As allergy season comes on us, we are in for a new round of hysteria unless calm hands take the wheel. This contagious outbreak needs aggressive and wide-ranging medical response with reasonable precautions. However, the economic overreaction– driven by minute-by-minute news cycles, politics of division and opportunism, and fear to be branded insensitive for saying “the king has no clothes”– will result in long-term economic consequences to families. We need to approach the economic consequences with more real thought than just the government giving us all trillions of dollars.
Certainly hand washing, disinfection, safe distance separation and awareness of symptoms can be done with economic policy in mind.
News outlets banged the drum about a lack of testing, with politicians responding drafting all resources to increase testing (which needed to be done). They predict we will see a spike in exposures with more tests, because many get this virus and never know it or easily cope with it. Sure enough, the numbers go up with increase testing. Then the news outlets bang the drum about the increase positive tests and how rampant the virus is becoming.
Bottom line: causing panic and losing perspective scares people. If people are scared all too many turn to the media talking heads because they are isolated. The taking heads fan the flames of doom and danger with every second. They increase ad sales and while the rest of the country is going bankrupt.
The stock market world (shorting stocks for a fall, buying low, riding the recovery and then shorting again and selling to start another fall) is also getting rich. Question: If the rest of the economy (i.e. hourly workers in factories and retail facilities) shuts down, why is the stock market still open and gambling with our futures?.
The wisdom of Aesop’s fables has been mostly lost– but remains instructive. Once when Aesop happened to be the only slave in his master’s household, he was ordered to prepare dinner earlier than usual. He thus had to visit a few houses looking for fire, until at last he found a place where he could light his lamp. Since his search had taken him out of his way along a winding path, he decided to shorten his journey on the way back and go straight through the forum. There amidst the crowds a talkative fellow shouted at him, “Aesop, what’s with the lamp in the middle of the day?” “I’m just looking to see if I can find an honest man,” said Aesop, as he quickly made his way back home.
The story gives a practical reason why Aesop was carrying a lighted lamp during the daytime: the fire had gone out at his house and he needed to relight it. The person in the forum, however, thinks that Aesop is being a fool by carrying around a lamp when it is perfectly light outside. Aesop, however, manages to make the man look like a fool: it may be broad daylight, but men worthy of the name are so hard to find that he needs a lamp to look for them.
With that in mind, recall the current revised death rate of this virus from China exposure is less than 1 percent — even with the thousands never tested not being factored in. The U.S. will have similar statistics. For a little perspective, look at some CDC statistics. US deaths annually for leading causes of death: Heart disease: 647,457; Cancer: 599,108; Accidents (unintentional injuries): 169,936; Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 160,201; Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 146,383; Alzheimer’s disease: 121,404; Diabetes: 83,564; Influenza and Pneumonia: 55,672; Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome and nephrosis: 50,633; Intentional self-harm (suicide): 47,173.
We have had less than 1,000 deaths from the virus in the US. In 2017, a total of 261,914 deaths attributable to dementia as an underlying cause of death were reported in the United States. Forty-six percent of these deaths were due to Alzheimer disease. In 2017, the age-adjusted death rate for dementia as an underlying cause of death was 66.7 deaths per 100,000 U.S. standard population. Among people age 70, 61% of those with Alzheimer’s dementia are expected to die before the age of 80 compared with 30% of people without Alzheimer’s — a rate twice as high. People age 65 and older survive an average of 4 to 8 years after a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s dementia.
In this context, there is no reason we cannot preserve our economy and still be wise about limiting exposure from this disease.
Do what is smart:
- Wash your hands.
- Disinfect your area
- Maintain social distance
If you feel a need for you or your family to work from home, then do so. Just coordinate with your supervisor, etc.
Act as an adult to keep you and others safe.
This will not peak for several weeks in the U.S.
As President Franklin Roosevelt noted, the biggest problem is being frozen by fear instead of smartly doing our job and part. Now is the time to step up and do what is needed, safely.
John Hall is chairman of the Atlanta-based Hall Booth Smith law firm.