The developed world has a gigantic population of very old people for the first time in human history. Three things created this scenario: (1) the post-WWII baby boom; (2) advances in medicine and technology clear across the board; and – the thing almost no one is talking about – (3) profound generational wealth inequality that provides the elderly with far superior and cheaper medical care than younger generations.
In Italy, where the coronavirus has decimated one of the wealthiest regions, the elderly comprise fully one-quarter of the country’s population. Got that? A quarter of their population is 65 or older because people are living so long now and the birth rate in developed nations is so low.
One of the consequences of this situation is that developed countries now have a large fraction of their population that is especially susceptible to disease. You have millions of elderly people who can afford to have their hips and knees replaced over and over, but a normal cold or flu season becomes potentially deadly. And the mainstream media has discovered this, so expect them to fear-monger it up every year from now on. (Elderly people are pretty much the only demographic that consumes significant amounts of corporate news content anyway.)
The end result will be that, over time, no one under the age of 65 will trust what the media and the government have to say about the spread of disease in general. This is a grand pattern at this point: Iran never started WWIII. Net neutrality was not the Internet’s last stand. Tax reform did not kill anyone. We’ve had about 6,509, 103 “constitutional crises.” And the coronavirus is not going to turn the US into The Walking Dead. We’ve somehow survived a long string of non-existent Armageddons, and the only thing that has died is polite discourse and the government’s ability to provide and pay for essential services because it’s too busy spending future generations’ earnings on foreign wars and manufactured crises.
Watching the bureaucratic response to the coronavirus unfold, it is abundantly clear the public health bureaucracy in pretty much every developed country had not prepared for this situation – which will extend far beyond the coronavirus panic – or at least not wide public awareness of it. This is not unusual, as government bureaucrats are usually awful at thinking about risk and risk management. In fact, it’s a real problem that we seemingly have a lot of bureaucrats who like to imitate the worst, most anti-social behavior of the corporate media complex.
We cannot have panic, Venezuela-style runs on essential goods and services, and shut down schools and the economy over every seasonal epidemic. We would be living in a permanent economic recession. We would be living from one deficit-exploding fiscal stimulus to another. This is not an intelligent way to manage a modern society. You are looking at a situation where eventually no one will have quality access to health care because we have incrementally destroyed public policy infrastructure and the wealth of nations.
Instead of quarantining major cities and killing small businesses, we should be focusing on ways to physically remove senior citizens from harm. They should be the only “shut-ins” in situations like this. In a world where food and supplies can be delivered anywhere, cheaply and with almost immediate gratification, this should not be a problem.
At this very moment, you have relatively healthy people waiting in line for three hours at Costco to fight over supplies that should be available to the medically vulnerable people, who should be the only “shut-ins,” and now won’t be. You know what’s maximizing the spread of pathogens, above and beyond the coronavirus? The freaking government- and media-inspired panic driven by this quarantine mentality. I honestly can’t think of a better way to get sick than touching a Walmart shopping cart. There is literally nothing the government does better than accomplishing inefficiencies.
Magnifying this problem is that senior citizens want to live close to the best medical care available. And our social policy for decades now has emphasized moving to highly-concentrated (read: disease-prone) urban areas. On a normal day, New York City has garbage piled up on sidewalks and rats so pushy they’ve become Internet celebrities. Of course urban areas and public transportation are major public health concerns. So we have the most medically vulnerable people living in and around the most disease-prone areas because of access to care. You couldn’t design a more fragile social system if you tried.
As much as I love to see the normalization of working remotely and homeschooling (it’s about freaking time), it is insane and unsustainable to have the minority dictating the behavior of the majority in literally every aspect of daily life.
If this sort of behavior becomes a regular, ritualized response to illness, you will start to see durable changes in the standard of living in developed countries. In the United States, Baby Boomers are sitting on over 50% of the nation’s wealth, compared to Millennials who are sitting on 3%. And Baby Boomers have socialized medicine and government-issued basic income that younger generations are paying for – even though they are the population that can least afford it – and will likely never experience it themselves because these programs are on clear paths to insolvency. We are looking at a future where the younger generations will be experiencing lost lifetimes not lost decades because we’ve laid the entire economy at the feet of a single demographic, and it’s not “billionaires.”