We are facing a crisis of a magnitude that few of us alive have ever seen. If we want to avert disaster and minimize the damage, we are going to have to do it ourselves. Think Dunkirk.
The crisis I am talking about is not viral, it’s societal, and we must act now to save it.
There are a lot of statistics being thrown about, and we use the credentials of whoever is stating their opinion to judge how much stake we should put in their prediction. I don’t have a background in economics, so I’ll mitigate my lack of training by sticking to things that are either indisputable facts or stuff I do know about.
Here is a fact that falls into both categories: Doctors are terrible at business. I am not going to argue with anyone about pandemic predictions, but the economic impact of what we are doing is going to be absolutely devastating, and the people hardest hit will be those who were already at or near the point of breaking.
More facts: money is a proxy for goods and services. I think we have collectively forgotten that.
Thousands of years ago, the concept of eat what you kill had a literal meaning. In the healthcare world, it refers to a reimbursement structure based on productivity, but I can think of maybe one doctor who could hack out an existence without the protective veneer of society. Perhaps a refresher course in the most basic sociology will be a wake-up call.
All those years ago, we started moving away from the nomadic hunter-gatherer life and started settling down in groups. We began to specialize, with different people taking on different tasks. As we continued that specialization, we introduced money as a way of exchanging different stuff or tasks, so we could compare things like hunting with cleaning the hut. That way, we could all eat, even though only a small number did the actual killing. As we improved on all of this – as we got more and more efficient at the necessities of life – we have been able to spend more and more time doing fun stuff, like sports and recreation. Today, the more money you have, the less time you have to spend on the necessities, the more time you have to recreate. For some, there is not enough money to make it work.
One of our problems is that we focus on the money, and we forget that money is nothing but a proxy. It’s the goods and services that have the real value, and if they go away, bad things happen. To all of us. When we decided to set up this thing we call society, we kinda left behind any backup plan. This machine we built is literally life-sustaining for all of us, and each cog is interconnected with the others to make it work.
I am going to run with this machine analogy, because I know more about these things than most of my doctor colleagues. Think of money as gas: it powers the whole shebang. If you run out of gas, the engine stops. Put gas back in the tank and you can start it back up. That’s like a recession. Now, if you tear up the crankshaft and punch a hole in the side of the engine block, the engine also stops running. Except now it doesn’t matter how much gas is in the tank, and it’s quite possible the whole thing will catch fire and burn to the ground.
And that’s exactly what we have done. There is still gas in the tank, but we just ripped out two of the most important gears of the machine that is our life-sustaining society: schools and restaurants. You may think we can go on without these things, but all of the gears of the machine interconnect, and you can’t just shove a wrench into the works and expect the rest of it to keep turning. But we had to you say; it doesn’t matter why, it’s done, and the effects will be the same regardless.
So think Dunkirk, where thousands of regular folks did what needed to be done to mitigate disaster. We need to save our restaurants and small businesses, and no one else is even capable of doing it for us. If you think the government throwing money at us will help, think again: the machine must start turning. Remember that money is just a proxy, and we are the ones that will have to do the work. This morning’s estimate (from people that actually did train in economics) was that more than 75% of restaurants will go bankrupt. And that’s today’s prediction. The longer this goes, the worse it will get.
To save these essential components of our society, we need a delivery system. If we are all stuck in our homes, we need a new way to move stuff around. We have to keep the specialized tasks that are the inner workings of this engine connected together and turning in some sort of harmony, or our entire society is going to come to a screeching, smoking, potentially blazing halt. These businesses need customers and people need jobs. We have to be able to get stuff to people that need it, whatever the reason. Rebuilding this machine is going to take time, so there is none to lose.
Safety. A valid concern, but the alternative – inaction – ends in chaos, so let’s focus on doing this the best we can. Young people are probably our best source of delivery people, since they are at lower risk of adverse outcomes. Plus, they aren’t in school, so this will give them something to do.
Money. This is not the time to focus on money, focus on the task at hand. Drivers need to be paid, restaurants and businesses need to be paid, the flow of goods and services needs to be sustained. Your retirement account is not going to be of value if the world around you is in shambles. Unemployment in the Great Depression topped out at something like 25%, and it took us a decade and a big war to dig out.
Connections. This is where we have an advantage. We can use new methods for connecting that allow us to coordinate and collaborate in ways impossible even ten years ago. Smartphones and social media have changed the way we connect, it’s time we begin using them to advantage. Thus far, the systems introduced have been designed to profit on our needs and wants. We will need to move past that and focus on solutions.
Think Dunkirk. In that miraculous evacuation, no one thought about money. No one consulted a tax attorney, no one re-read their liability policy. The government cannot save us, as it has no capability to keep our small businesses – the core of our society – running. Money will not get food and supplies to people that need them, we will have to physically go and do it ourselves. No amount of money could have extracted the trapped soldiers from the northern coast of France. The corporate world is only designed to capitalize on problems, not find solutions. Healthcare systems treat the diseases of individuals and have no assets to support the health of a community.
Right now, we are developing and implementing systems in our town to facilitate deliveries. I believe this is going to be absolutely imperative to save our communities, and what we do here can be done anywhere else. If you are thinking I am just trying to sell my widget, keep in mind that I have been trying (using lots of data) to illuminate our desperate need for these things long before Corona was anything more than a mass-produced beer. Nor do I support this whole fiasco, but it’s not about who is right or wrong, it’s about saving our people, our communities, our society.
So we are building a tool that will help people connect and hopefully facilitate doing what needs to be done. Forget politics, forget blame, forget predictions, focus on the problem at hand. Think Dunkirk, and let’s try to avert this disaster together.