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Inept Western Response to COVID-19 Will Result in Public Backlash: 2

March 24, 2020 38 comments

In the previous post of this series, I promised to write about how the poorly thought shutdowns in combination with inadequate income support will likely cause epically bad public reactions all over USA in the next two to three weeks. Let me quickly update that prediction by saying that the bad public reactions to shutdowns in countries doing an even shittier job of income support, such as India, will be worse. Having said that, there will be far more public anger and discontent in this country than any other major developed country. So let us start talking about the many reasons that thoughtless governmental reaction to this pandemic is likely to discredit both them and other associated institutions even further.

1] One of the most important lessons that western governments have not learned is that, over past three decades, an increasing distrust of them by public as well as vastly increased flow of information makes lying a really bad choice. See.. it was far easier for governments to lie during first half of 20th century because mass media was new and people had not become so cynical and atomized. For example, analysis of the absolutely pathetic quality of military leadership during WW1 took over a decade to even begin entering into the sphere of public conversation. Something similar occurred with WW2 where it took almost two decades for critiques about it (especially for the “victorious” side) to start entering into popular culture. Public critiques about Vietnam war took a few years, Gulf War 1.0 about 2 years, Gulf War 2.0 less than a year.

But how is any of this relevant to the COVID-19 pandemic? Well.. by now I am sure you must have heard or read screeds by numerous media busybodies about how even young people can die from COVID-19 infection. This bullshit usually takes the guise of some breathlessly retweeted article about how one or two under-40s died of it in Italy or Spain, or how some unnamed doctor is tweeting about how there are many young people in the ICU because of respiratory symptoms due to this infection. But the hard data (graphed in this tweet) tell a very different story. To put it bluntly, less than 1 in 500 people under 50 years of age with symptomatic COVID-19 infection of any type (fever, cough to respiratory distress) verified by PCR -based tests end up dying. Even those under 60 experience a mortality rate of somewhere between 0.4 to 1.3%.

These patterns holds irrespective of country or continent. Don’t forget that a good percentage of infected people either don’t become symptomatic or the symptoms are mild or vague enough for them to not seek medical attention or testing. To put it another way, it is realistic to assume that the mortality rate for people with COVID-19 infection who under 50 is below 1 in 500 and likely closer to 1 in 1000, once you factor in the untested asymptomatic (or mildly symptomatic and untested) individuals. The same is probably true for those between 50 and 60 years, with the real mortality rate (for all infected individuals) in this group approaching somewhere between 1 in 200 to 1 in 400. Officials pretending that mortality is not low in individuals under 60 is going to hurt their public credibility- when they need it the most.

2] Now let us talk about the topic of money, or more specifically how most people are going to have enough money to survive let alone pay bills during this shutdown. Given that the economy and most jobs in western countries is based on mass consumption, it is darkly comic to see that not one government (even among the supposedly socialist nordic countries) seems to have a fucking clue about how they plan to replace the income of every person in their country. Yes.. you heard that right! Every person, not just every person who can file an unemployment claim. This is especially important since a pretty sizable minority of people under 40 in those countries do not have regular well-paying jobs. Given that this group is also the one least affected by COVID-19, any decrease in their already meager lifestyle will make them ask questions about the utility of boomers and older people- to put it mildly. Did I mention that western countries are already socially atomized and most of them just don’t care about old people.

Even paying 80% of the salary of those not yet been fired from jobs is insufficient. And I am also pretty sure that the neoliberal mindset which pervades political and bureaucrat types in these countries will not consider a worthwhile universal basic income (albeit, temporary) until it is too late. To put it bluntly, any governmental measure to replace lost income which does not actually put enough money in the pockets of people by mid-April in USA and mid-May in most European countries is going to be basically useless- as far as the longer term is concerned. Many idiots like to believe that crisis bring people together, however a reading of history suggest that this occurs only when the crisis is well-manged by governments in charge. Don’t believe me.. just read about what happened in the aftermath of WW1, where even countries that were on the winning side (Italy, Spain, many countries in Eastern Europe) experienced long-term civil strife which led to authoritarian governments. That is why so many dictators arose in 1920s and 1930s.

This is even more relevant today since the 2008 global financial crisis destroyed the faith of many people (especially those under 40) in the previous systems and its institutions. There is a reason why Trump is the president and Bernie can get donations from millions of supporters. Expect the trend of people under 40 (and even 50) distrusting institutions to increase, not decrease. Should also point out that a pretty significant number of those under 40 don’t have kids and family and are therefore likely to go much further than those who might have something to lose. It does not help that an open-ended shutdown of most parts of economy is a very bad idea, even when faced by something like pandemic. People will not come together in solidarity if there is no light at end of tunnel and have nothing to gain by playing nice.

Let me spell that out a bit more clearly. See.. unless most under 40s (and under 50s) see a much better future at end of this particular tunnel, they will stop complying and playing nice with the system- especially if they see no compensation for the loss caused by measures which might reduce the mortality among boomers and older people. And you can’t blame them- what do they have to lose? It should also be noted that social atomization in western countries has long since reached levels where majority of people don’t really care about their old parents. Now try making people care about the welfare of old people to whom they are not related. This is also why I believe that Trump’s idea of slowly opening economy will get far more public support than most LIEbrals realize, even if doing so resulted in the death of many old people.

Will write more in next part about why Trump’s idea of opening the economy much sooner than recommended by “credentialed experts” might actually be one of his best brainfarts. And yes, he is absolutely right to ask whether the human loss and ruin caused by shutting down the economy is worth the lives saved by controlling this specific open-ended but low-mortality pandemic.

What do you think? Comments?