COVID19: gated phased reopening of economy will fail

The USA president recently announced a plan for reopening the economy.

By economy, I’m referring to the entire human experience of people pursuing their individual goals for happiness that may include self improvement, getting recognized in their communities, and advancing appropriately for their individual stage of life.   Economy encapsulates all of this using money as a measurable proxy for the entirety of these experiences.

While his plan is motivated by the need to restore this concept of economy, the details are almost entirely dictated by medical considerations only.

A recent post discussed the wisdom of making U-turns in policy making.   As I predicted, this government will not make such a radical change now that it is committed to following through with its initial decision.

In my opinion this plan will certainly fail in its goals of reopening the economy.  The phases outline medically prescribed allowable behaviors and each phase is gated by increasingly difficult to achieve 14-day downward trends in cases.   Those downward trends are highly unlikely to be achieved and the three phases are mostly likely to be end up with the one-step forward two-steps back type progression.

I am guessing that the president has decided to put faith our finding a vaccine that will finally open all three gates.

I do not share that faith for many reasons.

  1. This is a rapidly evolving RNA virus that apparently has multiple means to invade cells.   In addition, the human population itself is highly diverse with many variations in their own genome including their own mutations.   Any vaccine will probably only be effective for a fraction of the population and even only temporarily until they get exposed by a different variant.
  2. We have the experience of flu vaccines that despite the maturity in the technology is not nearly effective enough to unlock the above mentioned gates and has to be re-administered annually, with recent years’ experiences of not matching the prevalent variant that people actually encounter.
  3. Vaccines come with their own risks of side effects for a sizable fraction of people taking it.  This is significant because the goal is to vaccinate everyone, so any fraction that develop side effects or illness as a direct result of vaccination has potential to outnumber the people who would have benefited.
  4. RNA viruses closely mimic natural inter-cellular processes.   Many of the proposed vaccines are highly experimental to blur the boundary between the in-body processes and the invading virus processes.   The risk is very high that this can trigger chronic auto-immune diseases that will emerge much later and will substantially degrade the future potential of those impacted.
  5. Finally, it is going to take a long time before we can sufficiently administer a new vaccine to the entire population.   Compounding the delay is the fact that the overall economy is operating at a fraction of its normal efficiency.   We’ve closed off the pipeline of developing new or novice researchers.   We’ve shut down potential supply chains that may have enabled a breakthrough.

As I described in my earliest posts on this topic, there was a short window of time when quarantines and social-isolation policies could succeed.   By the time I started writing here, it was clear to me that that time has long past.   A data-driven policy-maker could have concluded that the policy-maker himself must accept the new normal of people contracting this disease, many of those will need hospitalization, and many of those will end up dying.

It is foolish for our leaders to believe we can prevent this natural process.   In such circumstances the wiser approach would be to lead the population through this crisis, encourage them to continue their own struggles, and providing guidance for how they may each best contribute to the overall success.   The best hope of surviving through this crisis is to mobilize the entire population to continue to thrive to their best abilities, keeping economy running as optimally as possible, and to prepare the younger generations to take over later on.

We are following the foolish path, insisting on isolating the entire population, closing many of them off from any participation and conditioning many to resign to live in fear and government dependency indefinitely.   This will have a profound impact on the future of the country, and in particular may deny the country having any future at all.

After a decade or so, many of the people we saved would have died from other causes or from side-effects of the treatment they received.   The surviving population must face new crises especially involving debt and deteriorated infrastructure and institutions.   We are now compounding their challenges by denying them the development opportunities at a more age-appropriate time.

The currently chosen plan is foolish in the near term as well.   The plan insists on continuing the closure of non-essential activities and businesses, where essential is defined in terms of simple survival to wait for some form of government salvation.

This plan has idled a large population with the status of being non-essential.   The bulk of this population are young, strong, and capable.    These are people who are easily bored, easily irritated, and readily rebellious.

This is happening at the very beginning of the season of longer days and warmer weather when people are least inclined to stay inside their homes.

We have tens of millions of recently and unvoluntarily unemployed.   The current policies have denied them both their occupation to spend their time and of income to enjoy their leisure peaceably.

It is inevitable that these people will spend more time outside and quickly bore of maintaining social distancing.   They will aggregate in groups, and groups will aggregated into larger ones.    Their combination of boredom and frustration will lead to social unrest leading to large protests with no social distancing compounded with lots of shouting.

The summer’s protests will be perfect conditions for creating new hot spots for rapidly increasing new cases that will take one or two steps backs in the medically-prescribed phases of reopening society.   These protests will be all over the country.  Inevitably this will lead to condemning the entire country to even more closures and perhaps even more strict definitions of what essential means.

Then comes Fall with empty supply chains and the prospects of living through winter isolated in cold, dark, and starving conditions.

We have a population of hundreds of millions of people.   Most of them are intelligent and capable and will survive even if they get the illness.   Our government has decided to arrest this population and instead rely on a relative handful of selected essential persons to run everything, and even a more selective set of all available experts to dictate the rules.

The vast majority of the population is being asked to suspend their life pursuits and even sacrifice their future potentials with the faith in waiting for phases of the plans of the tiny selected group of experts and from the efforts of the essential people among whom will come some miracle vaccine.

Our enlightenment-based government’s reliance of proven scientific models has led us into this trap.   This government must follow the recommendations of experts and must not disregard those recommendations unless it is in favor of some other set of experts.   The experts must defend their recommendations with theoretical models supported by rigorous scientific testing.

Such a government is not permitted to consider the data that is both immediately available and highly abundant unless that data supports the models already pre-approved by scientific methods.

The current situation demonstrates the antagonism between data and science.   The two are pointing in opposite directions for policy making.   Our current theory of government demands us to follow the science even in spite of compelling data suggesting different approaches.

Just as our current policies are arresting our potentials in so-called non-essential people, we are arresting our new data capabilities of large data with rapid retrieval and analytics that can suggest better plans for short term and has the agility to change plans rapidly as conditions change.   We can have a more agile government driven by data and urgency instead of a government based on lagging science and permanence.

A government based on data instead of science could advise us to not put all our hopes into finding a vaccine or all of our priorities on saving the relatively small fraction of people likely to die from this disease.   We can instead return to 2019 type normalcy and have the population fully mobilized with the knowledge of this new threat and making their own decisions and taking their own initiatives.   Data shows us that this has more potential of finding a widely acceptable new normal that science will eventually catch up with.   This finding of a new normal will coincidentally develop our younger generations and prepare them to take over leadership of the countries future.

This is an excellent opportunity to develop the people who will run our government and economy in the future where they will fact challenges we already know will be huge, such as the problem of debt and entitlement obligations.   This is something a government data can foresee and act on.    At the same time, this kind of observation lacks the scientific backing to permit an enlightenment-styled government to make such a choice.

There is a fundamental difference between government guided by data vs government guided by science.   Science is always lagging with respect to data, and as a result is biased toward preserving the past and consequently most benefiting the older or even retired populations.   Data is fresher and more abundant than science and it best enable disruptive but often beneficial changes that benefits the younger generation and consequently benefits our collective future.

We may be watching the final consequence of relying on lagging wisdom of science always stuck in the past: we are sacrificing our future for the benefit of that past.

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