There’s only one show in town right now, and it’s a chart-topper. I’m actually somewhat loath to launch into coronavirus, given that it’s such a rapidly-moving piece of theatre and I’m writing this a week ahead of publication; but regardless of how the spread of the world’s newest and most popular disease unfolds over the next fortnight, there are truths interwoven through the entire subject that won’t be going away.
Firstly, it’s actually neither entirely new, nor particularly popular. Covid-19 may be novel, but coronaviruses have been with us for millenia. And in spite of what we are daily advised, in terms of the number of new cases, repeat cases, fatal cases, etc, there are many established, contagious diseases that will, not might, kill tens and hundreds of times more people than those diagnosed thus far with this latest terrifying lurgi.
Worldwide, three-quarters of a million people will die from malaria this year, and more than 1.1 million from tuberculosis. In between those two, AIDS, pneumonia, and hepatitis B will carry off in excess of 750,000 humans each. We know this will happen, because it happens every year. 160,000 – more than currently have coronavirus, the vast majority of whom will recover, and quickly – will die from whooping cough.
I have no wish to diminish the suffering being experienced by those affected, nor disrespect the families of those who have been taken by it. But it remains a fact that every year, in countries that have open borders, and unrestricted air movements, and mass gatherings, and workplaces without hand sanitizer, somewhere between a quarter and three-quarters of a million people die from ‘ordinary’ flu. The sky doesn’t fall and the riot Police are not deployed.
So why the hysteria, and more importantly, what of the repercussions of that hysteria? In all seriousness, the ramifications of humanity’s response to the “Chinese Flu” are far more dire for the nations of the world and their peoples, than the virus itself was ever going to be.
People, Governments, and the media, are all panicking – probably needlessly, and certainly mindlessly. And when humans panic, bad things happen. Stupid, pointless, counterproductive things. Some of it is so ludicrous as to border on being funny; people stockpiling toilet paper, for example, despite it being manufactured domestically, and coronavirus not causing any medical increase in demand for it.
Within that, Covid-19 has thrown a spotlight on the fragility of the global supply chain, and by association, the folly of economic theory and practice that has allowed it to develop in the way that it has.
For a long time, the adage “when America sneezes, the World catches a cold” has underpinned perceptions of the vital importance of US economic hegemony to world trade. Now, however, that China has actually caught a cold, the world has come face to face with the blunt reality that outsourcing the manufacturing of almost everything to one country, and doing so because it was cheap, was never a good idea.
We are, all of us, guilty of contributing to the situation we now find ourselves in. Everyone who has ever purchased anything that was made in China, rather than made anywhere else, solely or primarily because it was cheaper and thus more profitable to have it made in China, is part of the problem.
We happily buy almost everything from suppliers who offer the sharpest price, turning a willfully blind eye to the reasons for it being cheap – slave-labour wages, and non-existent environmental standards.
Now don’t get me wrong, top quality merchandise comes from the Middle Kingdom as well, and lots of it. China produces goods the equal of anything made anywhere else, just like they’ll make rubbish if that’s what customers want.
But even their good stuff is cheaper, for the abovementioned reasons, coupled with economics of scale. And it’s that low price mentality that has led to the rest of the world developing a completely unhealthy dependence on one basket, into which all our eggs are now crammed.
As I write, factories across China are still lying idle, with hundreds of millions of workers still locked in quarantine. The downstream effects of the supply train derailment are only just beginning to be felt, and even if China goes back to work tomorrow, it will be months before everything is running smoothly again.
Globally, firms are laying off staff, and backorders rising, with the worst yet to hit. Travel restrictions, only now beginning to bite, will see countless more businesses go to the wall. Some major airlines are going to fail because of this thing – more precisely, because of the irrational panic that is being allowed, even encouraged, to proliferate because of it. I have said for years that excessive dependence on tourism, in lieu of manufacturing, is not a sustainable foundation for any country’s economy, particularly an isolated one like New Zealand.
So how bad is coronavirus, really? Frankly, after so many years of fake news, Internet fiction, media sensationalism, and Government and NGO propaganda, it’s now impossible to objectively judge whether this is yet more crying wolf – or something much worse.
Perhaps of more concern is the insidious creep of regulations and “emergency powers” being enacted and employed by Governments everywhere, supposedly in response to this ‘pandemic’ – you can take it to the Bank that these WON’T be disappearing from the statutes, when this latest opportunity for the furthered suppression of freedoms blows over.