Don’t get me wrong. China is not off the hook for COVID-19. It only started thanks to the contradictions of totalitarian CCP rule.
Yet it is impossible to miss the diametric opposite responses of East and West to the pandemic.
China shut down completely to choke the virus. It appears to be on the verge of success.
Western democracies have failed completely to contain the outbreak and have moved swiftly to stimulus. That is, they are encouraging activity that will only spread the virus further and trigger a much deeper mass casualty event for the elderly.
It is tempting to interpret this through the prism of values. Confucian cultures revere the elderly while Western individualism throws them on the scrap heap.
But, I think, something altogether more banal is at work, captured nicely today by Ross Gittins of Domain. After his recent article in which the statistics were wrong, the research non-existent and journalsitic responsibility cratered, he does a kind of summersault with ten twists:
The coronavirus is deadly – it will end up killing quite a few oldies – but we (and the rest of the world) are making so much fuss about it mainly because it’s new. Thanks to that fuss, it’s likely to do more damage to the economy than it does to life and limb.
…The news media are making a great fuss for no reason other than the virus’ newness. New is what news is about. What’s new is unknown and what’s unknown is frightening.
You may think we’re making all this fuss not because the virus is new, but because it’s deadly. But we have daily contact with a lot of deadly things we don’t make a fuss about because we’re used to them.
It could be that road accidents cause more deaths – and certainly more injury – than the virus does this year. And seasonal flu carries off a lot of oldies every year without much fuss. In the end, Sydneysiders decided that the death and injury caused by late-night drinking wasn’t a good enough reason to limit the fun.
So what are they trying to do? Just slow down its spread. Why? To give the medical and aged care system time to prepare for the onslaught – including the time to set up separate “fever assessment clinics” where the “worried well” are kept away from those likely to have caught the virus, and away from those known to have.
…Disruption to the economy is unavoidable, but the danger is that hour-by-hour reporting of efforts to slow the spread is frightening a lot of people and will lead them to overreact to the risk of infection, closing businesses and purses and making everything worse than it needs to be.
In other words, if you’re not old then calm down and get out there to work and consume. The problem is, of course, that by doing so you will spread the virus much faster, ensuring that the hospital system is overwhelmed and, as such, many more elderly than need to will die. Probably you’re own loved ones. Which will make the ultimate panic and economic fallout worse.
It is a miracle of psychopathic media hypocrisy that a suicidal Gittins can write this at all. Yet is more interesting as a figment of where our liberal democratic system is at.
First, and most pointedly, we must observe that Gittins is right. Consumers will bunker, house prices collapse and the economy implode. But it is not because the young should literally consume the old, it is because we have created such a fragile system in the first place. An economy based upon a confidence trick of endless mortgage and house price inflation is the very definition of fragile when history comes calling.
Second, that system has run so far out of control that the interests that govern it now dictate the terms of government. A virtual real estate agent is the prime minister. His government’s only plan is to lift house prices. Gittins himself is employed not by “media” but by a real estate listings loss leader. One of the main businesses at risk is his employer.
By comparison, China can shut down and not collapse because it has real economic activity at its base. A massively productive economy that makes real stuff and real money. Yes, it’s got other problems because it wants to grow too fast to keep control of people without freedom. But, at the end of the day, because it has an economic base, not just fluffy superstructure, it can look after its people better, and weather this shock economically more so than consumer societies can.
MB has documented over many years how we reached such a point of economic psychopathy. I hope, when it’s all done, that some lessons are learned.
With many of the interests that drive it dead and buried there may finally be a chance of that.