Friday, July 17, 2020

The United States in 2020: Another Week Heading Down the Swirly-Swirly

Not a lot to like this time.  As with the old dictum that people who give up freedom for security deserve neither, Americans have tried to trade public health for improving the economy and failed miserably at both.

We now have a situation where relatively low unemployment is an indication of irresponsibility, as many states with that have a lot of people who should be avoiding infections instead of working.  That’s one takeaway from “The Fed Sets Out Many Reasons to Worry About the Economy,” by Jeanna Smialek in the July 1st New York Times.  Also “there is a serious chance of a double-dip downturn that could permanently scar the American labor force,” and Federal Reserve gathering participants “saw “substantial likelihood” of additional waves of virus outbreaks with the potential to cause a drawn-out period of economic weakness.”  This article was written before the large infection jumps in Florida and the Southwest.

Echoing and addressing a question often heard last week was Derek Thompson’s “COVID-19 Cases Are Rising, So Why Are Deaths Flatlining?,” in the July Atlantic.  He offered five possible reasons, the first and most important being that “deaths lag cases.”  After that, “expanded testing is finding more cases, milder cases, and earlier cases,” “the typical COVID-19 patient is getting younger,” “hospitalized patients are dying less frequently,” and “summer might be helping.”  Since then, per “As U.S. Coronavirus Cases Hit 3.5 Million, Officials Scramble to Add Restrictions” (July 16th, New York Times), the 14-day change in number of new instances, 67,190 identified on July 15th alone, is up 44% while the count of deaths, 958 that same day, has gained 51%.

“It’s 2022.  What Does Life Look Like?”  That titled an article by David Leonhardt in the July 10th Times.  He and others are getting a bit frisky about assuming what changes will and won’t become permanent, but he tempered it by saying “The financial crisis of 2007-9 didn’t cause Americans to sour on stocks, and it didn’t lead to an overhaul of Wall Street.  The election of the first Black president didn’t usher in an era of racial conciliation.  The 9/11 attacks didn’t make Americans unwilling to fly.  The Vietnam War didn’t bring an end to extended foreign wars without a clear mission.”  I add that even when this thing is below 100 new daily American cases, we won’t be having all our business meetings on Zoom, wearing masks everywhere, eschewing handshakes, or avoiding bars.  But for now, Leonhardt quoted Warren Buffett saying “it’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who’s been swimming naked,” and applies that to not only weak individual companies being culled out but to nearly entire industries, such as malls, department stores, and small colleges, that have gone from being in big trouble to becoming completely unviable.  “Politics will shape the economy,” depending vastly on who wins November 3rd, and “if there is a single lesson of the current era of American politics, it’s that change can happen more quickly than we imagined.”  With the suddenly resurging Black Lives Matter movement, two incidences of stunning idea and opinion suppressing in a publication cited above and below, and renewed talk about (of all things) climate change, we can’t disagree.

The real American exceptionalism again took center stage in “In Some Countries, Normal Life is Back.  Not Here” (Michelle Goldberg, The New York Times, July 13th).  Several posts ago I compared the “marshmallow test,” where children are offered a choice between one of those now or two some minutes away, to pandemic responses, and here is clear confirmation of which too many Americans  have chosen.  Elsewhere, “Taiwan, where most days this month no new cases have been reported, just held the Taipei Film Festival, and a recent baseball game drew 10,000 spectators,” and “there were 321 new cases in all of Canada last Friday,” similar to the current number in Italy, “once the epicenter of Europe’s outbreak.”  Shockingly enough, in the Global Health Security Index 2019 report, America was rated most prepared.  It seems hardly surprising that “there’s no drumbeat of calls for the president’s resignation,” but even when you don’t factor in reactions to the Minneapolis police chief, “that’s how you know the country was broken before coronavirus ever arrived.”
We also see that, starting with Los Angeles and San Diego’s, not all public schools will open this fall.  We achieved a 17th straight week with 1.3 million new unemployment claims.  And, if all of that isn’t bad enough, “The Pandemic Could Get Much, Much Worse.  We Must Act Now” (John M. Barry, again The New York Times, July 14th).  Would that we had the will to do things like Australia, which “just issued fines totaling $18,000 because too many people attended a birthday party in someone’s home,” but instead we have “the highest growth rate of new cases in the world, ahead even of Brazil,” including one state with one-quarter of Germany’s population achieving “over 15,300” of those, or, per capita, over 150 times as many.  However, if “Nynex” (New York and the six New England states) were a country, it would fit in well with Europe’s pandemic outcomes, so we may get more and more internal travel restrictions.

What does all this mean for United States Covid-19 prospects?  When you also consider the intractability of some of our citizenry, we will, as a nation, stay reduced to waiting for a vaccine.  That could be widely available in the first quarter of 2021, or it could never materialize.  Could we break up into several de facto countries if it doesn’t?  Don’t bet against it.  And in the meantime, wear that mask and stay six feet apart - at least, then, YOU can survive.

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