Lesson from connoisseur of economics

John Maynard Keynes, celebrated economist of the 1930s, was a fierce debater.

In one, he abruptly changed his position on a certain important issue. Understandably, his opponent immediately questioned his “flip flop” on the issue.

Keynes caustically responded: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

The debate was over — and Keynes prevailed.

In my view, we are at a similar juncture with the COVID-19 crisis.

To review, COVID-19 started infecting humans in China in early December 2019, but the Chinese Communist Party delayed notifying the world. By that time, the city of Wuhan, which is more populous than New York City, was fully engulfed.

Based on Chinese Communist Party news reports, the city was on lockdown and being constantly sprayed. Many deaths were reported, and many more were suspected — but not reported.

On Jan. 31, President Donald Trump banned flights from China and from certain European countries somewhat later.

As the virus appeared to be a highly contagious, indiscriminate killer, we reacted by shelter in place orders for the population and closure of most service businesses.

As the service sector makes up over 80% of our GDP, the economic impact was

devastating but viewed as necessary.

As of early May, the virus has spread to 182 countries, and three months have passed (February-April), and we have learned much about COVID-19.

The international data inform us that COVID-19 is more contagious than we thought, but less fatal than we thought and appears highly discriminatory.

Further, COVID-19 appears to affect mostly seniors and those with pre-existing conditions most severely. Elderly, especially those with pre-existing conditions (obesity, diabetes, heart issues) are especially at risk.

All seniors are increasingly susceptible — as the human immune system deteriorates as we age. Conversely, children, who have the best immune capability, are the least susceptible.

Adults become more susceptible as they approach senior status.

What system would one design to address COVID-19 as we now know it? Clearly, nursing homes, assisted care facilities, senior communities and any facility which serves a preponderance of seniors or those with pre-existing conditions, require and deserve all the resources necessary to protect those potential victims.

Children, while being appropriately monitored, should be able to return to normal school activities and exempt from social distancing.

Adults and children should be allowed to resume their normal activities with one proviso.

Be cognizant of the presence of seniors and those with pre-existing conditions who can get the virus from adults and children.

Appropriate precautions can, and should, be taken to protect the vulnerable.

Businesses, churches, hospitals, higher education and non-profit institutions should be allowed to open — each being responsible for, and tasked with, taking appropriate mitigation actions.

Let us channel Keynes and change our minds (and policies) when the facts change.

Gable resides in Altoona. He is an occasional contributor to the Mirror’s Opinion page.


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