and special interests they can no longer pursue the public good.  The dysfunction and inability of the parties to come together in times of crisis demonstrates this.

Practice better personal hygiene.  It took your whole life until this point, but now you know the proper way to wash your hands.  Wash your hands after using the bathroom.  Wash your hands before you eat.  Wash your hands before you put them in the air and move them around like you just don’t care.  Take your shoes off in the house.  Make friends with the bidet.

Presidents must be required to divest their holdings or place them in a blind trust.  Jimmy Carter sold his peanut farm. Presidents Reagan, both Bushes, and Clinton placed their holdings in a blind trust.  (President Obama was not wealthy and most of his money was in U.S. Treasury bonds.)  President Trump shuttles weekly to his hotels and golf resorts, has his children running them, and has brought his daughter and son-in-law into the White House to influence policy decisions.  The potential conflicts of interest are staggering.   As a result, we have to be concerned whether the president is making decisions based on the good of the American people – or the economic ramifications of his highly leveraged real estate projects around the world and Ivanka’s foreign trademark applications.  Now President Trump is suggesting a $500 billion slush fund, under his control, for recovery efforts.  His “drain the swamp” campaign is starting to look like nine wolves and a lamb voting on what to eat for dinner.

Members of the Senate and House of Representatives should also be required to divest their holdings or place them in a blind trust.  Senior committee members of both parties received classified briefings in January and February on the potential impact of the coronavirus – then quietly sold stocks in airlines and cruise companies, while buying shares in biotech, vaccine manufactures, and companies like Clorox.  This is unconscionable.  We need safeguards to prevent any conflict of interest between what’s good for the country and what’s good for their retirement accounts.

It’s time to take a serious look at Universal Basic Income.  Maybe it’s a great idea, maybe it’s not.  But the time is overdue to have a serious conversation and study of it.  The current economic system allows too many vulnerable people to fall through the cracks.  There are millions of unemployed, underemployed, undocumented, homeless, and people with mental illness.  These are our fellow human beings.  Let’ stop treating them as though they are disposable.

Our health care system is broken.  Here in the United States, the wealthiest country on earth, the health care system is a national disgrace.  I don’t think the answer is socializing the whole system. Communism doesn’t work and Socialism is simply Communism with lipstick.  But I don’t think the answer is unchecked free enterprise or a Libertarian approach either. Insurance and drug companies have proven that if they must choose between people dying or maximizing their profits – they choose profits.  In an enlightened society, people should not have to go bankrupt if they develop a serious disease, have to make a choice between food or medicine, or die because they are poor.  We’re smart people, we can figure this out together.

It’s a good time to improve the judicial system.  There currently is a huge amount of people incarcerated for minor offenses like marijuana possession or inability to post cash bail.  Also, there are thousands of elderly inmates who were convicted of non-violent crimes.  Jails and prisons offer ideal, petri dish conditions to become centers of outbreak.  Commute some sentences and send other people home for house arrest with ankle bracelets.  Lives will be saved, and justice will be served.

Public health officials must be insulated from politics.  We need to develop some kind of buffer for positions like Director of the CDC, so they are protected from being muzzled by administrations seeking to hide or downplay information that the public needs to know.

Look after the gig economy.  Millions of people are now working in the gig economy and that’s a good thing.  It provides a valuable service both to workers and the companies who hire them, and it has become a vital factor in our economy.  But gig workers are roadkill in a crisis like this because they don’t fit into the traditional categories for unemployment insurance, sick leave, health care, and other issues we’ve discussed.

What lessons have I missed?  Please share any thoughts you have below and let’s get these important conversations going.

Peace,

– RG

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9 thoughts on “What Have We Learned from the Pandemic?

  1. Jorge says:

    Preach it! Today some friends were talking about the change in currency system, but not the one proposed by Federal Reserve, that would only count as a horizontal move, a radical vertical one. That would not only keep those at the top art the top.

  2. Thats about it in a nut shell.

  3. Chalky White says:

    So much that you can still learn from the UK that we already have covered above, although two of those thoughts are (in my view) socialism by any other name (Universal Basic Income and interfering [oops, you said look after, but to me that is another expression for interfering] in the gig economy)

  4. Daniel says:

    “Insurance and drug companies have proven that if they must choose between people dying or maximizing their profits – they choose profits.”

    Not really… Moreover, where is the competition which behaves differently?

    It is not the coronavirus crisis. The regular flu kills about 600,000 people each year. Currently we have 18,940 deaths of coronavirus (many of them were elderly and / or had preexisting health problems).

    We have a financial crisis instead because the American asset bubble just popped out.

    And this – as always – the sign that the government and the Fed is just a bunch of criminals and nothing else.

    So what we can learn from the crisis?:

    The epidemic is handled by governments, so it is wasteful, slow, and worse than the epidemic itself = lots of unnecessary deaths.

    They have shot down the economy by banning the people from work = no income.

    They are going to bail out companies which are unable to manage crises like this = you are pumping money into worthless companies, while you have no income.

    The government is already in a financial debt, they don’t have surplus. Therefore they have to print money out of thin air = you spend money which is backed by nothing to make the people able to buy that which hasn’t been produced, since you have already shot down the whole economy.

    Thanks to socialism neither the people nor the companies have savings, so they directly suffer during crises like this. Its like constantly burning all of your (and other’s) fat, so when something happens, you don’t have the extra you need. It has a lot to do with religiously hating money, therefore not even knowing anything about it (besides that loving it is the root of all evil).

    During the great depression, there were no welfare and no pensions. People were managed their own money. They did this that successfully that they could finance a World War during a depression, and when the war ended, the economical recovery was faster than the speed of light. (Many people therefore has come to the conclusion that the war actually helped to the economy SOMEHOW).

    America is not capitalist anymore. Donald Trump is a populist socialist. He is only the least-worst among bad options. If the socialists are going to win the election whose name is not Republicans, then you can expect a long and painful recovery from this crisis (until the next random epidemic comes from China).

    If you have waited for Trump to act like a capitalist, now you should abandon the idea.

    He said that before the outbreak, America had the greatest economy of all time. But do you really think that a virus, which has killed about 2–3% of what the H1N1 did can crash the “greatest economy of the world” like that?

    I call this as an outright attack on freedom (capitalism), and literally has nothing to with the coronavirus at all. That is just going to be a fine excuse to explain why they are imposed socialism upon you, without a communist revolution.

    1. Randy Gage says:

      Thanks for commenting. You have a number of valid points here. One I would argue: I don’t think you can show that people and governments not saving is linked to socialism. That’s a very common behavior in all economic systems.

      1. Daniel says:

        Well, if you don’t have welfare, you have no other options but save. Sounds better than entrusting your money to the government who just growing the debt with it.
        The sad reality is that useful idiots call the people who have savings as “hoarders”. Thanks to that nobody is a filthy hoarder, the government print hundreds of billions of dollars in existence.
        And of course, the government also not a hoarder, it wasting as much money as it could.

  5. Gail says:

    Excellent, excellent post here, Randy!

    To Universal Basic Income, I would add Financial Literacy.

    When folks have a few more dollars, they’re more likely to spend it on their current lifestyle such as, eat out a little more, go to the movies a little more, have a few more adult beverages, etc.

    How many do you think, will use the extra money to make a meaningful difference that strengthens their finances?

    I believe our educational system falls down in this regard.

    My school didn’t teach me how to balance a checkbook. My school didn’t teach me how to manage my finances, didn’t teach me about investing, and how to put money to work for me. My school didn’t teach me about insurance, didn’t teach me how to create a will and how to set up a living trust.

    Teaching folks how to strengthen their finances goes a long way to set them up to successfully ride out these economic disasters that everyone will encounter at some point throughout their lifetime.

    Those who took it upon themselves to learn and apply financial literacy are in a stronger position to deal with this current crisis and not panic.

    Lastly, our “health care” system isn’t that at all. It’s a “sickness care” system.

    Pharmaceutical companies don’t want us to get healthy. They are for profit, not a non-profit, and have shareholders to pay. The only way they make money is keeping folks sick.

    They want to get us as a customer and keep us as a customer. They won’t make money if we get healthy and stop taking their drugs.

    Many times, drugs are a kind of bandaid approach, only addressing the symptoms, not the actual condition itself.

    We’ve thrown gazillions of dollars towards finding “cures”.

    What do you imagine would happen, if we were addressing and finding the ways to eliminate the “causes” in the first place?

    Thank you for addressing these items as you have. I hope you will revisit these again in the future as we see how this all plays out.

    May you and your loved ones stay safe and stay healthy.

    Namaste

  6. Edward says:

    communism and socialism two different animals.
    we need social democrat system like Norway the highest level of living in the world and where you do not find a single homeless

  7. Maya says:

    Don’t swallow that claptrap about ‘socialised medicine’. This is simply propaganda put out by the U.S. medical industry. In the UK our National Health Service has nothing to do with socialism. Here all health care from doctors, specialists and nurses is free. You only have to pay for prescriptions. Each person in the country pays for this privilege via deductions from their salaries. The NHS is the envy of the world. I know because I’ve lived in many different countries, and not one of them had anything even approaching the breadth of our healthcare system in the UK. So don’t knock it until you’ve tried it! (or thoroughly researched what it actually is).

 

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