“When you know your enemy, and know yourself, you need not fear the result of 100 battles.”
— Sun Tzu, The Art of War
This is a war. The coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) has invaded our way of life and forced us into a brutal double bind where we have to navigate two highly destructive threats simultaneously — one biological, one economic.
The people sounding the alarm on the economy are not wrong. The lockdown destroys jobs, businesses, livelihoods, and lives. The speed and scale of disruption caused by widespread adoption of this strategy is like nothing we’ve ever seen before, and though the risk of harm in this direction may not be as immediately obvious to the senses as deaths from a contagious disease, it is no less real and it needs to be taken every bit as seriously. The downstream consequences of this level of socioeconomic upheaval have the potential to be far more harmful overall than the virus, and it is not wise (or virtuous) to downplay these concerns.
The people sounding the alarm on the virus are not wrong. COVID-19 is a new disease which we don’t understand. Its effects on the human body are confusing doctors, we don’t know if it causes any long-term complications, and we don’t know if there’s lasting immunity after exposure.
What we do know is that it spreads fast. Based on the outbreaks we’ve seen, when no action is taken to slow it down, the number of people that get seriously ill, all at the same time, is overwhelming. An uncontrolled spread is likely to cause systemic failure of the healthcare system, exhausting our nurses, doctors, and first responders, not to mention infecting many of them in the process. Global shortages of protective equipment make things worse still. The whole problem feeds on itself and accelerates in severity: cases rise at the same time as capacity to treat cases falls. Poorer treatment leads to worse patient outcomes, and the effect spills over into casualties from other causes and diseases that would normally have been treatable as well. All of this ultimately creates economic upheaval by a different path, and a panicked, disorderly, overall ineffective response.
This cascading effect is why staying within the capacity of the healthcare system has been a priority. The lockdown prevents the most severe effects from unfolding. It makes sure that we maintain order at the most basic levels of society like food, water, energy, and supply…