Last week Glenn Beck offered the opinion on his radio show that he was willing to die if the country could get back to work. He painted a vivid picture of the suffering that will follow the economic catastrophe that is presently staring us and the world in the face. In one way, he was right: if we don’t get back to work, there is going to be an economic catastrophe. In another, wrong: if we go back to work too soon, the catastrophe will be far worse.

He was right to fear that an unprecedented collapse of the world economy is at hand. There are so many things wrong already that it is all but unavoidable. Italy, for example, cannot repay the debt it is incurring to fight the outbreak there. That debt is going to have to be forgiven, and if the banks that hold it are going to survive, the EU will have to guarantee it. Venezuela, Iraq, Iran and probably Nigeria are all likely to default. At the same time, there will be corporations and financial entities collapsing as well.

He was wrong to imagine that the solution he proposes will do anything other than make matters even worse. If we do not contain this virus, it is going to be with us until an effective vaccine is available. (I don’t want to get into the vaccine argument here. I am always concerned that vaccines receive proper testing, and I know that they can never be entirely safe. But the benefits far outweigh the risks.) The reason that COVD-19 is so dangerous is that nobody who has not yet been infected is immune. Nobody. This means that, if we don’t effectively contain it, our species’ ability to care for its sick is going to be overwhelmed. There will be not thousands or even millions of victims, but eventually the number will run toward a billion, and will continue to rise until herd immunity sets in. At the same time, though, the increasing virus load in the species will lead to mutations. Whether or not they will be more or less lethal is simply a crapshoot.

In the end, then, if we go back to work, we will, probably within just months, be in an even worse situation than we are now.

In other words, there is no good way out of our present predicament. 

There are, however, some hard choices that are likely to work.

We must be prepared to do things to save our economies that are unprecedented. Financially strong countries will have to reach out to help weaker ones, lest they also be dragged down into the maelstrom of bankruptcies that will follow major national defaults. Governments must also protect the lives and livelihoods of their citizens with innovative and persistent support of frozen economic structures. For example, some European countries are simply guaranteeing the wages of laid-off employees, meaning that everything stays in place as long as necessary and people do not end up losing their businesses and their homes, possibly even starving.

The United States needs to adopt a similar policy. But this is a huge country compared, to say, Denmark, and there is a question of affordability. Innovative ways to make it affordable must be found, because without some sort of plan like it, the next two or three months are going to bring with them wave after wave of business failures, meaning that there are not going to be jobs to return to.

Ideology doesn’t matter anymore. Policies, such as the US policy of letting states bid against one another for emergency supplies instead of managing their distribution and cost at the federal level must stop at once. This is no time to apply conventional economic philosophy. The only result is that not enough supplies will be made available, especially in poorer states, and the disease will cripple their healthcare systems by decimating their medical workforce.

We have to face facts: trying to put any country back to work despite the fact that this will lead to a vast increase in contagion is going to lead instead to an even worse result that what we are doing now. In fact, it will result in a catastrophe of completely unprecedented and uncontrollable magnitude.

In the US, we are in grave danger from the politicalization of this issue. Glen Beck ended his statement with  the words, “let’s see if this trends.” In other words, can he start a groundswell of opinion among his followers that will spill out into the public at large?

Right now, that isn’t going to happen. But in a few weeks, if we are not back at work, the calls to reopen the country may well overwhelm the better judgement of policy makers. Then we will end up involved in one of the greatest gambles in human history, if not the greatest. May God be with us then.

22 Comments

  1. There are no clear cut right answers for this. My wife works at an essential business, so she is expected to show up even when health officials are calling for everyone to stay home. I get that we need to keep things going at least at a simmer, but at what cost? Her employer is offering little in the way of protection. No sanitizer, mask or gloves required and distancing is strictly up to the individual. This is a multi-national billion dollar company that isn’t providing any leadership. She has an underlying condition and would be in real trouble if she contracts it. We are debating if its worth her showing up for work this week.

    The simple concept of love thy neighbor needs to be used in every decision, but politics and money don’t allow that.

    1. Stan, first I want to send appreciation to your wife for her loyalty & courage to continue working for a company who seeems to be withholding health support from their employees. I whole heartedly recommend that you visit the website of Dr. David Brownstein who has a holistic clinic in Michigan, and with his 4 other colleagues has been treating Covid19 patients successfully & treating front-line medical workers for preventative measures. Not one person who he’s diagnosed as supposedly having covid has been hospitalized, or died or gotten worse. Covid symptoms are in fact very treatable & preventable. Look for his Covid Blog & read about treatment, prevention & watch his patient interviews. His work & dedication are enormously helpful. Wishing you & your wonderful wife strong health & all the very best!

      1. Thanks Keeper. My wife did decide to stay home the last two weeks. She went back yesterday and they were very busy. The company is in the agriculture sector and this is the busy season. They are threatening to fire her on Wednesday if she doesn’t get a note from the the doctor (that’s a different story I will leave alone). The company has finally put in safeguards, requiring masks and taking temps. I will check out the site, hopefully we don’t have to use it.

  2. After a vaccine and the development of herd immunity, maybe we have an almost empty canvas to paint on and we will perhaps focus on imagining a new basis for our economic and political ways.

  3. I think in some ways this is one huge experiment to find out what works. I’m currently in an essential business, a large Hospital organization. They’re trying to scramble and get as many people like me to work at home, and I’m in a high-risk group. We sanitize are areas three times a day try to do social distancing but most people don’t. I’m seeing a huge Resurgence of people starting to grow their own food and people buying baby chicks in our area. I think resiliency is a great thing. Being able to think outside the box and just do things differently at least for now. Sadly all of our libraries are closed, many restaurants all those summer still doing pick-up or delivery. But there is still some people on the news who are out and about and not practicing social distancing including churches. Maybe this is indeed a thinning of the herd. Time will tell and hopefully some preventive measures will come along in terms of a vaccine or something. In the meantime we can all try to keep our immune systems as healthy as possible, take vitamin D3, try to limit watching the news and find other ways to love your family if you can’t be with them in person. Ironically We Live 5 minutes from our daughter husband and grandson and can’t see them. Just trying to minimize the risk for everyone so we do video text for now. Hang in there everyone! Also Zoom was in the news as not being a secure way to have meetings. An investigation is going on. Will you still be using Zoom for subscribers? Thanks

  4. I agree that the “let’s see if this will trend” politically driven commentary to “sacrifice” the elders of our society on the altar of consumerism for the benefit of boards of shareholders of corporatopia was appallingly inhumane and a desperate attempt to mythologize a floundering ideology using that most ubiquitous and primal rhetoric of the “Sacrifice.” Sacrifice for what? The gods of commerce? Of Wall Street? Is that all America stands for now? That’s what he seemed to imply. That sacrificing Grandma to prevent change in the face of catastrophic upheaval was preferable to the unknown, which has to be worse than imaginable. It’s literally a crime against humanity, not unlike Hitler’s rhetoric, and beyond that, shows pure cowardice and a lack of imagination, unless imagination is only to be employed to envision enemies and conspiracies in every corner. Oh wait, there’s a name for that, paranoia, and it does not show wisdom, it’s mental illness or perhaps in this case, even worse, deliberate manipulation of a frightened populous– gasoline on fire–and at the least, unethical and frankly, the definition of evil and the Christian definition of the devil’s behavior. Yet, let’s go on and throw blame based on our “facts” some of which may be true about the Chinese conspiracy to overthrow the world by covertly buying up all the masks, which was probably just their own selfishness and fear ( something most Americans SHOULD relate to– or Obama who didn’t effectively replenish the stockpile (because apparently HE was SUPPOSED to be perfect and was not and is therefore the actual devil)). I’mreading Hamlet’s Mill, thank you Whitley. I actually teach humanities survey classes and folklore and mythology at the community college here and have taught Hamlet many times and this book is truly enlightening and a perspective on so many things. I love that you use the word “maelstrom” in this post. Please keep speaking truth to power. Thank you.

  5. I agree with virtually everything here, Whitley, although I’d disagree on one point: “Ideology doesn’t matter anymore.” I’m with you in spirit, but I think the more accurate way to put it is to say that it *shouldn’t* matter — not when we’re all inhabitants of a little blue ball spinning in space with finite resources. Unfortunately, the wealthy ruling classes at the top of the economic food chain will not willingly allow a pandemic to force them to give up what they have, or even to accumulate more before it all comes crashing down. Ideology (unfortunately) matters to the extent that the objective conditions of our lives (the basics — food, shelter, etc.) are largely dictated by the ideology of those who don’t feel obliged to share or help anyone.

  6. Thanks so very much, Whitley. Your perspective and conviction lend backbone. Just thinking, Glenn Beck is 4 years shy of 60. He’s deliberately including himself as an expendable “grandpa.” I’m wondering, then, about the relevance of various psychogical theories about a subconscious death wish activating, especially in times of overcrowding. Fear, in other words. And fear can take form in giving up spiritually on universal Love. There is a sacred sense of sacrificing self for others, and humans are very good at it. But there’s a perverse kind of sacrifice, also. It seems to me that if we take our stand at this precise point of choice, refusing to yield mental ground to fear, and if we demand the highest sense of love we know how in ourselves, we’ll be met with kisses, as it were, unforeseen creative ideas from “the Universe” – from the Father of light, Love itself, running to meet us prodigals who now see our mistaken ways and in (metaphorically) filthy, dusty, torn clothes beginning to come to our senses, returning home to Him in humility. I trust there will unfold surprising, caring ways of meeting urgent practical demands at every needed level. I trust that we will look back on this expanded moment in deep gratitude.

  7. Well said Whitely, a rare voice of common sense in the current nightmare. In the UK we are increasingly being told by the BBC and other media that the lockdown should be ended and it is ok to sacrifice elders to protect commerce. Fortunatley the government is holding firm for now. As a 70 year old, I resent the idea of being sacrificed to the god of money, and I think that the world will be a much worse place if that happens. As you say, easing off on the lockdown may be the greatest gamble in human history. Stay well.

  8. It seems many times over the last few years I read or heard in the media many saying “it is/was just like a movie” and many love to pay to see to scary movies. Except in this current iteration the zombies are in charge! When I was young I enjoyed that kind of movie but as I matured a bit I decided no additional fear was needed the “real world” offered enough of that sort of fun.

    Also I was introduced to the idea of the “unconscious death urge” that many of our us carry the unawareness of which may ultimately be the cause of much stupid and self-destructive behavior.

    There have been a number of comments about the old people sacrificing for the economic benefit of the whole. Many, not me, in our age range 70+ have resources to buy and then die good all around, end-of-life care is very expensive. Thing is, young or old, we will die how quick or how painful or with what degree of acceptance may be the only question. To spend the last days, however many, hiding behind closed doors is not my way. I will respect medical guidance and live as best I can helping where I can.

    We are one human species living on one small planet with no other home. This is the great and potential blessing of the virus that even as it separates us now that once the wave passes more folk will recognize our shared humanity. Once this wave passes we are still facing many other known, climate change, economic disruption, food scarcity and unknown disasters that will require all to pull together for the common good of those generations coming after us. Some spiritual teachings recommend that our decisions/actions consider those yet born some say seven generations. We stand on the shoulders of uncountable generations our present time created, in large measure, by the decisions of our ancestors. I don’t hear any discussion calling us to consider how we are where we are and how we contribute to what is to come after we die by virus or not.

  9. New York City, home to a very diverse population, has started releasing detailed information on the ethnicity of those dying from COVID-19. It’s not a pretty picture, and even worse in some other US urban areas, as the article shows. For example, one scientist is quoted as saying that a larger percentage of people in African-Amerian, Asian-American, Latino-American and Native American ethnic groups chronically suffer from a greater degree of stress than do Caucasians who identify as “white” people of Euro-American origin; the scientist explains that type of chronic stress is known as “weathering.” Link:https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/07/us/coronavirus-race.html

    1. There’s an important conclusion that can be drawn from my April 9th comment above. Glenn Beck, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (and for that matter, many virologists around the world) use the key concept of “herd immunity” when speaking about human populations that are largely immune to a particular contagious disease. However, if different ethnic groups are falling sick with, and/or dying from that disease at drastically different rates, then the reality of how we get to “herd immunity” with COVID-19 is through a drastic processing of culling more at-risk human ethnic groups. Doesn’t that scenario make the concept of “herd immunity” less useful as a planning tool?

      In addition, anyone’s claim that he would “give his life” in order to get his country back to work is, at best, not pertinent to the question at hand, and at worst is self-serving for Glenn Beck. What would anyone do with Glenn Beck’s life? Seriously.

      In the 3rd volume of the Reincarnation series of books, it talks about the decision that was made very long ago to establish five different races of humankind on Earth, what it describes as red, white, black, brown, and yellow. It also mentions that much of the chronic dissension we face as a species is because the Earth now has “too much diversity.”

  10. Coincidence or not? Today, one of the MD/MPHs that I follow on Twitter posted the following excerpt from his last night’s Passover seder prayer book, whose new relevance startled him:

    “Blessed art thou, O lord our God, King of the Universe, who commanded us to wash our hands.”

  11. (I dont mean to be insensitive) Heres a thought:
    when I heard about “shelter in place” my first reaction was one of what dont “they” want us to see? Now, something else bloomed…. what has this “stay at home” done for the environment?
    HG

  12. Two things I recall from the recent past:

    The last election, I remember many being angry at the choice of candidates, refusing to vote because it was an unfair that they had to choose between the lesser of two evils. Well now we’re having to choose between the lesser of two catastrophes.

    I also remember during the great recession numerous experts warning that our economic system was unsustainable and that America is always a catastrophe away from economic ruin. I guess we’ll see.

    For at least as long as I’ve been alive, America’s culture has revolved around two things: Working and shopping. “Life” as imagined by Henry Ford. So much so that we view a person working 12 to 16 hours a day everyday as a good thing; as something virtuous and to be aspired to.

    But in a situation like this where both working and shopping are restricted, then what do we have left? Who or what are we if we can’t just be workers and consumers?

    We will now have to figure that out, and the process will likely be very ugly. But it’s also necessary. The worst thing we can do is strive to go back to “normal” because normal is what got us here in the first place.

    Normal be damned. NEW! We need something new.

    And it’s depressing to hear people like Glenn Beck declare that they’re willing to sacrifice their lives and the lives of others just for a return to normalcy, yet they’re completely unwilling to sacrifice anything at all for something better.

  13. Unfortunately, when ever some person is affected in a negative way, a lot of people blame “him/her” as apposed to” it.” People are more (not less) to hunker down, and retreat to “news” sources like Fox news.

    Why? It’s not that any news is “factionally” different from any other source. Its the “spin” Fox puts on reporting news (when it gets around to just doing its job), every event as NOT being political. Good Luck, for all of us…

  14. Even if one’s priorities are just fixated on having the economy be churning: how do they not factor into their economic equations having 0.5 to 7 million dead due to a highly contagious virus might impact people’s appetites to go out to eat and shop?

    0.5 to 7 million is the estimated range of U.S. deaths if we had done nothing to slow down the spread of COVID-19 suggested by Harvard professor of epidemiology Dr. Marc Lipsich, a 3/16/20 Imperial College of London epidemiology model study, and world renown infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm.

    I work at a restaurant in the Minneapolis area of Minnesota that’s been state mandated closed due to COVID-19 since March 16th, 2020.

    I worked at the restaurant on March 15th, the day before the shutdown, and it was easily one of the slowest day of business I’ve ever seen there.

    No state mandated shut down policies did that.

    The extreme dearth of business was caused by people simply coming to understand the severity of COVID-19 and the risks for contagion by being in a public space that is usually tightly occupied wall-to-wall with people.

    However now since we’ve “flattened the curve” a false sense of security might be building. That, in combination with people’s quarantine patiences becoming taxed makes me worry if states open up again too soon people might resume to pre-COVID-19 life too quickly causing another surge to build.

  15. Thank you Whitley for your well balanced article regarding these unprecedented times. I’ve been a listener of your shows for decades but only a subscriber for the last few years. Silly me for not subscribing earlier. I love your shows and your well written blogs and love how you speak your mind, unafraid and to the point. Regarding our present situation our government in the U.K. was slow to act too, herd immunity what a great idea not, while one politician after another starting catching it, our own P.M. ended up in hospital with it. People in our country are getting restless too and want to relax the lockdown. I mean if Ann Frank could survive for 2 years in a tiny attic room evading the Nazis surely we can survive a few months with all our mod cons and Netflix for crying out loud ! Your president is quite mad by the way but I don’t think I need to remind you of this. A madness run by money, power and greed and not with compassion. As a key worker myself I worry for my own health having asthma, my own employer putting profit first before the health of the employees. Many have died already up and down our country, fit and healthy young people. This virus does not discriminate. I have also been pondering what John Hogue had said at the beginning of this year where debts may be wiped and there will be a financial and economical crisis. I think he may have been predicting this even though no one knew officially of this tiny microscopic threat at the time. I eagerly await his upcoming feet to the fire episode, it will be interesting 😊 stay safe and healthy Whitley, we know Anne is looking over you but we need you on this plane here and now more than ever. Blessings x

    1. Suzanne, check your local labour laws, where I live we have the legal right to refuse work if it appears to be dangerous or a health risk. If you’re fortunate enough to have them, you might want to raise your safety concerns with your coworkers and management.

      Nobody should be put at undue risk for someone else’s profits, especially in the current environment. Stay safe.

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