Off-and-on lockdowns and a pandemic yo-yo

Tyler Cowen, an economics professor at George Mason University, expects off-and-on lockdowns and no quick end to the coronavirus pandemic.  Here’s what he had to say—

I don’t view “optimal length of shutdown” arguments compelling, rather it is about how much pain the political process can stand. 

I expect partial reopenings by mid-May, sometimes driven by governors in the healthier states, even if that is sub-optimal for the nation as a whole. 

Besides you can’t have all the banks insolvent because of missed mortgage payments

But R0 won’t stay below 1 for long, even if it gets there at all. 

We will then have to shut down again within two months, but will then reopen again a bit after that. 

At each step along the way, we will self-deceive rather than confront the level of pain involved with our choices. 

We may lose a coherent national policy on the shutdown issue altogether, not that we have one now. 

The pandemic yo-yo will hold. 

At some point antivirals or antibodies will kick in (read Scott Gottlieb), or here: “There are perhaps 4-6 drugs that could be available by Fall and have robust enough treatment effect to impact risk of another epidemic or large outbreaks after current wave passes. We should be placing policy bets on these likeliest opportunities.” 

We will then continue the rinse and repeat of the yo-yo, but with the new drugs and treatments on-line with a death rate at maybe half current levels and typical hospital stays at three days rather than ten. 

It will seem more manageable, but how eager will consumers be to resume their old habits? 

Eventually a vaccine will be found, but getting it to everyone will be slower than expected. 

The lingering uncertainty and “value of waiting,” due to the risk of second and third waves, will badly damage economies along the way.

Source: Marginal REVOLUTION

I think he’s right.  But what does the need for this trade-off say about our economic system?

Here’s a quote from In These Times.

What would the federal government do to best mitigate the devastation that this pandemic will visit upon human beings?  It would, first of all, provide free healthcare to everyone. ..Imagine instead, if you had an entirely different goal: protecting capital.  What would you do then?  Well, you would prioritize the health of corporate balance sheets, rather than human bodies.  You would keep the healthcare industry, now booming, in private hands.

We Americans, myself included, want to get back to normal.  But what if recurring emergencies are the new normal?

There is no reason to assume that the current pandemic is the last or worst pandemic.  Killer storms, fires, floods and droughts are almost certain to increase in number.  We will have to cope with them, well or badly.

People who are risking their lives to cope with emergencies and taking care of basic services shouldn’t be forced to work for peanuts.  They should be honored and richly rewarded.

People shouldn’t be forced to risk their lives for unnecessary work just to survive.  They should be given guaranteed food, shelter and medical care until the crisis passes.

It should not be beyond the capacity of human beings to figure out how to do this, nor to overcome the resistance to replacing the failed system with the better system.

LINKS

Disposable People by Musa al-Gharbi for The Baffler.

Rich and Healthy vs. Poor and Dead by Peter Van Buren for The American Conservative [Added 4/15/2020]

Where we stand by Tyler Cowen for MARGINAL Revolution.

Coronavirus economy plans are clear – No return to normal by Ezra Klein for Vox.

The Plan Is to Save Capital and Let the People Die by Hamilton Nolan for In These Times.

The Coronavirus Pandemic Has Opened the Curtains on the World’s Next Economic Model by Marshall Auerback for the Independent Media Institute.

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