Re-assessing Social Distancing and Economic Suspension

James West

Okay great so the next leg down in the us-versus-them mentality of polarized global politicization of everything has us divided into two camps again: those who think the best way to halt the spread of a new virus is to stay home and those who think the best approach is to ignore it.

Both approaches have merit.

If we continue about our business, and don’t isolate or distance ourselves from one another, the rate of infection will increase, and so will the number of deaths. But this will also result in a faster herd response to the virus, potentially resulting in the quick establishment and incremental proliferation of varying degrees of immunity. Even if its temporary, like when you get over the common cold, its a positive overall effect on the herd’s ability to resist future iterations.

If we continue to isolate and keep the economy shut down, the risk of severe financial distress widens, and the economy suffers damage such as the permanent closing of businesses that can’t survive on zero revenue. The herd’s immune response is slowed, and potentially the rate of new infections slows, but the duration of the pandemic is extended.

Pros and cons on either side, but the reality is, unrest and resistance to “shelter-in-place” guidance and social distancing is growing – particularly among youth, for whom social interaction is the most important thing in life.

We must ask ourselves, as a society, if it makes sense to stunt the economy and the full living of life across the whole population to protect one vulnerable group who, without argument, is in the later stages of their life span. While it may seem sociopathic to make that statement, we can only advance in our collective thinking if we can have these conversations without sentiment.

My mother is 80, and lives in a retirement community. If COVID-19 were to land on her doorstep, the chances are high that she would be infected and possibly suffer the worst case scenario. Does that make me feel like everyone in Canada should stay home to protect my mother? My mother herself would say “don’t be silly”.

She’s probably in better shape than most of her age group; spry, active, completely self-reliant, and augmenting her retirement income with prolific knitting, she embodies the independent spirit. And suffers no assistance, financial or otherwise, from any of her children (for the most part…we do sneak money onto her credit card here and there…)

Though I am arguably predisposed toward a protective response for her, I am at the same time watching my teenage nephew, who is ready to start university next year, become morose and bitter over the deprivation of freedom that has befallen him through no fault of his  own.

I can’t help but presume this is engendering a feeling of resentment among that demographic, and resentment is a dangerous sentiment in young people. It leads toward sociopathy, which is itself a dark seed with the potential to express itself in negative actions.

We are theoretically trying to prevent our hospitals from becoming overwhelmed through this collective cooperation, and by extension support the health care workers who are thrust into a life-threatening daily existence, trying to treat the infected.

While it sounds callous and misanthropic to put the competitive economy ahead of the cooperative prioritization of the health of society, we must recognize the damage we are doing to ourselves socially by intentionally stifling productivity. The escalating fractures in our already overly polarized world are just one of the dividends paid by restricting all activity and movement.

Wouldn’t it be better to let society’s members choose for themselves the level of protection and isolation they would observe based on their own assessment of risk? Obviously, we can protect our elderly and at-risk through their isolation, and not have to inflict their circumstances on the broader world.

Or am I being too insensitive?

James West

James West

Editor and Publisher

James West founded Midas Letter in 2008 and has since been covering the best of Canadian and US small cap companies. He covers global economics, monetary policy, geopolitical evolution, political corruption, commodities, cannabis and cryptocurrencies. As an active market participant, James is not a journalist and is invariably discussing markets...
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