A ‘Swift’ approach to pandemic

Nearly three centuries ago, the Anglo-Irish satirist Jonathan Swift wrote an essay, “A Modest Proposal,” in which he advocated that Ireland’s poor families sell their infants to the rich as food.

The point of his straight-faced advocacy for infanticide and cannibalism was inequality, an issue that persists today.

Let’s imagine that Swift or one of his successors landed in America today, in the midst of a pandemic, and surveyed our society and its challenges.

One issue certain to attract his attention would be the elderly, who serve little purpose except to occupy space and burn through the Social Security trust fund.

Ah, the Social Security trust fund.

It’s now scheduled to run out of money in 2035, and after that taxpayers will shoulder the burden of all those baby boomers now collecting their monthly payments.

Swift certainly would see a solution, especially when four of five COVID-19 fatalities have been seniors 65 or older. So, his modest proposal of 2021 would be to go back to 2019.

All businesses are open, all bars are packed shoulder to shoulder, no one wears a mask, and no one needs to get a vaccine.

By the time herd immunity is achieved in 2022 or 2023, we would have pared the Social Security rolls substantially, the trust fund would last a while longer, and Congress would have no need to raise the Social Security tax cap that exclusively benefits high earners.

Of course, innumerable grandmothers and grandfathers would have died of COVID-19, but Swift would argue that they would have died anyway at some point, and their premature deaths benefit society and hold down taxes.

Is this what we want, this Swiftian approach to ending the pandemic? Certainly not.

But we may be heading in that direction, as states open for business without any restrictions and a substantial portion of the population refuses to get the COVID-19 jab.

Central Pennsylvania, where not wearing a face mask is a dubious badge of honor for some, has disproportionately borne the brunt of COVID-19 deaths in the commonwealth.

Of the counties with the highest rates of deaths per 100,000 residents, most are in Pennsylvania’s midsection. Cambria County ranks sixth among 66 counties by that measure, Huntingdon is eighth, Bedford is ninth, and Blair County is tied for 11th with Somerset. (Mifflin County tops the list.)

While death notices no longer fill entire pages of the newspaper, as occurred in January, this plague is by no means over, and the numbers of cases and deaths are starting to tick upward again.

If we are fortunate, it’s only a plateau. Or, we are in a fourth surge with more avoidable deaths. We can do better, for our seniors and ourselves.

For Central Pennsylvania and all of America, only one road leads out of this dark valley.

Get the shots, reopen judiciously and wear the mask.

A journalist for more than 55 years, Blair Township resident Don Clippinger is a Social Security recipient.


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