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Inept Western Response to COVID-19 Will Result in Public Backlash: 3

April 1, 2020 22 comments

In the previous post, I posted links to two YouTube clips by Kim Iversen in which she makes the point that shutting down economy of most countries for many months, till the COVID-19 virus is contained, is just not feasible. Nor is it possible, without a yet to be developed and efficacious vaccine, to eliminate a highly infectious virus with a low mortality rate which has already spread all around the world. The point she was trying to make is that the bullshit being sold to you as official government response and policies is likely to cause far more collateral socio-economic damage and human deaths than the viral pandemic itself. Some of you might have also noticed that tons of online virtue signalling losers, who have never worked a manual job in their entire life or being anything other than economically secure, were infuriated by her observations and are still busy trying to censor and “de-platform” her.

It is telling that the so-called “left” in western countries is as intellectually bankrupt as the right-wing nutcases they pretend to oppose and claim moral superiority over. This similarity between supporters of the two alleged political extremes will, however, not be surprising to some readers. As you might have also read in some of my other previous posts on this topic (link 1, link 2) the governmental response to this pandemic in most western countries has so far heavily favored corporations and very rich over the majority of their citizens. Even western European countries, who have so far done more for their citizens than USA, have still not formulated an effective response. Now.. I am not saying that they won’t get their shit together eventually, but they have not shown any signs of doing that- so far. Confused at what I am talking about? Let me explain..

1] Let me ask you a series of simple questions. What percentage of all paid jobs in the west are not in the ‘essential’ category AND cannot be performed from home? You know the answer to this one- the majority. Now let us follow on to the related question. How many jobs in these sectors pay more than what you can get on unemployment insurance? The answer tro this one is that a large percentage do pay more than even the generous unemployment insurance paid in west European countries today. Things might have been different decades ago, when it was higher in those countries- but that is a topic for another post. Now, some of you might counter by pointing out the governments in many west European countries are willing to cover 75-80% of the pay (upto a certain amount) of employees for a few months, if their employer does not lay them off. Well.. the key words here are ‘if their employer does not lay them off’.

The point I am trying to make is that even if you assume this economic disruption will not extend past a few weeks, affected employers (aka corporations) will lay off a significant percentage of their employees. In other words, a shutdown which lasts more than a few weeks is going to put a massive number of people on relatively stingy unemployment insurance. This problem is hard to solve in so-called “liberal democracies” where interests and needs of corporations and capitalists always outweigh those of the majority. See.. the government of one-party states such as China can simply order its corporations to keep paying their employees at an acceptable rate, because those corporations know that they will be refunded by government and have no option other than accepting the government’s order. Even other supposedly democratic east Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea can make their corporations and businesses retain employees in ways than supposedly “liberal democracies” cannot or don’t want to.

And the situation get even more dismal once you consider things such as residential and small business rent, auto insurance, utilities and other forms of economic rents on the majority. Do you really think voluntary guidelines and suggestions to postpone rent and similar payments is going to cut it? Do you really think that people on significantly reduced income who don’t have much money saved because they were paid so poorly even before this crisis can afford the upcoming balloon payments on rent, utilities etc while being able to afford all essentials and have enough leftover to to stimulate the depressed economy by spending like they used to? And let us clear about something else, most of the trillions being given to corporations right now are going to end up in secret bank accounts in oversea tax havens- one way or the other. And this holds for large corporations that are based in west Europe as much as those based in USA.

2] No western country (which I am aware of) has thus far implemented a freeze on financial rents of any type. To put it bluntly, most of the paltry unemployment insurance payments (to those who ‘qualify’) are just going to end up in the pockets of those collect rents, credit card payments, auto loans payments etc. In other words, many large corporations will receive government money twice- once directly to “save” jobs and then indirectly as people who could barely afford these rent payments in past have to pass an even larger portion of their income onto those corporations. Now imagine what this will do for the disposable income and ability of those people to support business which do not collect such rents. And this not a trivial question as businesses which do not collect such rents employ many times the number of those that do collect rent. Imagine the effect of such an economic contraction on all those retail stores in malls and other business which depend on them. And it gets worse.

Have you seriously considered the impact of this pandemic on the financial situation of those who work in airlines, airports, tourism, hotels and restaurants. What about those who livelihood is connected to running music concerts and other large cultural gatherings? You do realize that most people working in those sectors aren’t well-paid in the best of times.. right? Have all those idiots who incessantly talk about shutting down the economy indefinitely “until the pandemic is over” understand the ramifications of such actions on the livelihood of a substantial minority of the population? Given that most western countries have still not offered to replace income of their working citizens and small businesses in addition to freezing rents, where do they think all that money necessary for restarting the economy is going to come from? Then again, virtue signalers are not known for their ability to think through their actions.

To make matters more interesting, the mortality rate of COVID-19 (once you factor in people who don’t develop symptoms and recover uneventfully) is less than 1%. And ya.. I am basing that number on countries such as South Korea and Germany who have done a much better job of extensive testing of their population than others such as Italy and Spain. Did I mention that majority of those who die will be more than 80 years old? The point I am trying to make is as follows: At some stage relatively soon (not more than four weeks from now) a lot of people who are younger and not well-paid or compensated for this shutdown will start asking questions about whether ineffectual attempts to stop a disease that kills mostly very old people is worth them losing their livelihoods and future. To make matters worse, if that is possible, the pig-headed response of bureaucrats to such concerns will only inflame this situation further. And it is going to cause far more problems in countries such as USA and UK than Italy or Spain who have the social structure necessary to deal with prolonged economic adversity.

In the next part, I will write about how the lack of realistic plans for controlling this virus or mitigating its effect and reopening economy will make the situation far worse than it has to be. Might also write about how this pandemic will diminish the already decreasing the direct and indirect power of USA (and west in general) outside their borders.

What do you think? Comments?

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?