What’s the mortality rate of economic collapse?

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AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

It is worth the investment of your time to do some reading on the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. It was bad. It’s hard to know precise numbers but the experts who study such things estimate that the Spanish Flu infected as many as 500 million people worldwide – about a third of the world’s population at the time. As many as 50 million people died – including 675,000 in the United States. That’s a fatality rate of about ten percent – or as much as 900 times greater than the rate so far with COVID-19.

The U.S. population in 1918 was a bit more than 103 million. If a pandemic killed Americans in the same proportion to its current population, more than 2.1 million people would die.

So far in 2020, as this is being written, 4,513 people in the U.S. have died of COVID-19 complications. That’s a tiny, tiny fraction of the actual number of deaths in 1918 and an almost invisible fraction of the 1918 death rate made proportionate to a current U.S. population of 331 million.

None of this is meant to minimize the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are, in fact, some disturbing similarities between today’s pandemic and the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. The Spanish Flu was a particularly contagious virus. So is the coronavirus that originally broke out in Wuhan, China late last year and has now spread worldwide. There was no flu vaccine in 1918. There is no COVID-19 vaccine in 2020. The Spanish Flu peaked in the spring of 1918 and then had a second peak that was even worse in the fall of 1918. There’s not one scrap of science anywhere that would rule out a second peak of COVID-19 in the fall of this year.

Given these facts, it is easy to imagine frighteningly high infection and mortality from this current pandemic. Policymakers at every level of government have so imagined and have responded by imposing restrictions on personal and commercial activity like none ever seen in our history. From a social and economic point of view, the government has effectively cancelled April.

The question thus arises; having imagined the mortality attendant to a runaway coronavirus pandemic, have our policy leaders taken the time to also imagine the mortality attendant to a shutdown of the American economy?

Have they considered the pathology that will certainly follow in the wake of millions of failed businesses and tens of millions of lost jobs? Have they thought about the spike in suicides and the premature deaths attributable to alcohol and drug abuse by people whose economic lives have been shattered? How about the failed marriages and the families broken apart? How many women and children will suffer from domestic violence?

With so much still not known about COVID-19, any policymaker who appears to be raising economic concerns ahead of health concerns is putting his head in the media’s guillotine.

But economic concerns will inevitably become health concerns. And that day is fast approaching.

Paul Gleiser

Paul L. Gleiser is president of Gleiser Communications, LLC, licensee of radio stations KTBB 97.5 FM/AM600, 92.1 The Team FM & KYZS in Tyler-Longview, Texas.

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28 Responses

  1. Do you SERIOUSLY think our policy leaders have NOT weighed the concerns you describe? Seriously?

    • Paul Gleiser says:

      Andrew Cuomo March 20, 2020: “I want to be able to say to the people of New York — I did everything we could do. And if everything we do saves just one life, I’ll be happy.”

      One life? At the expense of how many hundreds of thousands who are now without jobs and income?

      We have all watched mayors, county judges and governors try to one-up each other in response to this crisis — all in the fear that if one did less then the guy before him, he’d look bad.

      No, I don’t think they completely didn’t weigh the economic concerns. But it is clear, as the massive damage to the economy unfolds, that the matter needs to be weighed again.

      Because as surely as COVID-19 will kill, so will economic devastation.

  2. Jim Lee says:

    Mr. G that was very well put. Keep up the good work sir. We need more logical folks like you to stem the panic among the uninformed. I’m glad to call you a friend.

  3. Buddy Saunders says:

    I just sent the following letter to Governor Abbott:

    Dear Governor Abbott,

    I share with you the goals expressed in your executive order, but I am concerned that in the understandable haste to get it issued, insufficient thought was given to the need to keep as much business activity going as possible. There are many businesses that, while not “essential,” pose scant risk of spreading Covid-19 and, if allowed to remain in operation, can contribute an equally “essential” boost to an economy that is surely going to need it. If more businesses aren’t allowed to stay in business, the verdict could well be that the operation was successful but the patient died.

    Yesterday, Wednesday, April 1, my company, Lone Star Comics, shipped 1,700 orders to customers, many of them wanting something to read while forced to stay home. Today, Thursday, April 2nd, we shipped nothing and I have been forced to furlough 110 employees, our entire Lone Star Comics family.

    Lone Star Comics is not open to the public; we are in a warehouse district; and all our business is via internet sales. We’ve had no one sick and have been doing everything recommended to avoid the Covid-19 virus. We all know doing the right thing insured not only our health but our livelihood. I truly believe my employees are as safe at work each day at our business as they would have been otherwise.

    Our “small” business does $_______ in sales monthly. You’ve taken all that out of the economy. A lot of other businesses depend on us for business. We are, for example, the UPS’s largest north Texas customer among companies solely located in north Texas. Up until yesterday, my family business was writing paychecks to 110 people. We need to get back to that.

    For now, we are doing what we can for our employees. For example, we are paying everyone two-thirds of their regular pay for all of April. But we cannot continue to do that, not without sales.

    I started Lone Star Comics in 1961 as a kid in junior high selling comics by mail order out of my bedroom. I put myself through college selling comics. I opened my first of eight brick-and-mortar stores in 1977. Sold them after seeing more opportunity in internet sales. And now, when my business is booming like never before, I see it shut down needlessly. That really hurts.

    You, as our Governor, understand the important role business plays in keeping our nation healthy. With that in mind, I hope you will amend your mandate so that businesses like mine, businesses that are at very low risk of virus transmission, can continue to operate and in the process pump back into the economy much needed cash and vitality.

    Sincerely yours,
    Jakey (Buddy) Saunders,
    Owner
    Lone Star Comics

  4. Paul,

    With Apex now pegged at late April, it’s a little early to second-guess Dr. Fauci and our governors’ — and, now, our president’s — concern. Maybe they have miscalculated.

    In any event, congratulations on surviving 1918, and best of luck in 2020.

    But the Google search results you’ve posted here will be of little comfort to that Smith County family grieving tonight, over just one life.

    • Paul Gleiser says:

      All of the hair-on-fire reporting by the New York-based left-wingers to whom you ascribe much more credibility than they’ll ever earn notwithstanding, the VAST majority of Americans have much more to fear from a collapse of the American economy than they do from the pathology of COVID-19. We have, prior to now, tolerated tens of thousands of deaths from communicable disease every year. Is it now your position that we must completely eliminate the possibility of a “Smith County family grieving tonight, over just one life.”? I hope not, because that is unattainable.

      You missed the point of the piece anyway. The point of the piece is that the economic damage that we are bringing down upon ourselves is going to kill people as surely as any virus will. Lots of people. They won’t die as quickly so they will stay out of the headlines. But they will be just as dead.

      Let this economic shutdown go on for too much longer and desperate men on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder whose employers have gone out of business are going to lash out. Hundreds of thousands of acts of domestic violence are going to occur. Alcohol and drug abuse are going to spike. Untold thousands of men and women who have spent their entire adult lives owning and running small businesses are going to lose those businesses at a point in life when they are too old to start over. Their retirement savings having been tied to the value of their businesses, they will surely die prematurely and they will be just as dead as anyone who dies prematurely from a COVID-19 infection. (Will you be posting comments about them on some website somewhere?)

      All of this to say that there is real possibility that the cure will be worse than the problem. The president raised that concern and, of course, was immediately set upon by the hyenas in the media.

      Buddy Saunders in his comment said it well. We are at real risk of arriving at the place where “the operation was successful but the patient died.” Such concern is perfectly real and perfectly legitimate. Raising that concern should not subject one to a snarky response.

      • NOBODY likes things-as-they-are.
        NONE of us chose for this to happen.
        And few here seem to anticipate circumstances by month’s end.
        Powers-that-be have deemed liquor stores AND gun stores “Essential.”

        IF EVER we needed escapism such as comic books it’s now! Although, as newspapers learned, hard copy media have had their day. If digital information obsoleted newsprint, is streaming video the new comic book? Others who create the content Buddy describes have evolved to podcasting. Peruse iTunes.

        None of us will outrun Darwin. But the California numbers demonstrate how this hellish Social Distancing CAN buy us time to brace for the Apex…which will be awful.

        At THIS moment — top-of-the-third-inning — to reckon how many lives-lost is acceptable smacks of “death panels.”

        • Michael Reagan says:

          Factoid: Obama Administration ushered in “Death Panels”. Don’t answer this question but: How old are you? I am 60 and can tell you with 110% certainty the elderly are given far less care at all levels. The medical profession at all levels, especially all those “specialist” don’t give a rip if an unproductive person dies. A.K.A Obama Admin’s institutional Obamacare policies and carryover. Both my parents are into their 80’s and have serious issues that could have been cured. But, doctors will not touch them and hide behind the “Do No Harm” pseudo-oath. This is a factoid number: 18 doctors later (no joke buddy, 18) they are getting prescription drugs and that is it. Do be careful how you toss out “Death Panels”. Because they do exist and were created by the Obama Administration. You touched a nerve Sir!~!

          • I don’t mind you asking.
            I’m 10 years older than you are.
            And I’m up to 4 doctors.

            So — because people age 60+ are most at-risk — you, and your folks, and I, are making-my-point.

            We’re still weeks pre-Apex.
            Let’s not jump-the-gun.

            If you think government is wrong deciding who-gets-what healthcare, imagine giving the Chamber of Commerce a vote.

        • Buddy Saunders says:

          Yes, Holland, there are digital comics, but the demand for print comics from readers and collectors remains strong and addressing that demand is a key component of our business. Apart from the new comics, each year we buy back-list and vintage comics from collectors and comic stores to the tune of several million dollars. With us closed, those folks in need of those dollars are left high and dry..

          • Buddy, I hear ya; and I’ve been thinking about your story since you shared it here. I’m an old-school guy with a special appreciation for practitioners of lost arts. As you’ve described your work, I have no doubt that your customers miss you now; and that when you’re back-in-business, they’ll be back too. Hang in there.

      • Barclay Stevenson says:

        Well written Paul. But imo, based on what I’m seeing, simply the “Essential” (those who continue to go to work each and every day) outnumber the non “Essential” probably 7 or 8 to 1. That tells me, we as a Country are NOT SHUTDOWN.

        Some businesses are actually booming right now while I’ll admit some are suffering. Retail Store fronts and Restaurants are some of the documented sufferers no doubt. But do they drive the economy? If they did, they would be essential.

        My final point. If we were SHUTDOWN as some in the media would have other Countries believe, Virus infections would be on the decline. But as you and everyone can see, they are rising because we are not SHUTDOWN.

  5. R. Eagleman says:

    Buddy, the reimbursement of your business overhead, including salaries, would seem to be the exact target of a big part of the stimulus package. It would be a loan, but forgiven if you retain a high percentage of your employees, and stay in business. Hopefully, this stimulus will help you protect what you have worked so hard to achieve using ingenuity and a free market system.
    “What’s the mortality rate of economic collapse” is perhaps the most important question to be asked, and I am not so sure that the public health officials in charge have seriously weighed all of the health risks to this shutdown. I had the privilege of learning from Dr. Hans Selye, who was the first researcher to recognize the negative effects of stress on the human body. He was able to demonstrate how stress (distress) is a catalyst in most, if not all disease processes, and he was able to differentiate between good stress and bad stress (distress). The devastating effect of distress on the different organs is more difficult to quantify than other results, such as the social degradation, suicides, etc. that Paul describes. However, the adaptation (or lack of) to the grief, worry, loss of purpose, and all of the other responses to sudden and profound unemployment can shorten the lifespan of all affected humans. Dr. Selye was able to SCIENTIFICALLY demonstrate the linkage in cardiovascular, renal, gastrointestinal, and other diseases. Therefore, there must be a data driven plan for re-opening our country for business, but it seems to me that there needs to be more balance and more attention paid to not only the economic price, but also the non-viral health risks. Otherwise, it may turn out to be as Buddy so eloquently stated in his letter to Gov. Abbott…”the operation was successful, but the patient died”.

  6. C M Solomon says:

    Despicable forces in this country (the Socialist-Marxist-Communist Democrat Party and its Media megaphones) are using this virus pandemic to scare (and guilt trip) everyone into accepting the destruction of our American Free Enterprise system in favor of TOTAL government dependency for our individual, family, and business survival. This is no accident. The longer they can make the shut down of our 20 trillion dollar economy last, the better they like it. The Leftist goal to subvert the Constitution and turn us into the Social Justice Tyranny in which they ALONE are in charge, is only further excited by the opportunities that this pandemic offers to enhance their evil plot – it has never changed!

  7. Buddy Saunders says:

    Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins has just announced that he has extended his draconian business lock down through May 20th. There will be a lot of unpleasant lessons learned from this beyond the fact that many closed business will never reopen. One lesson will be that no sane restaurant or less than “essential” business will want to locate in Dallas County.

    • C M Solomon says:

      With the unemployment in Dallas County surely skyrocketing due to Jenkins order, Dallas County is guaranteed to turn even a deeper BLUE, reinforcing the demented Democrats goal to defeat Trump this November and elect a Leftist demagogue. Remember, the US Treasury has unlimited funds to buy votes with Welfare when the Left is in charge and the Sanctuary Cities/States are expanded and borders and jails are opened and the “Green New Deal” outlaws fossil fuels and restricts individual mobility to “Save the Planet”. Are nationalized industries and bank accounts/property far behind with the complete “Obama Transformation of America” becoming a reality including an FDR-like “Second Bill of Rights”?

      If the economic depression that would follow is deep enough, Martial Law can cure any appetite for a second Civil War started by the disenfranchised Constitutionalists, i.e., “domestic terrorists”, don’t you know. This is really a Democrat domino collapse game executed to perfection, after all!

  8. R. Eagleman says:

    The American people and President Trump are giving way too much deference to these government workers (bureaucrats), like Drs. Fauci and Birx. These two are definitely enjoying this fame and the opportunity to be the most popular guests on TV. However, is all of this unquestioned deity deserved? It bothers me that both tend to temper their positions depending on the viewpoint of the interviewer and the opposing expert. They seem to be intimidated into leaning toward the opinions of the network “news celebrity”, and we know what many of them want. This may be the last great chance to do something that their hoaxes and impeachment investigations, etc., etc have not been able to accomplish. Always remember, these bureaucrats enjoy a guaranteed income and benefits that most small business owners and their employees do not. They are in a sterile bubble that protects them regardless of the hardships they impose on the rest of the country. Other epidemiologists and politicians, including the executive branch, are scared to death of the media and the howls of having blood on their hands, and condemning our veterans to a death sentence when they exercise any skepticism whatsoever. Due to this fear of media condemnation, we are not getting the other side of how to manage this pandemic in a thoughtful and safe manner. Most of these “new cases” are the result of “new testing”. If tests for antibody titers were done for SARS or other past infections, we would be very disturbed to see that we have been exposed to many that we did not even know about. Notice how these experts have such an easy excuse for any miscalculation; they explain the error as having more data to insert into the model. I hope that this post does not appear too cynical, but there is always another side to any argument, and it just seems that this one is not getting an opposing view. It almost seems that there is a fearful “herd mentality”, rather than at least discussing the benefits of “herd immunity” and other approaches.

    • C M Solomon says:

      Ron, you are not too cynical. Let me add to your realistic assessment of the games that these lifetime bureaucrats (for all practical purposes) play along with the media and dishonest politicians. Any time the Federal government hands out $2 trillion (CARES Act) in an attempt to support our economy in such dire straits as now, there is bound to be fraud, waste, abuse, hoarding, and outright criminality. We have already seen inept States mismanage their own stocks of supplies resulting in their own citizens becoming the victims because of shortages. Of course the Fake Media is quick to blame Trump for any shortage when the Federal stocks are clearly designed to be a backup system. FLASH NEWS – a backup system for the whole country is a very limited solution when individual States are guilty of poor planning. That fact doesn’t matter when POLITICAL DAMAGE to Trump is the goal. The Task Force Daily Briefing will make one’s stomach turn as the Flakey (Fakey) media acts like Democrat sock puppets with repeated charges of Trump incompetence being camouflaged as legitimate questions. Trump exposes these elite frauds with great maturity and self control as they continue to scream at him while he is trying to answer their questions. If it were me, I would ask them to leave the press room on the spot and tell them to go back to journalism school and learn some manners, if that is possible!

  9. YES about restaurants.

    2 tips you’ll hear on KTBB:

    1. One announcement regarding take-out orders urges “Tip generously, they’re hungry too.”

    2. And Paul’s suggestion to buy gift cards (which don’t expire) compares doing so to “a transfusion on the battlefield.”

  10. Michael Reagan says:

    To quote a character we all know and love, Charlie Brown: “We are doomed.”

  11. C M Solomon says:

    Paul, with respect to your Mortality comparisons, I’m concerned that the COVID-19 virus cumulative mortality death estimates (not rates) that are now being calculated are not realistic since the much larger flu season has another month or two to go. There is an overlap that can distort the mortality estimates assigned to the COVID-19 virus. In other words, are there other acute respiratory or chronic illnesses clouding the COVID-19 death estimate when we need the COVID-19 ONLY mortality that would apply to the general population when no other underlying condition is present? This would be far more accurate in predicting the cumulative virus mortality for normally healthy people which forms the vast majority of the working US population under 60. My point is that the COVID-19 cumulative mortality can’t be compared to the astronomical flu deaths (see below) for which we have NOT shut down the US economy in our history. There has to be a more PRACTICAL solution to this fearful reaction to a new virus that doesn’t utterly destroy our economy in order to win the battle, but lose the war in the end. Please see the comparisons below.

    Reference: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/cases-in-us.html
    COVID-19: U.S. at a Glance, as of April 4, Total cases: 304,826 and Total deaths: 7,616. This includes all ages, with and without underlying conditions.

    Hasn’t the FDA approved “off label” use of hydroxychloroquine as a therapeutic treatment for COVID-19? It has not been proven to be a cure; however, many US Doctors have reported that otherwise healthy patients near death have recovered, almost without exception. This is an example where an Engineer can temporarily fix a problem using available tools, whereas, a Scientist must find the tool (or theory) that eliminates the problem from the beginning. We need the Engineering solution now, and let the Scientist continue his research for the ultimate solution, later. We can’t wait any longer.

    Comments from the CDC FLU web site at: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/preliminary-in-season-estimates.htm

    “CDC estimates* that, from October 1, 2019, through March 28, 2020, there have been: 24,000 – 63,000 flu deaths
    *Because influenza surveillance does not capture all cases of flu that occur in the U.S., CDC provides these estimated ranges to better reflect the larger burden of influenza. CDC does not know the exact number of people who have been sick and affected by influenza because influenza is not a reportable disease in most areas of the U.S.”

    Finally, the CDC estimates that influenza has resulted in between 9 million – 45 million illnesses, between 140,000 – 810,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000 – 61,000 deaths ANNUALLY from the 2010-11 to the 2018-19 Influenza Seasons.

  12. C M Solomon says:

    Paul, at the risk of wearing out my welcome, I have located a unique video that I found incredible because it supports our current suspicion that we are not hearing the full story regarding this virus. The bureaucratic opinion (with much uncertainty) from the top of the government about the mortality of this virus is crowding out alternative opinions of many competent professionals willing to cast a wider scope of evidence and research using ordinary common sense to determine an accurate mortality rate that could be much lower than predicted. The video title is “Questioning Conventional Wisdom in the COVID-19 Crisis, with Dr. Jay Bhattacharya.” This was recorded on March 27, 2020 from the Hoover Institution at the following link. He supports your claim that this is a question of lives vs. lives and NOT lives vs. economy for monetary reasons. Devastated economies are deadly also.

    https://www.hoover.org/research/questioning-conventional-wisdom-covid-19-crisis-dr-jay-bhattacharya

  13. R. Eagleman says:

    Wouldn’t it be great if these hyenas, disguised as reporters, would go back to journalism school as Solomon suggests? The problem is that they would get more of the same shameful “education” that has infected these schools for at least 50 years. What we see and hear at these press briefings is proof of a successful strategy by the Socialists to change our political system without firing a shot. As Saul Alinsky, a less known, but very influential community organizer from Chicago advocated, revolution is facilitated by gaining control of the educational system and the media. This was a very gradual but persistent process by a very patient movement, and it has been an overwhelming success. The media and the educational system are wholly owned subsidiaries of the New Democrat Party, and only the most die-hard of the Old Democrat Party fail to accept this reality. How can you explain the broad media opposition to the promising therapeutic drug hydroxychloroquine? Very simply…..anything that will possibly lessen the pain and duration of this pandemic will lessen the possibility of preventing President Trump from being re-elected. The Democrat’s lust for power supersedes anything that might help our country, and they see the Covid-19 as a means to an end. This post is only echoing some of Solomon’s previous piece, but his point bears repeating.

  14. C M Solomon says:

    Paul, Rush in his first hour today has confirmed (with evidence and common sense) almost all of our suspicions of the fear mongering by the pro-Socialist bureaucrats and media cabal playing this virus outbreak to the hilt. We are not getting the full-truth story from media – I believe, deliberately. Thank God Rush is still with us and Thank You for “You Tell Me Texas” to overcome the fake media and the “Social Democrats,” (Ron’s New Democrat Party) that will never stop their wicked propaganda machine. How about a bumper sticker and yard sign to say BEWARE FAKE NEWS to replace BEWARE VICIOUS DOG – crossed out?

    • C M Solomon says:

      My rebuttal is the wisdom in the following articles by Angelo Codevilla at:

      https://amgreatness.com/2020/04/07/is-the-president-forgetting-politics-101/
      https://amgreatness.com/2020/04/02/doctors-doctored-numbers-and-democracy/

      The Left and their ANTI-common sense publications (your reference) will never accept the fraud of exaggerated COVID-19 deaths (that would be otherwise due to normal fatality rates of chronic underlying conditions that have strangely plummeted) since the COVID-19 virus takes the credit without justification. The truth is slowly and finally coming out. The highly exaggerated medical data models have imprisoned our $20 trillion economy for 4 weeks and have wiped out the incredible gains since Trump has been in office. How many deaths have occurred due to cancellation of scheduled office visits and cancelled “elective” surgery to make room for the COVID-19 surge that has not happened because the models were horribly wrong? Dr. Fauci has never been questioned by the doomsday press to explain how his and the WHO’s early criticism of Trump regarding the travel ban from China and Europe was so wrong. Doomsday bureaucrats are never wrong since they don’t take responsibility for the economic damage they cause if they can still sell their fear tactics with fake credibility to the Fake Media. We over reacted to FEAR before assessing the reality of the situation – the Left wins again!

  15. Dennis Dale says:

    I went looking for mortality associated with Great Depression and found these counter-intuitive results:

    https://www.pnas.org/content/106/41/17290

    Mortality goes up in economic good times. I suspect because all activity goes up–you’ll have more accidents, more people working or partying themselves to death, etc.

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