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Thursday, May 14, 2020

Here's what America learned from the Wuhan Coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic might have been exactly what was needed to wake America up

W hen I lived in the country I discovered you have to do a lot of digging. Drainage ditches need to be unclogged, cable lines need to be put in conduit, and French drains need to be dug. While I was digging a trench for one, that famous tune by Tennessee Ernie Ford used to run through my head:

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

A guy with 20/2000 vision trying to dig a trench through rock-hard clay might sound pretty amusing, but it's not so amusing now. Here's how it's updated to the coronavirus era, where the US government is planning to spend five trillion bucks, divided among the 245.3m taxpayers:

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and 20,383 dollars and 20 cents deeper in debt

I finally gave up on the French drain and hired somebody else to do it. They too gave up and brought in an excavator. But I still have some of those coal specimens, and now we're all deeper in debt.

Coal specimen
Close-up of coal specimen from my back yard, in case anyone thinks I'm kidding

Some environmentalists are cheering that air pollution has decreased due to our govern­ment-imposed economic crash. They shouldn't be so happy. Poverty = pollution. Only wealth gives us clean energy. Unless the economy recovers soon, we could be back to having big piles of coal dumped on our driveway once a week. Some of those pencil-pushers cele­brating their time off could end up working as coal miners or not working at all. People think all that is long past. They're wrong.

Lots of people who are forced to stay home—including me—can't actually do much work. All we can do is blog and complain (which amount to the same thing, really), but it won't take corporate beancounters long to figure out that if your job can be done from home over the Internet, it can also be done in India over the Internet for one-tenth the cost.

Here are some more things we learned (trigger warning: possible politics ahead).

  1. We need some way of informing the public about current events in an accurate, fact-based way. The existing news media are not up to the task. They freely mix fake facts and uninformed opinions, creating panic and social tensions that are tearing the country apart. The media can't blame social media for this: the source is the media.
  2. Hate-based politics is a threat to our nation's survival. It derailed the government's attempts to find a solution to the virus, with implacable voices screaming for a shutdown. Something is fundamentally wrong with a political system that creates this much hate.
  3. We got a lesson in what life will be like if we adopt socialism. We had toilet paper shortages, now meat shortages, perhaps soon government-imposed restrictions on travel. These would sound familiar to anyone who lived under Communism.
  4. Our essential supplies, including pharmaceuticals, semiconductors, rare earths, and medical supplies must be manufactured or refined in America with no potential points for a hostile foreign power to disrupt them.
  5. Existing epidemiological models have been thoroughly discredited. We need a coherent plan to deal with future pandemics, including new epidemiological models that can accurately predict the effects of potential strategies.
  6. Some way of rapidly isolating countries that are a source of pandemic diseases is needed. The next pandemic could be much worse than Covid-19.
  7. The practice of outsourcing American programmers and replacing them with cheap foreign workers threatens the survival of Boeing—an essential industry. This needs to be stopped.
  8. New antiviral agents and clinical trials of such drugs are needed, as is basic research into emerging viruses and other pathogens. The FDA approval process and the paperwork and expense of clinical trials need to be streamlined. Basing treatment on crappy uncontrolled trials done in an emergency is costing lives.
  9. New technology is needed to screen airport passengers rapidly for transmissible diseases without the need to take physical samples. This could be similar to technology that was created after 9/11 for screening passengers for explosives and radioactivity.
  10. According to the website The Drive, Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst has a wonderful collection of station wagons. I think there's more to the story. There are suddenly a lot of stories about this guy. I suspect the Democrats are considering him as a potential nominee instead of Joe Biden. I for one will toast President Bizkit!

One famous historian recently wrote:

Does World War II offer any lessons regarding our wrecked economy and staggering unemployment from the lockdown reaction to the coronavirus? Perhaps. Government cannot restore prosperity. Only entrepreneurs and risk-takers can. Americans must master their fears of the virus and dare to go back to work.

I'd say government has no choice in the matter. As General George S. Patton was reported to have said, they should lead, follow, or get out of the way. None of us wants to return to a mining economy, even if we get to sing a catchy tune about loading sixteen tons of number nine coal.

may 14 2020, 7:10 am

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