Here at Gript, we generally do our best to defend capitalism as, well, the least-worst way to organise a society. As in so many other areas of life, though, the people you defend don’t always make it easy.
Here’s Jeremy Warner, writing in that (usually very fine) journal of British Conservatism, The Daily Telegraph:
“Using the 1918 influenza as a measure, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calculate that deaths in the United States from a similar outbreak today could reach 207,000, with the initial cost to the economy roughly 1.5 percent of the GDP.
However, there are some key differences, not least the fact that the Spanish flu disproportionately affected those of prime work age, whereas the coronavirus primarily kills the elderly. In the First World War outbreak there was thus a lasting impact on supply, with many families suffering the loss of the primary bread-winner.
This is quite unlikely to occur this time around. Not to put too fine a point on it, from an entirely disinterested economic perspective, the COVID-19 might even prove mildly beneficial in the long term by disproportionately culling elderly dependents.”
To be fair, and in context, he is writing about the epidemic from a purely economic point of view, and on that basis, it’s hard to argue with his thinking: fewer pensioners means fewer pensions, less spending on healthcare, and more young people freed from the (in this view of the world) entirely economically inefficient task of looking after their elders.
Having been, as promised, fair, and having put his words in the proper context, we now move on to the more important question: What, on earth, was he thinking? And what kind of editor allowed that to be published?
It’s an absolute fact of the present crisis, from all the available data, that most European countries, including Ireland, are enacting the extreme measures to prevent the spread of the disease that we saw rolled out here yesterday for one reason: The virus, while mild in people of my age, usually, is devastating to older people.
The death rate in Italy for pensioners is about one in ten and rising. For people in their 40s? It’s 0.4%.
Here’s 60-something Tom Hanks, and his wife, Rita Wilson, looking perfectly healthy, for example, while ravaged by Coronavirus. They’re perfectly fine and will recover – it’s people 15 years older than them who are in the gravest peril.
— Tom Hanks (@tomhanks) March 13, 2020
You might say (well, very few of you might say, but some probably would) in defence of Penton that although he personally is horrified at the thought of a pensioner plague, he had an obligation to write about the economic consequences in economic terms. He did not.
The whole point of economics, after all, and this is forgotten by too many economists on the right, is to provide the resources that we use to provide decent lives and decent care for people – either through private wealth creation or appropriate redistribution of resources. If people are just economic units divided into the productive or the unproductive, then economics is nothing more than a man-made system of torture for everyone, and there’s no point to it.
Horrendous. But let it reinforce one point: You, out there, with your press full of tinned tuna and your back cupboard filled to the brim with toilet paper: You’re not the one at risk.
Look after your parents, folks. You’ll miss them when they’re gone, even if some at the Daily Telegraph won’t.