Coronavirus Musings

by Daniel A. Kaufman


[1]  Using online communications platforms as a replacement for in-person, physical socializing had already done enormous damage to human relationships – and especially those of young people – well before the social distancing mandates required to combat the novel coronavirus were imposed.  I am worried that this collective social ineptitude will metastasize in light of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

[2]  A constant drumbeat of fear and concern for “safety” has already rendered much of the Millennial and Gen-Z populations fragile, anxious and essentially unsuited for adult life. This only will be worsened by the fears raised by this pandemic.

[3]  Taken together, 1. & 2. make me fear that unless these social and psychological developments are addressed and reversed, the country will suffer a serious decline, with regard to virtually every social, economic, and political indicator, once Generation X passes from the scene, and the country and its public and private institutions are being run by Millennials and Gen Z.

[4]  Imagine another really bad flu season, like 2017-18, when over 60,000 people died in the US from influenza. Imagine further that the year’s vaccine is for the wrong strain and thus, ineffective. If media provides daily coverage of rising infection and mortality numbers, as well as a national map in which these daily increases are visually represented with growing and overlapping red circles, and 24/7 reporting on every overwhelmed hospital, do you think the country could be convinced to lock down in the manner we have with the novel coronavirus? [Just to be clear, I am in favor of our current policy. What I am wondering about is the extent to which similar media coverage could persuade people to react this way on other occasions.]

[5] In confronting the novel coronavirus, I don’t understand why it is a better strategy to do a universal lockdown than to quarantine those in the most vulnerable populations. It seems to me that if one did the latter, the rest would develop immunity, the antibody-rich blood from which therapies might be developed. Given that universal lockdown is widely recommended among infectious disease experts, I assume that I am missing something.  What is it?

[6]  In the public conversation surrounding federal relief aimed at helping individuals get through an extended period of closed workplaces and layoffs, I’ve seen many progressives rail against also providing such relief for companies and other businesses. What jobs do progressives expect people to return to, if their employers have gone out of business?

[7]  It did not take long for the loonier fringes of social justice to begin reading the novel coronavirus through the lens of identity politics: from bemoaning the fact that “gender affirming” surgeries have been put on hold, in light of overwhelmed hospitals, to the “racism” of Covid-19, to claiming that the virus is a “women’s issue,” despite the fact that men suffer from it at significantly higher rates, it’s the standard sort of fare we’ve all come to expect from the pathologically woke. I am seeing very little patience for it, however, even among those for whom this sort of thing ordinarily tends to be appealing, and I wonder whether perhaps one good outcome of this disaster will be to considerably reduce the amount of identity politics we will have to endure in the future.

[8]  Relatedly, I wonder whether social justice types’ favorite strategy of abusing the harm principle – i.e. labeling everything they dislike as “harm” so as to be justified in curtailing others’ liberties – will be much less effective, now that everyone has had a strong taste of what real harm looks like.

[9]  My daughter is graduating high school this Spring, as well as turning eighteen. She will have no graduation.  No prom.  No senior party.  No eighteenth birthday party. She is handling it like a champ, but I am heartbroken for her and for all of the other graduating seniors who will have this once-in-a-lifetime experience snatched from them by this wretched virus. At least she and her cohort will be able to help insure that our stupid and degenerate President will be a one-termer.

[10]  I am inclined to think that in the aftermath of this pandemic, the rush to globalize more and more of nations’ economies will be halted. Globalization enthusiasts in the developed world have always tried to convince us that de-industrialization and outsourcing are inevitable, but in truth, they are a matter of the political will of nations.  One thing the current pandemic has made clear is just how dangerous it is to depend on other countries to manufacture all of our x’s, y’s, and z’s.  Another is how quickly pathogens can move from one country to the next, given essentially global mass transit and effectively open borders. It is hard to see the current pandemic failing to have a substantial impact on industrial, travel, and immigration policy in the future.

[11]  While I am not really expecting it, I would hope that an emergency like this would impress upon people the importance of competent, sound political leadership and consequently, would have significant effects with regard to our voting inclinations and habits, including, importantly:

(a) Never engaging in “fuck you” voting again.  Donald Trump’s presidency is the result of such a vote, and while I am sympathetic with many of the reasons why certain parts of the country wanted to deliver such a message, there simply is too much at stake in elections to employ them as a form of messaging (as Trump’s calamitous handling of the pandemic indicates).


(b) Abandoning any and all forms of political purity. Purity politics leads to third-party voting in presidential elections, and in the US that effectively means voting for one’s opponent. When the opponent is Donald Trump – or any other catastrophically unsuitable person  – this is disastrous.  (I might not be saying this were it not for the fact that so many in the Bernie Brigade are loudly announcing that they would just as soon have Trump be elected than sully their virtue by voting for Biden.)

[12]  Previously, I’ve written about how strange – and distasteful – I find the constant smarmy and ingratiating public calls to “thank our active duty and retired military for their service.” As the current pandemic runs its course, I am struck by the enormous risk that the most ordinary people working the most common jobs are taking, whether supermarket stock clerks and cashiers, home delivery personnel, mailmen and women, and of course doctors and nurses, all in an effort to keep society afloat. I wonder whether in the future we will be hearing public calls to thank delivery boys and cashiers for their service or whether we will continue only to extend that courtesy to those whose service involves the application of violence abroad.






23 responses to “Coronavirus Musings”

  1. s. wallerstein

    As to number 5, young people live with old people in many homes. If young people are allowed to socialize freely, they’ll go back home and infect their parents or grandparents. Some people may live in such large homes that possibly infected people and vulnerable people are easily be kept separate, but many families live crowded into small apartments with one bathroom.

  2. Kendra

    I agree with these points, especially 7 and 12. Do you really think Trump won’t be reelected? I don’t see him losing, even if your daughter and I vote against him.

  3. Yes, I think you are right Dan, we will have to re-evaluate politics and economics. One question that has arisen here in the UK is: What is good leadership? The UK government only started to take decisive action at the beginning of March. You got the feeling that they were afraid to act. The only Tory politician who had any proven experience of crisis management, Rory Stewart, had been kicked out of the party last year.

    Re your point 12: people here in the UK clap every Thursday evening outside of their houses to show appreciation for health workers, supermarket workers, delivery drivers, postal workers, care home workers, etc. Without them life would come to a halt.
    Wishing you good health!

  4. I’m hoping, not predicting. Until this pandemic, I was sure he’d win, but now I am less so.

  5. Yes, that certainly makes sense.

  6. al

    Indeed. This can’t be fine tuned unless we are willing to literally sort folks out and lock them up. I noticed something interesting in Nevada. Once you take out Clark, Washoe, and southern Nye counties in southern Nevada, there are only double digit counts across the northern tier of counties – Elko, Humboldt, and Churchill counties. Common factor – I-80. In the center, White Pine has one and Eureka and Lander have none. Their common highway is U.S. 50 – the “loneliest highway in America.” Folks move around – can’t fine tune this.

    The only way we get herd immunity is vaccination and isolation until we get a vaccine or the willingness to accept six or seven figure deaths.

  7. Re 5, as best I can tell, something close to 20% of people 20-44 who get the virus require hospitalization, even if, with such care, they rarely die. I haven’t seen any experts argue that there is a “least vulnerable population” we can just let the thing loose on and not overwhelm hospital capacity. Some states may soon try this, though.

  8. Bunsen Burner

    So let’s examine [5] as there are a number of issues with it. First of all what counts as vulnerable? Health complications leading to morbidity? One estimate I recently heard was 2/3 of the US population has health conditions that react badly with the virus. Even so, the problem is not so much the virus’s lethality, but the fact that significantly more people require hospitalization. Not just the “vulnerable” ones. It’s the overwhelming of health services (hospitals, ambulances, etc) that is the problem. Once overwhelmed not only will more people die from the virus in all demographics, but you will see more secondary deaths too. For example, people suffering from a heart attack or victims of a car accident may not get treated in time. This is the problem with an exponentially increasing contagion.

    Finally a word on immunity. So far we don’t know if people do become immune, or even if they do, for how long they stay immune. We also have the fear of a more lethal mutation. The more the virus spreads the more opportunities for such a mutation to occur. Hence the need to keep things under control.

  9. al

    “…the country will suffer a serious decline, with regard to virtually every social, economic, and political indicator, once Generation X passes from the scene.”

    You mean the folks (along with the Greatest, Silent and Boomer generations) who got us into this? The folks who elected Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bushes, Clinton, Obama, and Trump? The rot runs deep. B and X are the problem and the sooner they go the better (I’m 75 so don’t assume).

    While there’s a lot of ruin in a nation, the ruin in the U.S. began well before Trump so we may well have hit the tipping point.

  10. The point I made was very specific and your second paragraph isn‘t responsive.

  11. DW

    Dan, those are all interesting things to consider. Lots of people, of course, are already claiming “in the aftermath of the virus, the future must be _____”. That’s all very speculative at this point, but I’m sure the experience of going through this will become part of how we argue over goals and policy.

    In the vein of your “while I am not really expecting it, I would hope that an emergency like this would impress upon people the importance of…” comment about elections, I’d make a point like that about the military. I share your distaste for the calls to “thank our service members for their service”. (On that, have you read James Fallows on Chicken Hawk Nation?) But I think the bigger problem is how poorly the military is suited to deal with our problem and how unaware people are about this.

    I like to point out to people that the military buys vast amounts of expensive specialty equipment, and spends vast amounts of time on training, for the purpose of killing people and blowing shit up. That is a very narrow tool kit that isn’t very useful for helping with most of the problems that come up at home or abroad. But since the military is so big and sucks up so much money, we end up using it for strange things like it is the only real federal jobs program for poor and minority youth.

    So my hope but not expectation is that people will want a much smaller military that is tasked with actual defense and not global power projection. And that they will want to invest instead in building up competent institutions that are directly focused on the other–and often more pressing–problems that we will face.

  12. al

    “What jobs do progressives expect people to return to, if their employers have gone out of business?”

    This is a hangover from 1980s “trickle down economics.” The progressive (and liberal for that matter) reaction to the Republican proposals is the result of the way the recovery was handled after the 2008 financial crisis. We have Trump because of the way it was handled. We have fascist and authoritarian movements around the world because center-right governments bought into neo-liberal notions about “confidence” and austerity.

    The Democratic bill was a vast improvement over the initial Republican proposal but still only a start. Once we abstract out the crazies (that you seem to pay way too much attention to) from the discussion we are left with the reality that the only leverage Congressional Democrats have is a House majority that isn’t inclined to repeat the mistakes from 2009 -10. It is perfectly reasonable for them to insist on accountability and to insist on measures that help employees and actual small businesses.

    Businesses exist because they fulfill demands and the folks who have those demands need money. Executive salaries and bonuses and stock buy-backs don’t help regular employees and customers (as well as small businesses).

    Recent Labor Department rulings and the firing of Inspectors General clearly show that left to the Administration it would be Fat City all over again.

  13. Again you seem not to want to address my question, but rather take up something I’m not talking about, i.e. executive bonuses, etc.

  14. al

    I guess my point is that you don’t factor in “necessity,” lineally extrapolate your experience with M and Z, and fail to factor in the fragility and privilege of generations from the Greatest to X as well as the fact that it was those generations who started the whole “baby on board,” self-esteem, helicopter thing as well as giving us the blessings of “conservative” goverance.

    The point of boot camp is to get teenagers to elevate their thinking and just plain old life can have similar results – just takes longer. People do grow up and step up as life goes on. Amazing what folks can measure up to when life happens. Ten years ago it would have been a reasonable bet that my nephew would have been in jail or dead by now. Instead he has a solid income and a family. Common happening.

    The Greatest Generation were mostly young during the great Depression and came out of the service to the GI Bill, union jobs, and post war prosperity. Housing was plentiful and cheap. We Silent and Boomers had basically free higher education and access to housing that (with appreciation) would make us quite well off. These generations were the first to really benefit from New Deal and Great Society automatic stabilizers (SS, UI, Medicare, SNAP, etc.).

    Compared to the folks who had to full on confront the Great Depression as well as those who came before them, we Greatest, Silents, and Xs had it made and were quite spoiled (I did UC basically free and mostly retired in the late 1980s, how sweet it was!). The kids will be fine, we just need to get out of the way (at least those of us who vote R).

  15. I completely disagree with your assessment of the relative hardships suffered by the various generations (demonstrably, young people today have it better than any generation prior), and “getting out of the way” would be the worst possible thing we could do. I have been teaching since 1993, with over 10,000 students having passed through my doors and what has happened to young peoples’ development is a flat-out catastrophe.

    Also, I don’t vote Republican. I am a Democrat.

  16. al

    You are talking about “executive bonuses” (as well as stock buybacks,etc.), you just don’t realize it (I know you disagree but the 2008 FC was a historical inflection point). If we set aside the musings of a far leftist fringe who are totally irrelevant, the current concerns over the various relief bills are based on the abuses of TARP, etc. Trump would not be president if Obama had listened to folks like Romer and Warren more and never hired Geithner and Emanuel as well as using HARP to keep folks in their homes instead of as a means to slow walk foreclosures.

    The “progressive” objections to which you refer must have a context which you don’t provide. Anyone who is aware of the abuses and problems that resulted from the poorly thought out and crafted measures that came out of the 2008 financial crisis will be concerned about present proposals. Anyone who is aware of the initial Administration/Senate proposals as well as current attempts of that administration to weasel around the restrictions of those bills that have been enacted will be suspicious of anything Trump/McConnell proposes.

    Consider that folks often speak in a shorthand that can be misunderstood as a function of ones priors. No one wants the local hardware store to go out of business. The problem is writing legislation and setting up oversight that gets help where it’s needed. Doing that when everyone involved is acting in good faith is going to be hard; doing it when one side is ideologically committed to austerity and hell-bent on corruption is really hard.

    In another life, and for my sins, I had to deal with morons on the far left and far right. Focusing on them is a mostly a waste of time. At a certain point on the political spectrum (left and right) one is mostly dealing with mental illness.

  17. It’s not just the local hardware store. If Delta goes out of business, thousands and thousands of workers, from stewardesses to mechanics to food service workers will be out of work. I am very well aware of all the things you mention, nonetheless I disagree with you.

  18. s. wallerstein

    In Chile we have exactly the same problems, for example, the possibility of Latam, the airline, going bankrupt as well as other big corporations. Some economists have suggested that the government invest in them in exchange for partial ownership to keep them from going broke. That way the government will have a say (as a stock holder) in assuring that they restructure their activities in the public interest and when the price of the stock goes up (as it will when the crisis is over), the government can make a profit selling it. That seems like a good way to keep these companies for failing completely without handing cash over to big business in exchange for nothing.

  19. al

    Did not mean to imply you voted R, just generalizing, but your (former?) conservatism does show. We all will get out of the way as we all will go the way of all flesh. I guess this is a where you sit depends on where you stand matter.

    How many longitudinal studies have you done on those 10,000? Most are probably doing OK. To the extent they come to you with developmental deficiencies, well, who was responsible for their education and development? What generation(s) dismissed history and civics (as well as voting for the tax cuts that made having nice things impossible. The folks who raised the kids you worry about are the problem.

    You may be right and we are at a tipping point but maybe not. Extrapolating from teenagers to when life happens seems a bit much.

    Re: Hardships. I sometimes wonder at my luck at being born when I was and dying when I likely will. Cycles and golden ages happen. Being born during the Plague years was a problem. Just after, one was likely bucks up – nothing like a labor shortage to help the working man. You were born into a nation that had lost in Vietnam and was shifting to neo-liberalism and the right. I was born into a nation that was winning WW II and was still in the New Deal dispensation.

    Challenges will always be there but going to school when history, etc. was still taught and university was basically free and graduating into an expanding economy with plentiful and cheap housing as well as pensions was a thing for awhile and then it wasn’t.

  20. Bunsen Burner said pretty much what I wanted to say about point 5. We’ve been behind the curve on this, and in the US, lacking national leadership, we’re behind pretty much everybody’s curve.

    As to point 10: This won’t end globalization. It will change it; but the service industries and financial sectors are too intertwined globally, and the flooding of currency will actually need global re-balancing for some years to come. The effort to exchange medical goods and information, and the eventual exchange of security and population management information, will draw certain nations closer together – in some ways that will be celebrated, in others of which those of us outside of government and finance will probably know nothing about.

    One of the sad things about the current crisis is the way that what should be a shared concern has been politicized. You’re right about the left-wing; but the right-wing has been even worse, since promulgating mis-information publicly to maintain political position as well as Blatherhead’s “ratings.”

    As for the election… unfortunately at this point it’s a flip of the coin whether Blatherhead postpones the election, or how the Republicans manipulate the crisis to interfere with the voting.

    This may be the end of federalism in America. “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” – Winston Churchill Unfortunately, I fear we are about to see the coming of forms of government we haven’t yet tried – and may not like much once they’re fully installed – by then, of course, it’ll be too late.

  21. al

    I’m not sure where the disagreement is? As a generic concept a “Delta” can’t go out of business as long as folks need/want to fly. The planes, airports, and workers will still exist. Generic Delta can go chapter 11 and reorganize at which point the flying happens as long as the demand is there. What needs to happen (and what the left in general wants) is legislation that protects the workers as we know from experience that, absent rules and oversight, the folks who run our generic Delta will treat the employees as so much fodder. They will lay off workers and use bankruptcy as an excuse to end union contracts and screw over pensioners.

    If you are aware that absent appropriately written rules and serious oversight regular employees are likely to get screwed over, with what do you disagree? This seems a “job creator” fallacy. Demand and customers create jobs.

    The libertarian right is stuck in Von Mises-land and the far left believes shooting bosses means ponies for all. They are irrelevant. Meanwhile Trump and McConnell et al want to empower fraud and theft while Pelosi and the dreaded AOC merely want a little fairness.

    BTW, everything has a shelf life. Pan Am was once a big deal. Delta bought most of it when it crashed and burned. Pan Am is gone, as is Eastern. Meanwhile the planes keep flying.

  22. alandtapper1950

    Michael Fullilove (international relations scholar) recently summarised the coronavirus impact on world affairs. This is my condensed version of what he wrote. Alan

    First, the nation is back. This is a global crisis, but we have all turned inwards, not outwards.

    Second, the state is back. Governments are intervening in national economies and central banks are wading into financial markets.

    Third, globalisation has lost its gloss. Borders are closed and travel is banned. The dream of European integration has been dented. The WHO has been compromised. No one is looking to the UN for solutions, or for hope.

    Fourth, despite this, international co-operation has never been more important. Never before have we been so alert to best practice and policy innovation abroad, whether it is a testing program or an economic stimulus. A vaccine will not be found without international scientific co-operation.

    Fifth, the US, which was already self-isolating under the presidency of Donald Trump, is now seriously unwell. The world is facing a global health crisis and a global economic crisis, and our last line of defence is The Donald. Forget global leadership: Washington’s response to the virus has been hopeless.

    Sixth, China has also tested positive. The same authoritarian system that checked the spread of the virus was also responsible for covering it up for months and allowing it to disperse from Wuhan to the world. When the crisis is over, with armies of dead and a battered global economy, does anyone believe China will go blameless?

    Seventh, Europe is in intensive care. The devastation wrought by corona in the heart of Europe is shocking. This experience has undermined Europe’s coherence and exposed its frailties as a global player.

    Eighth, corona will make the poor poorer. Most citizens of the global south can’t work from home and don’t have clean water to wash their hands, so the virus will probably spread widely. Underfunded health systems may be overwhelmed.

    Ninth, the difficulty of imposing social distancing in many countries must also undermine confidence that the world will take collective action in response to climate change, an issue that is just as important as COVID-19, but less urgent.

    The final point is a positive one. Leadership and inspiration in this crisis have come from countries such as Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea. The coronavirus performance of the superpowers has been unimpressive, while smaller, more agile countries with rational politicians and effective bureaucracies have done better.

  23. Kanthelpmyself

    [4]-[5] The variables here are the “known unknowns.” At the time of lockdowns in the US, Covid-19 was regarded as more contagious than flu, with a potentially higher mortality rate, and possible permanent health impairments post-recovery. Therefore, not comparable with flu. Currently, a principal unknown preventing removal of lockdowns is the actual rate of infection—with and without symptoms—without which determining mortality and projecting potential rate of immunization is speculative.
    In addition, political turnabouts have created secondary issues. Until a week or two into February, the threat of coronavirus was minimized virtually across the board at every level of government—Trump, Cuomo, De Blasio, etc.— and in every media outlet. That was partly due to incomplete and misleading information from the Chinese government. Rates of infections in northern Italy and Washington State made clear that the Chinese government had withheld important information. The media and most government officials who had earlier downplayed the threat went into CYA overdrive, overcompensating for inaction earlier, and not even bothering to address their prior assurances. The media went from disinterest to hysteria before you could say “sanitizer,” stampeding the politicians like steers. Now, they don’t know what to do.
    [6] Some believe that to get fundamental change long-term, it is useful to make socio-economic conditions as bad as possible short-term.
    [7] That the media is, in the very teeth of the pandemic, continuing to push identitarian politics and otherwise to fuel acrimony through blame-finding, does not bode well for any reconsideration and refocusing by the media after the immediate emergency. We are a media-ridden society, and many of the people who went into news media for the express purpose of promoting such views are now in management positions.
    [8] The social-justice types’ promotion of the stories you mention in para. 7 suggests they are trying to maintain the “victimization gap” between the and the majority and the members of the identitarian categories—i.e., “they still have it worse.”
    [11] Not a good bet. A democracy requires both a reasonable level of public interest and understanding and an independent and fair-minded news media, and the former is to some extent dependent on the latter. As a result of its own excesses, the national news media has little or no credibility. Many people are finding other sources for assistance in making sense of the world. Some are good, others less so.