Self-Quarantining into Economic Depression

April 5, 2020

After multiple conversations with many respected clients in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, I wanted to broach a subject that has caused some in our nation a shame-storm of criticism. I want to suggest that our public remedy, specifically our one-size-fits-all approach to Coronavirus, will soon have an irreversible impact on our country for 2020 and beyond, and that it risks untold damage to companies and entire industries if we continue on this path much longer—and to the lives of the millions of people who work in them.

Most of you know me as a fact-based analytic. I make recommendations based on evidence, context, the preponderance of the evidence, and the common sense that one develops over 30 years in private practice. Today, I’m again weighing in from that same position, to put the current crisis in a proper context. Some will say that any cost/benefit analysis is insensitive, or that “it places economic progress ahead of human life.” I beg to differ, but I am sure there will be those who are inclined to shame me as they have others.

Let’s look at the facts thus far:

As of today, Sunday, April 5th, the coronavirus has infected 1.25 million people worldwide, with 95% of those infected having mild symptoms. In the U.S., over 8500 people have died “with or from” the coronavirus, a death rate of 26 people per 1 million population. In Sweden, one of the few countries in the world that has not quarantined their entire population, over 400 people have died, a death rate of 40 people per 1 million of population. Incidentally, I say “with or from coronavirus” because one of the more recent scandals in this crisis involves the number of physicians in New York City who are calling TV networks and talk radio stations to say that hospitals there are making no distinction between whether or not coronavirus was the cause of death, or something that complicated a pre-existing condition—either of which could have been the cause of death.

The overwhelming evidence shows that the virus is especially brutal on people who are elderly or already immuno-compromised, overweight, or suffering from diabetes, heart disease, or are in a weakened condition due to recent treatments like chemotherapy. In addition, since these health issues tend to occur in older populations, people over 60 are encouraged to be especially careful in their comings and goings, and avoid unnecessary exposure.  Most of us already know all of this.

Now, let’s put that in some context. The virus has been active in the United States since late January. The original modeling for how many millions of people were going to become infected and die from coronavirus included up to 20 million people worldwide, a figure that even the authors of those original early models have since disavowed.

So, while 8500 Americans have already died from coronavirus, let me share a few other statistics from our CDC regarding the other causes of death in the United States last year: Heart disease killed just under 650,000 people. Cancer took another 600,000. Accidental injury killed another 170,000. Stroke 146,000, Alzheimer’s disease 121,000, diabetes 84,000, influenza and pneumonia another 56,000, and over 47,000 Americans committed suicide last year. These deaths represent the ambient background noise of everyday life in America, totaling over 2.8 million Americans per year, a figure we accept, believing that death is a part of life, that actions have consequences, even as their families celebrate the lives they’ve lost, and the rest of the nation goes about their daily lives.

So here are some questions we need to be asking ourselves:

  • With an ambient 2.8 million Americans dying of various causes already every year, is it worth putting millions of people out of work—with all the accompanying bankruptcies, divorces, defaults, hardships, homelessness, depression and suicides that always accompany a collapsed economy—over what is currently only 8500 people dying with (but not necessarily from) coronavirus? Do we remain locked in our homes, refusing to gather with family and friends or participate in life and economic activity, out of a fear of becoming one of the 170,000 Americans who will die of accidental causes each year?
  • In Sweden, the government has taken the position that the elderly, infirm, and immune-compromised are encouraged to self-quarantine at home for 5-6 weeks, cared for and supplied by their immediate family or a grocery delivery service, while younger, healthier Swedes are encouraged to practice good hygiene and social distancing while at work, school, and living their regular lives. So far, they’ve had only 401 deaths in the entire country. What might Americans conclude from this?
  • On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 701,000 lost jobs through March 12th, a figure that most observers say is but a third of the actual job losses for the month, with five times that figure to come in April, and over 15 million by mid-May. One Federal Reserve regional president just predicted that unemployment could reach 30% nationally, a figure that exceeds the worst rate (25%) of the Great Depression. Q: Do we honestly believe that the markets and the economy will simply brush that off like dandruff on the shoulder, with no long lasting repercussions for families, businesses, and society, once our model-assuming, unelected public health experts gives us permission to resume our lives?  Are we willing to risk the loss of entire industries, millions of businesses that will never reopen, millions more personal bankruptcies, along with permanent job losses at major corporations in every cross-section of the economy?

Our health officials give us mixed messages. On the one hand, “we need to flatten the curve”, continue quarantining and social distancing for many more weeks until we get out of flu season and those infected are able to overcome the invisible killer. On the other hand, they tell us that our immune systems are naturally able to fight off the virus in 95% of the population, and that the resulting antibodies in our “convalescent plasma” are harvestable and even injectable into the bloodstreams of the frail and elderly now in ICU, assisting with their recoveries. If we take at face value the fact that this virus is highly contagious, and that fully half of those who have it are asymptomatic—isn’t it also possible that half of the millions now sitting in home quarantine may have already had it, are in fact now immune to it, and could go back to work?  Presently, we don’t yet have enough tests that can determine this, so continued vigilance is the order of the day.

For the cautious among you who would argue that the worst thing we can do is resume our daily lives prematurely—lest the virus come back in a second wave and prove the modelers right—allow me to point out that we already have proof that that won’t happen: There are two economies currently operating in the United States. The first economy is active, working, hiring, and “delivering essential goods and services.” These include people working in food production, energy production, grocery chains, police and fire departments, restaurants operating with curbside pick-up and delivery, gas stations and auto repair shops, insurance agencies, banks, financial institutions, medical offices, pharmacies, marijuana shops, liquor stores, golf courses, and all of our major big box stores and the warehouses at Amazon, Walmart, Costco, Target, and many, many more. These people are social distancing in the workplace, avoiding infection, and thriving amid increased demand, many with help-wanted signs offering bonuses. The second economy constitutes everyone else, waiting in home quarantine while their retail businesses fail, awaiting their first unemployment check, watching the fabric of our economy crumble at an alarming pace, week by week. That first thriving economy is proof that the suffering of the second economy is unnecessary. This virus—nay, our reaction to this virus—has now resulted in our 50 Governors picking the winners and losers of the 2020 economy.

Seven weeks ago, we had the strongest economy in American history. Seven more weeks of this, and our nation will be unrecognizable. As Americans, we have survived many tragedies. Over 618,000 Americans died during the Civil War, and thousands died in other wars for the rights that we enjoy, and for the blessings that their children would inherit. I have yet to talk to a single client in their 70s or 80s, or even younger clients yet to retire suffering from a medical condition, who are willing to risk the loss of the nation they grew up in, over the inconvenience of their own self-isolation for a few more weeks. “By all means, the rest of you should go back to work soon. Even if you catch this thing, 99% of you will survive it. Don’t worry about us, we’ll be fine when it’s over,” they say.

It’s not too late to avoid what’s coming. But we can’t play chicken with an Economic Depression for too much longer.

27 Comments

  • Jen says:

    Thank you! I wish more people could read this, a little more common sense, faith and rationality would go along way.

  • Frank Visgatis says:

    Kudos Thom! This is such a hysterical overreaction fueled by the anti-Trump MSM. It’s insane!

    • thomasbrueckner says:

      Thanks, Frank! This isn’t about “lives vs economics”, as some are alleging; it’s about lives vs. other lives. We need to carefully examine the mounting damage we’re asking our fellow citizens to self-inflict on their families’ futures.
      Be safe!
      Thom

  • Carl says:

    Hi SFR,

    Well written, good perspective and factual.
    This one is out of our hands at the moment . However , let’s pray that Godly wisdom is bestowed upon our leadership as we move forward.

  • Janet Dixon says:

    I’m afraid your views would be scoffed at by the majority of Americans ( or Democrats anyway). This shut down is insane & unprecedented. We’ve never seen anything remotely resembling this. I wish we could stop it all!
    Janet Dixon

    • thomasbrueckner says:

      Thanks, Janet. As you may know, we have been deemed “an essential business” by the Governor, because we manage people’s money and they need access to it. This crisis isn’t about “lives vs economics” (as an abstract academic concept), as some are alleging. It’s about lives vs. OTHER lives. At the risk of offending some of our clients, I felt I had a greater responsibility to apply reason to what some have made into a highly emotional issue. If we can’t have civil discourse over such things, what have we become as a society? My core argument is simply that we need to carefully examine the mounting damage we’re asking our fellow citizens to self-inflict on their families and their futures.
      Thanks again for your thoughts! All the best to you and Scott!
      Be safe,
      Thom

  • Marilyn Peterman says:

    Just one comment. This is an infectious disease ,
    Not Cancer, not a heart condition, not diabetes and all other causes of deaths mentioned. Yes, there are people risking their lives to go to work in essential services. Yes, most people who contract this survive, but no one is actually immune . The economy will comeback, may take a while, may be different but it will comeback as you are always used to saying. We need a Competent govt. ps Sweden also has vast social services including healthcare for all.

    • Thomas Brueckner says:

      Thanks Marilyn. I’m pretty sure that “competent government” is an oxymoron, a la Mark Twain’s many quips on the subject. As to immunity, you’re right that no one is initially immune, but once recovered their convalescent plasma is transfusable into suffering elderly patients in ICU–and Fauci/Birx have referred to herd immunity many times during the task force briefings.
      Stay safe,
      Thom

  • Tom Lamb says:

    Thom, I agree with you wholeheartedly!! I have been posting articles on my FB page saying similar things. Where was this panic when the Swine flu killed 60,000 Americans…oh that’s right…Obama was President so the enemy of America, the left wing press DOWN PLAYED the entire episode! I shared your article on Face Book…hopefully sanity will return.

    • thomasbrueckner says:

      Tom,
      Thanks for the comment. I agree that the double standards in the media treatment of Trump vs. Obama are legion–so much so that they’re becoming blatantly obvious to even the oblivious observers, as is visible in their ratings. Hopefully, we can put this episode behind us soon, while we still have a country to salvage.
      Best to you and Nancy and the girls!
      Stay safe,
      Thom

  • Bill Zebuhr says:

    I agree. If this was never declared a “pandemic” etc. life would have gone on as usual and a few more people would have died of the “flu”. It makes me wonder what is really behind all this.

    Bill Zebuhr

    • thomasbrueckner says:

      Thanks Bill. The Chinese, of course! If, after this is over, we are able to reach a national consensus that as a matter of national security we can no longer outsource our pharma to a communist government, this will have been worth the wake-up call.
      Best to you and Christina!
      Stay safe,
      Thom

  • Jim Bean says:

    I believe you’ve hit the nail on the head. The hysteria generated by 24/7 coverage of this will cause hundreds of people to lose their businesses, along with their savings. It also opens the door for thousands of petty bureaucrats imposing their whims on others.
    Someone should explain the rationale of turning convicted sex of offenders out of jail locking the rest of us in their homes.

    • thomasbrueckner says:

      Thanks Jim! Well said, my friend, and exactly right. It never ceases to amaze me how illogic is the ruling philosophy on the part of those in government, and how damaging are the consequences to the sheeple.
      Best to you and Cathie
      Stay safe,
      Thom

  • peter marrinan says:

    Thom,
    A very worthwhile outlook and I agree. The world has been thru many events and the humans have survived all of them by staying busy and working to make the world a better place. If we do not get going real soon it will get uglier. It is the circle of life, born, work,die and it is not all related to this covid issue. I am starting a new job tomorrow and all my family are safe and working.

    Thanks and stay safe.

  • thomasbrueckner says:

    Congrats on the new job, Peter! And glad to hear everyone is safe and still employed. Hopefully we get this behind us sooner rather than later, while we still have a country left to salvage.
    Thanks for commenting.
    Stay safe,
    Thom

  • You did a fabulous job on your blog explaining the economic issues created by our governments’ decisions.
    Reminds me of a statement I once read, “never make critical decisions based on partial facts.”
    Excellent job on the article!
    I have never posted anything on Facebook but now, I will share your blog.

    • thomasbrueckner says:

      Thank you, Jerry! Coming from a well-read, articulate entrepreneur and deep thinker such as yourself, that is high praise indeed! These are frustrating times for many, and hopefully our President’s instincts will soon overrule Dr. Fauci’s ridiculous edict that we can’t reopen the economy until there are no more new cases of the virus, perhaps by September. There won’t be a country left to open by then, and there’ll be rioting and looting in every major city. This stupidity has to stop soon!
      Thank you for the compliments. Best to you and Melissa!
      Stay safe,
      Thom

  • Gary Schroeder says:

    My major concern is our lack of testing to determine accurately who carries this virus and who does not. I do not wish to mix with unidentified carriers in a restaurant or workplace for the sake of escaping my sanctuary home, I have no option of avoiding someone who believes they are immune to this disease and freely travel and gather with others. I would rather avoid them and stay alive.

    • thomasbrueckner says:

      Thanks for commenting, Gary. Yes, the test that’s been developed by Abbott Labs is a pin-prick finger test that can determine if you’ve had the virus and have overcome it and are now immune, both to getting it again and to infecting others. That would enable many who are now in voluntary quarantine to go back to work. Until more tests become available, anyone over 65 who is not in perfect health should continue to stay home–without apology! The fact that you are still an active tuna boat captain at 77 is remarkable, but you should still be very careful.
      All the best,
      Thom

      • Gary Schroeder says:

        Thanks, Thom. I believe my old company in Merrimack is building those Abbott machines, but it will not be instantaneous availability. I wish we were stressing this in our national discussions and giving testing the highest priority. Meanwhile, I am working on a respirator design that uses HEPA filters, which should stop traveling virus loaded water droplets from coughers getting to your nose or mouth. If we had these in volume, it would get more people confident enough to go back to work. I will stay on it.

  • Tony Lekas says:

    I agree with your assessment of this situation and I have been saying similar things for a while. My view is that, at most, the government should provide clear advice with the reasons behind it and let people make their own decisions.

    The problem is that government tends to make bad decisions particularly in situations of fear even if those in power are not actively trying to use that fear to their advantage.

    I know Governor Sununu to some extent and I do not believe he is someone who won’t “let an emergency go to waste”. However, he is operating in the incentive situation he finds himself in. He has been under tremendous pressure to put more restrictions in place than he has. If he does nothing more than provide information he will be blamed for every death that can be attributed to COVID-19. As it is he is likely to be blamed for them because people will say he should have done more. If, as we believe, this is a gross and damaging overreaction to the situation he can say that he was acting on the best medical advice and that he has saved lives. At this point, pushing for the immediate removal of the restrictions by politicians at the Federal and State level would likely be, at least in the short term, politically disastrous. (In the interest of full disclosure I am a New Hampshire State Representative.)

    You present a view of what we should be doing but the question is, how can we transition from the current draconian limitations to something like that? It will take enough people demanding it and that will take a combination of rational education and discussion of what this is and what it is not and economic desperation. I don’t regularly watch TV but my impression is that the media is doing it’s usually abysmal job of the first. Extended unemployment benefits and other programs are blunting the economic desperation but at what cost? And I am not just talking about economic cost.

    The predicted peak for NH is in the next 2-3 weeks. My hope is that if it is seen as not as catastrophic as feared there will be increased pressure to remove the restrictions. We will see.

    The challenge will then be to deal with the results of the economic damage. The NH State revenue has been and will continue to be dramatically reduced which will generate tremendous pressure for increased taxes which will both cause further short term economic harm and set a precedent for more expansive taxes in the State which will be very difficult to roll back.

    The answer, in my view, is to substantially cut the state budget this year and next. There will be great opposition to that. The problem is that once a government program is put in place people come to depend on it and other ways to deal with the actual issue it was meant to solve wither or are never developed.

    Avoiding greater taxation and a more expansive government in NH will require the ongoing and active support of those who believe that such action would be a terrible mistake.

    Representative Tony Lekas
    Hillsborough 37 (Hudson and Pelham)
    Municipal and County Government Committee

    • Thomas Brueckner says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Tony. I was watching Tucker Carlson’s show last night, and after this segment aired I rewound it and transcribed the following into an email to myself:

      “…Over the weekend, the head of Indiana’s Family and Social Services Administration announced that calls to the State’s Mental Health and Suicide Prevention hotline had gone from about 1000 to 25,000 PER DAY. Calls to the addiction hotline have risen dramatically as well. Reports of domestic violence have risen dramatically in this country and have spiked around the world. In France, they rose 32% in a single week. Someday we’ll get the numbers on the child abuse going on amid this lock-down, and we’ll all feel sick to our stomachs. The point is that the Coronavirus is not the only bad thing that’s happening in America right now, and for the overwhelming majority of us, there has to be a more balanced course for dealing with a virus than the one we are on now. It’s time to start caring about the entire population, because healthy people are suffering badly too…”

      My point exactly!

      Stay safe,
      Thom

  • Dr. Bill Kirmes says:

    Couldn’t agree more. There is definitely something fishy going on here. Even Dr. Oz was prevented from doing his own study about hydrochloroquine. This is a drug that’s plentiful and safe. Has been used for many years as well as the Z pack, which now in combination can only be prescribed in certain instances, according to our governor, who is not a licensed physician by the way. I agree with you that we need to get things going before the ship sinks. Presently we are just adjusting the deck furniture on the Titanic. We need to gradually get businesses back online, wearing masks if necessary in closed situations. Wishing you and yours to keep safe

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to "The Mature Investor" Blog

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.