Category Archives: Epidemics/Pandemics

What is equitable Distribution of Vaccines?

 

Yesterday Chris and I got the first of our vaccine shots. Hooray! We didn’t ask if this was just or not. It was offered to us and we grabbed it.

 

No one asked whether the current system of vaccine distribution was actually fair or just. Such questions were off-side. This was an emergency. No one had time to think about justice. What an arcane concept. Every official concentrated on getting the medicine out as quickly as possible. Questions could be asked later when the job was done.

Now some interesting information is becoming available. Information is critically important in assessing actions. Good facts make good ethics. And there were some ethical issues.

Here is what Lindsay Glassco said,

“With the reality of our global interdependencies laid bare, the race for mitigation has already begun. A recent study found that equitable vaccine distribution was about more than ensuring all countries have a line of defence against the health impacts of COVID-19 — it is also our best line of defence against economic devastation.

 

In the most extreme scenario, with most wealthy countries vaccinated by the middle of this year and lower-income countries largely excluded, the global economy would suffer losses exceeding US$9 trillion.”

 

Money has a tendency to sharpen judgment. With trillions at stake, where are the ethics? Was the rush to fill arms with vaccines the right approach? Not according to the World Health Organization:

This is why the World Health Organization is advocating for an equitable response through the COVAX global vaccine sharing initiative. While one country’s vaccination strategy may keep its citizens safe temporarily, the heightened risk for virus spread and mutation in unvaccinated countries can continue to grow, eventually crossing borders. Within a few weeks, or even days, we could find ourselves in the same situation we were a year ago — or worse.

 

It is only natural that all of us (except for the sceptics) want the vaccine as soon as possible. We want it for ourselves and our loved ones. That is only natural. And we won’t spend a lot of time thinking about whether anyone should get it before we do, or at the same time. As a result, neither will our governments. The politicians can see by our actions what we want. We want justice for ourselves and families immediately. Once we are all safely inoculated we can discuss what we should do for others. Not now.

Many Canadians have learned what it is like to live in a pandemic coupled with a severe loss of jobs. People are suffering. Either from the disease, or the economic costs of the lockdowns. It is understandable that people want their political leaders to look after these issues and keep their eyes on the ball at all times. This, to most Canadians, is a time for action, not a time for justice. As Lindsay Glassco said,

“As a result of COVID-19, for the first time in many of their lives, Canadians are experiencing some of the hardships that millions of people in other countries face every day — children out of school, economic disruptions, sickness and disease, and scarcity of resources — leading even to hoarding. While these hardships are experienced to varying degrees, their existence is eye-opening and powerful for many.”

 

Yet, at the same, many of us can see, that we are all in this together. None of us want to be seen as hoarders. We mocked hoarders of toilet paper. We felt sadness for hoarders of vaccines. We have deep empathy for “front line workers,” who are putting their lives on the line for the rest of us every hour of every working day. Some of us even feel a modest twinge of guilt. Not enough  to get us to change places with those “essential” front line workers we claim to cherish so deeply.  At least we want to say we feel connected to them, even if none of our actions show that this is true.

Personal interest does not usually sharpen our moral compass. Rather it often dulls it.

Sometimes good ethics is good policy

I admit it I am chomping at the bit to get Coronavirus vaccine. I missed my first appointment, I don’t want to admit my second one coming up soon.

Yet, I also know, no one is safe until we’re all safe. Some of us (not many) are starting to see that rushing the vaccines into as many arms as possible is not the only issue. It is important, but is it overwhelmingly important?

Or is this a time for us to support  the equitable distribution of vaccines and investments to strengthen global health systems. Not just in Manitoba. Not just in Canada. But around the world. Are Canadian seniors really more valuable or important than seniors in Kenya? Or Afghanistan? When you think about it is there really any reason everyone in Canada who wants a vaccine should get one before hardly anyone in poorer countries gets one? No politician can suggest this is an issue. Of course ‘our side’ is more important than every other side.  Any politician who did not solemnly acknowledge this would be committing political suicide.

But not only that. Besides  doing the right thing, the moral thing, what is smart? According to Lindsay Glassco, writing in the Winnipeg Free Press, the smart thing might be to share! What if the smart thing is to do what the Golden rule says we should? Do unto others as we would have them do unto us? Glassco put it this way:

“Emotionally, that can be difficult to do. Many of us want our opportunity to be vaccinated to come up sooner rather than later, but the life we all want to return to – with healthy supply chains, trade and travel – will be out of reach until we get this virus under control globally. A fair, equitable global response is our only answer. Instead of focusing on the vaccination race with other wealthy countries, we need to recognize that we’re all losing until the whole team crosses the finish line.”

 

In fairness to Canada, we have actually done quite a lot to share our good fortune. COVAX is an international program where some countries have agreed to share with less well-off countries. As Glassco said,

“Canada is now one of the largest contributors to COVAX, having recently pledged $75 million to the program on top of what it had already previously committed. To date, the Canadian government has mobilized more than $2 billion in its global COVID-19 response.”

 

I don’t know about you, but I am pretty proud of that. Canada is doing something significant. Maybe it could do even more; I don’t know. But it is doing something good. I suspect my Member of Parliament will criticize the Liberal government for its lavish spending on third world countries. I won’t. I like it.

Lindsay Glassco said it as well as it could be said,

“Canadians’ support of an equitable pandemic response is our defining moment to live our values and build back a better world for generations to come. No one is safe until we are all safe.”

 

Should Canada be a good Samaritan or the Pharisee?

Sometimes good ethics is good policy.

From a Dark Place

 

I have had a very interesting week in a very dark place. It started off on Saturday morning with breakfast with friends. I felt listless–drained of energy. We socially distanced in the restaurant but did take off our masks to eat and drink as allowed by Manitoba Health guidelines. The restaurant obeyed all the protocols as far as we could tell. But my energy level was dropping. Something was wrong and I knew it. I started to fear the worst.

 

Our first Covid-19 vaccination was scheduled for Monday morning.  We definitely did not want to miss that. Yet I did appear to have some of the Covid symptoms. I had a slight sore throat, achy body feelings, slight breathing problems, but no fever. At least objectively I had no fever, but it sure “felt” like fever because of the sapped energy. I hoped they would go away by Monday morning. They did not. So I consulted with Shared Health Manitoba on Monday morning, explained the symptoms and was told me to cancel my vaccination appointment, which obediently I did. I have been to Obedience School for many years. Even worse we had to cancel Chris’ vaccination which she strongly desires to get before surgery. A delay was not attractive.

 

All week long I felt sapped of energy with the same symptoms. On Thursday I started to feel slightly better. There was some indication this might end. I zoom coffee with friends.

 

Friday, I got the very good news that my Covid-19 test result was negative. Thank goodness for that, but what do I have? I still feel weak. I did go out for a walk. It was my first exercise in a week. It felt great to be outdoors. What did I have? I have no clue. One friend suggested silent heart failure. Not a very pleasant alternative.

The best advice came from another friend who thinks he is a doctor after watching TV all these years. He suggested my body was suffering from alcohol starvation. This seems like a very logical to me and I will test out this year tonight and report back. I have high hopes and am not high.

Is it important that we all get across the finish line?

 

Some Canadians are leery about taking any of the Covid-19 vaccines as they are worried they might not be as safe as advertised. On the other hand, many of us are worried about not getting the Covid-19 vaccines fast enough. In fact some of us think our government has done a poor job of securing enough vaccines. We look jealously at friends in the US who already have had their vaccinations. 3 of my friends are vaccinated and getting out and about again. But jealously will get me nowhere.

I have been thinking a lot about vaccine ethics lately. There is no reason in the world why we are justified in getting vaccines ahead of anyone else.

Then I read recently that according to the WHO until recently 25 vaccine doses were administered in all of the poor countries combined, while in the wealthy countries, such as Canada, 39 million doses had been given. And we thought it was bad when people were hoarding toilet paper. The rich  countries don’t recognize it yet, but this is not good for any of us.

 

I read an interesting article in the Winnipeg Free Press  by Lindsay Glassco the president and CEO of Plan International Canada.

where she said,

“It shouldn’t be about winning the vaccination race, but rather ensuring we all cross the finish line. It’s been more than a year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. In that time, the virus has exacerbated long-standing inequities and deepened global power imbalances. It has also revealed our interdependencies and the fragility of our global systems.”

 

 

Hoarding vaccines is a lot worse than hoarding toilet paper.

One thing that has become difficult for us not to learn is that during an international pandemic borders are ephemeral and lose much of their significance. No country can keep out the coronavirus or escape its deadly and costly consequences. I remember when Donald Trump seemed to suggest that the US might be able to keep its cases of Covid-19 to less than a hundred! Now they have had more than 500,000 deaths from the virus. How quickly times changed.

All of us must understand that we are citizens of the world. We are all linked and what happens in distant countries can have a profound effect on us. As Glassco said,

“The interdependencies that make up our global fabric are more evident than ever, because we are witnessing first-hand what can happen when they are affected, at local, national and global levels. Disruptions to supply chains, closed borders and restricted freedom of movement are a few examples.”

 

Fragile health systems are likely to affect us no matter where they are found. It’s like a dyke. If the hole in the dyke is in front of your neighbour’s house it won’t matter. You will be deluged too. This is difficult for many of to comprehend. We are accustomed to live in a society where we think as long as we are secure in our own welfare we have nothing to fear. Many of us have started to understand how wrong that it. It’s a terrible platitude, but we actually are all in this together. For example, if our health care system were to get overwhelmed, we would all pay a huge price.

As Glassco said,

“Political borders may separate countries, but they are highly porous. We have seen that the impacts of a fragile health system in one country will inevitably spill into others — damaging the health of many and eventually the global economy.”

 

For example, a new virus appeared in far off China, and within weeks, the entire world was deluged with deadly cases of Covid-19. We were not immune. We are not an island. We are in this with everyone else. As Glassco said,

“We all now recognize how much healthy economies depend on healthy societies. Without a strong health system to help people recover and return to work, their economic contribution halts — both locally and globally — and the effect on global trade worsens.”

This is inevitable. We must act accordingly. Even capitalism cannot avoid this.

Capitalism goes Nuts

 

I know not every one likes Bill Maher as much as I do. They are entitled to be wrong. I listened to a fascinating discussion on capitalism on his show with 2 very interesting guests–Scott Galloway and Larry Wilmore. I have been blogging about Galloway’s appearance on another show. He stole the show again.

 

Scott Galloway is a Professor at NYU and the author of Post Corona: From Crisis to Opportunity i is an internal critic of capitalism. By internal critic I I mean that he is a critic of capitalism from the inside as a believer in capitalism, but who hates what capitalism has become. Galloway is a Marketing Professor at NYU and an unabashed proponent of capitalism, but capitalism has become sclerotic, in his opinion.

He used some very interesting examples. First, Jeff Bezos lost 38 billion dollars in his divorce. And he made it all back in 1 month! That simple statistic tells you a lot. Bill Maher asked a wonderful question: what does this tell you about America?  Galloway said something shocking to that. He said, “Its worse than that. We’ve had 1person add the GDP of Hungary to his own personal net worth during the 1 year of the pandemic and that is Elon Musk.”

 

Capitalism has gone crazy. It is nuts. And then Musk moved to Texas so he doesn’t have to pay taxes. During the pandemic, “Billionaires have gone from 1.9 trillion dollars to $4 trillion. The dirty secret of this pandemic is that the top 10% not just the top 1% are living their best lives.”

Some businesses have gone out of businesses. They have suffered catastrophically during the pandemic. Others have flourished. Why is that?

Bill Maher describes this phenomenon this way:If you’re in the sit on your ass and look at a screen business–Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook “If you’re in the sit on your ass and look at a screen business–Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook–they are now worth 21% of the whole US economy!” 

Scott Galloway put it this way:

“We used to talk about the S& P 500. Now it’s the S & P 7. 7 companies now have 51% of the market capital in the US. Amazon since March 2020 has added more market capitalization than all of European retail. We effectively have 4 companies that are so dominant that we’ve been overrun. There are more full-time lobbyists in Washington working for Amazon than there are Senators. There are more people working for Facebook manicuring Mark and Cheryl’s image than there are journalists working for the Washington Post. We are so beyond any sense of balance in our economy that the ecosystem is out of control. We absolutely need to break these companies up.”

 

People in the west have forgotten how corrosive market dominance can be to democracy and freedom. As these corporations grow, democracy and freedom shrivel in lock step. Concentration of wealth in modern capitalistic society, particularly when there is a conservative dominated Supreme Court in the US is “a freedom shredder” according to Galloway.

The amazing thing is that it seems inevitable. Too many people–the vast majority–believe there is nothing that can be done about it. There is a lot that can be done about it.  But the people must assert their power to do it. As Larry Wilmore, the Executive Producer of Amend: The Fight For America, said, “No matter what happens in the economy it all flows one way.”  That is what happens when power is concentrated.

 

As Galloway asked,

“Do we want that one company to say when we type in “overthrow government” should we be sent to ‘how to build a dirty bomb’ or to “voter registration.” Should one company control those decisions 93% of the time? Should one person control the algorithms that decide the content of what of the southern hemisphere plus India see? Should one company effectively control 97% of all increase in value of all retail?”

Is that what freedom is all about? And we should never think they are satisfied with what they have. That is because they are never satisfied with what they’ve got. They want it all. They want totalitarian control of the entire economy. Is that an exaggeration? Who is being the Pollyanna here?

Amazon started out as a company that sold books. A commodity. Easy. Right Wrong? Some like Galloway think they will try to control health care next. As Bill Maher said, “Of course why wouldn’t they want that? They own everything else. Where is all the money going? Sick people. Because that’s what America does best–make sick people.”

As Galloway pointed out,

“The largest business in the world is US health care. It’s 17% of GDP. Its prices keep going up. MPS is going down. That spells ‘here comes Amazon’. But not only is it bad or morally corrupt for these companies to have so much power, it’s dangerous. The equivalent to Nasdaq in Israel is down, not up, they are vaccinating at 7 times the rate. When the most powerful and wealthiest people in the world are living their best lives, if we don’t show this virus the full-throated capitalist response we are capable of [we’re done]. If Amazon stock had declined 70% instead of risen 70% in the last 10 months, when a van with a Smile shows up on my driveway tomorrow someone in a lab coat would have jumped out and vaccinated us. ‘We are living our best lives.’ This virus has not seen what the US is capable of because ‘Stop. Stop. It hurts so good, if you’re the shareholder class.

 This virus has been allowed to flourish because the S&P 7 likes it that way! It they were losing money during the pandemic they would have stopped it by using the full power of market capitalism. They chose not to do so.”

 

The shareholder class and the big 7 have enjoyed this pandemic ride because it is the best thing that could have happened as far as they are concerned. Why stop what puts money in my pocket? If I have the power to stop it why would I do it while my bank account keeps growing exponentially? That is why concentration of wealth and power is so dangerous.

Of course, as we all know, the S & P are delivering things we want. During a pandemic they deliver food to our doorstep so I can avoid those dangerous grocery stores. What is wrong with that? Capitalism is very efficient at fulfilling our needs. Of course, it can do that because it has manufactured many of those needs in the first place! Did you think you decided you needed Twinkies delivered to your door in one day? They have positioned themselves to bring to you what you want.

But in the process, as Wilmore said, “It’s amazing how they have Pac-manned every company that is out there.”

 

Restaurants or Kids

 

Scott Galloway said,

“We seem to be obsessed with keeping restaurants open. You know what’s probably the biggest long-term scarring here, outside of the health issues is we’re losing a generation of kids. Pre-pandemic lower income kids largely tracked with higher and middle-income kids with school on math. Since the pandemic hit, they have fallen off the map. Regardless of the moral corruption there, we’re going to lose half our scientists, half our military leaders, half our civic leaders, and half our social leaders when 50% of kids don’t have the skills to enter college. So, we’re losing an entire generation of leaders and scientists because we have decided it’s more important to keep businesses open than keep our schools open. So, if it comes down one theme it’s to protect people not jobs and also capitalism doesn’t work, it’s not an organic state, unless it rests on a groundswell, a tide pool of empathy.”

I want restaurants open as much as anyone. But, I think Galloway is absolutely right. Capitalism needs to be rescued from the capitalists. Again. Just as it was in the 1930s when Roosevelt realized that and saved it.

I would just add that we that we are facing another crisis that has been shoved aside during the Covid-19 pandemic, and that is the environmental crisis. As we ignore it, we keeping digging ourselves deeper into a hole from which it will get increasingly difficult to dig our way out. We have been passing the buck for decades now. We keeping making it more and more expensive to solve that problem. But that problem is not going away. I know things have been made much more difficult and much more expensive by the people of wealth who have been spending fortunes to keep the rest of us in the dark and submissive. They have done that with remarkable success. They have bought political leaders and scared the rest. So, nothing has been done.

We need a new green deal together (or some smarter version of it) with a smart response to the Covid-19 pandemic and we have to do that at the same time. This is going to cost a lot of money, but ignoring it some more will once more just make it more costly later. Like it or not, we have to do it.  I don’t know if the Green New Deal is the right one. But at least those who proposed it did not ignore the problem like everyone else. If a better plan is possible, by all means, let’s go for that. Sadly, we now have at least 2 crises to deal with at the same time. It sucks to be us. But it could suck even more if we choose to do nothing.

Should we tackle  2 problems at once. Or ignore 2 problems at once?

 

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Inequities in capitalism that must be eliminated

The pandemic has exacerbated some tendencies in capitalism that have had a negative effect. For example, working from home in some sense is a good thing. It’s mostly a good thing. People don’t waste so much time commuting. They can spend more time with their loved ones. But there are problems. As Professor Scott Galloway said,

If they can move your job to Denver they can move it to Bangalore. So be careful for what you ask. I think you are gong to see continued pressure on the working class as we get better and better at outsourcing jobs.

 

I am a subscriber to Photoshop and Lightroom two photographic programs.  A few years ago, I had to subscribe to them. I could no longer just buy them; I had to rent them. I hated paying $12 a month. Now it’s more of course. Then I realized there was a benefit. They had a help line. I am not an expert in the program. I often need help. So now I can phone them 24 hours a day during the week and get my questions answered by very knowledgeable people without extra charges. I love that.

And, of course, these helpers are always in India. At first, I had a little trouble understanding what they said because of their accent, but in time I got to know them and like them. They were very helpful. They taught me a lot. But they are Indians and they answer questions for all the people in North America. These are skilled jobs. They know their stuff and the programs in my opinion are complicated. Far too hard for me to do without expert help. It’s too bad they can’t hire North Americans to do it, but the company I suppose figures they can’t hire North Americans to do it at the money they offer. But this is outsourcing technical expertise. These are not laborers.

Being near the headquarters is a valuable thing for workers in a corporation. It allows people to network and rub shoulders with executives. That proximity is very valuable for a worker trying to build a career. Because women still spend more time typically than men building relationships with their family, they will tend to gravitate toward working at home. And this of course is a good thing, but it will be a drag on their careers because they will lose the benefits of proximity if they work from home instead. As a result, this will be a drag on their march toward greater equality. And that is not a good thing. Currently,  about 7% or less of CEOs for the S & P 500 are women. If women lose this proximity to power this unfortunate situation will get worse not better. As a result, Galloway asked,

“Are we building an infrastructure at HQ that is just filled with white guys? There is just no getting around it. Proximity to headquarters puts you on a different path in terms of advancement within the organization. So, I think there’ll be some positives and some negatives that we will have to adjust for and recognize that people who serve and have the money or don’t have the kids or have the ability to live close to work. As a tribal species that loves affinity and proximity, we will have to adjust for people who aren’t capable of being at headquarters every day.”

 

For these reasons stimulus from the government should be focused on protecting people and the environment. If we took 2 or 3 trillion dollars of stimulus and divided it among the most vulnerable households, the effect on society would be remarkable. Stimulating big corporations just doesn’t do as much. People who are in the top 10% are living a great life in this pandemic.  I admit I am. Life for me is great. I spend a lot of time with my wife. We read a lot. We watch some excellent TV shows together. We miss our family and friends terribly, but we are certainly not suffering. The key is how can we protect the bottom 90%? Stimulus should be shaped to do that. If you took the bottom third of American households and divided $3 trillion among them each household would get $100,000. That could be deeply transformative. Society would be very different. And those people would spend that money inside our economies. They would not stash it away in Swiss accounts.

Or let’s say it’s even less money. It would allow those people to make better decisions. Studies have shown how poverty makes it very difficult for poor people to make good decisions. People would not have to choose between paying for their insulin or their rent. They would not have to choose between paying for food or education for their children. Imagine that.  They could actually do what’s best for their families. Life in our society could be transformed. As it is now, many people have to get part time jobs with Uber to pay for food or rent or clothing for their families. So instead of staying now with their kids and helping them learn remotely they are out working at 2 or 3 jobs. This is not good for society. There is a better way.

We do need  to reset. Only the extremely comfortable think things are perfect right now. People like my member of Parliament.

Flattening the Curve for Rich People: Wall Street, Main Street, or Willow Place?

 

Once again Wall Street is doing much better than Main Street. Th at should not surprise anyone.  And Wall Street is doing even much better than Willow Place. This is always an interesting phenomenon. In my view this will always happen in a system that permits plutocracy, and even worse in a system that encourages plutocracy. If we left the rich rule they would do what is in their best interests. It really is that simple.

As Scott Galloway said,

“As a nation we suffer from an idolatry of innovators. And we personify companies and believe that it all starts with the shareholders. The shareholder class is the premier class and as long as the economy is strong everything will fall into place. And we measure the economy’s health by these dangerous indices called the Nasdaq where 90% of the stock are owned by the top 10%. The Nasdaq and the Dow are not indicators of the health of our economy; they are proxies for how well the wealthy are doing. And–spoiler alert–they’re killing it.”

Again no one should be surprised by this. We have a system that is designed by the wealthy for the wealthy and inevitably such a system will deliver the goods to the wealthy. Our system does that well.

Another problem Galloway draws to our attention is that private power has been unleashed as a result deregulation. As he said, as a result of regulators doing nothing,

“… we end up with a lot of private power that has now overrun government. There are now more full-time lobbyists from Amazon that are living in Washington D.C. than there are sitting US Senators. There are more people manicuring Sheryl Sandburg and Mark Zuckerberg’s image in the communications department of Facebook than there are journalists at the Washington Post. So, we now have a situation where if you look across the market at the S&P 500, the 50 biggest companies are up for the year, the companies in the middle are down in the high single digits and the smallest 15 companies are down in double digits. We have decided that companies are either big tech monopolies, or too big to fail. That is our priority. And the wealthiest cohort in America small business owners have received one of the largest bail-outs. There will be very well publicized examples of the owners of a cupcake bakery that made it through the other end, but mostly what PPT has done is two things. Not giving  bridges to small business but giving  them piers where they are still going to go out of business, but we have just kicked the can down the road. This economy is reshaping. It’s coming down differently. And two, we have flattened the curve for rich people. Small business owners are millionaires typically, and there was no reason they needed a bailout. The big mistake here, looking back, will be we should have protected people not companies. We should have put money in the hands of people and then let them decide  what businesses survive and what perish. Capitalism and rugged individualism on the way up and cronyism and bailouts on the way down is just cronyism. It doesn’t help the economy. And money is nothing but the transfer of time and work and all we’ve decided is that we want our kids and grand kids to spend less time with their loved ones such that wealthy people now can stay wealthy.”

 

Keep the wealthy being wealthy. That is what is happening with cronyism. Is this what modern capitalism is all about?

Lessons from e-commerce

 

 

In e-commerce it took years for the kind of growth we have seen lately. It is astonishing. I hate what Amazon is doing to small businesses around the world. I hate the thought of giving any more money to the richest man in the world (or second richest) whose employees have to wear diapers to work because they are not given enough time to go to the washroom.

Before the pandemic Jeff Bezos was earning $1 million every 50 minutes now he is doing much better than that and I have helped him out, as have millions of others. We have done that because we came to realize how convenient it was to shop from Amazon. For many things we don’t really have to go to a store to look them over. Ordering them from our homes for some of us is just easier, simpler, and cheaper.  Other businesses will have to learn that we have learned something during this pandemic and if they don’t change, we will change where and how we shop. Not for everything but for many things. Capitalists had better innovate or they will be left on the dust heap. Capitalist always say that is what they are good at. Let’s see if that’s true.

That does not mean all has been rosy. As Hari Sreenivasan pointed out to,

“It has been a boon for those who could afford it. There has been a blue collar pandemic and a white collar pandemic. For the white collar people it was great.  I can get everything from Instacard and Amazon. But if you’re an essential worker that doesn’t really apply to you.’

For others not so much. And some of us still care a little bit about fairness. Fairness and competition.

Scott Galloway is a professor Marketing who was interviewed by Sreenivasan on Amanpour & Company and he agreed completely:

“If you’re in the top 10% of income earners there is no change in employment. It means you’re no more vulnerable than you were before the pandemic. There’s a 60% likelihood you can work from home. You can spend more time with your family. You maybe got 10 hours back a week. If you make less than $40,000 a year, 40% of those people have lost their jobs and less than 10% can work from home. You don’t like to say this out loud, but if you’re in the top 10% and you’re blessed with good health you’re most likely spending more time with Netflix, your kids, and less time commuting, and by the way your stocks are probably up and I would argue that a lot of the stimulus unfortunately hasn’t been about arresting the pandemic, and helping our neediest, it’s been about flattening the curve for rich people. The savings rate in American has never been higher. The Nasdaq has never been higher. If you do a google search for covid and markets you’ll find more articles than if you do covid and mortality. It’s as if as a nation our priorities are reflected in our spending. The velocity of death is unprecedented. More people are dying every day from this than any crisis in history! And that’s meaningful. But what would be profoundly tragic would be if the Nasdaq declines! At least that’s what our spending seems to indicate. We want to save restaurants but not keep schools open. We seem to want to ensure that the markets are washed in liquidity and people are wanting stimulus, but we aren’t protecting people. We see infection rates rise. And we see our health professionals wanting for PPE equipment. It does definitely seem that we have decided that corporations are people and they are the ones that we have to save.”

 

And remember all of this is not coming from some crazy leftwing extremist. This is coming from a self-described enthusiast for capitalism. He is an insider. He likes the system. Perhaps not as much as Zwaagstra does, but he is no bleeding socialist. He just thinks the current system sucks. It sucks because the rich people are swimming in cash while those who are not are taking their chances serving the rich people. They are called essential workers, but they are not paid like it.

Capitalism in the time of Pandemic

On television I  recently heard Scott Galloway, a Professor of Marketing  at New York University Stern School of Business who also wrote a book called Post Corona: From Crisis to Opportunity. I heard him interviewed on a few different television shows recently flogging his book.

He is very interesting. Scott Galloway is an enthusiast for capitalism, just like Michael Zwaagstra a local counsellor. But that is where the resemblance ends. Zwaagstra recently wrote an article in our local Carillon News and said capitalism was doing just fine and he could hardly wait to get right back to it without any changes. Our member of Parliament, Ted Falk, thinks the same way. Why change what’s pretty  close to perfect? Zwaagstra and Falk both dismissed any suggestion that anything should change, he liked it exactly the way it was. Of course, those most comfortable with things as they are tend to feel that way.

Scott Galloway is different. He is enthusiastic about capitalism, but he believes changes are needed. Badly.

Hari Sreenivasan on Amanpour & Company interviewed Galloway and pointed out that in the US more than 250,000 people have already died from Covid-19. Of course, since then many more have died.  Sreenivasan pointed out that the disease has exposed some serious weaknesses in the American economy, but has also provided an opportunity to fix some of those weaknesses. Someone once said, we should never waste a crisis. Zwaagstra and the other Panglosses want to do exactly that. Why fix something that is not broken?

Galloway pointed out that before the pandemic there were a lot of people who were optimistic to the point of arrogance. The system was working well for many people, but for others it was disastrous. The pandemic made clear to all that many of the governmental institutions had been woefully underfunded. Galloway is a capitalist, but he recognized the importance of government. The crisis has allowed us to spend more time with our families, it has allowed us to look closely at our educational system. Our health care system needs a close examination in the light of what we have learned from the pandemic. It has shown how e-commerce can work. To him, unlike Zwaagstra, a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

In health care Galloway believes the greatest shift in stakeholder value is about to occur in the business history of the US. In the US 17% of the GDP is heath care.

Here is what he said,

 

“It is arguably the largest business in the world clocking in at 3 or 4 trillion dollars a year, but the outcomes have been decreasing. Life expectancy has been going down and mortality is stuck at a certain level. Customer satisfaction is pretty anemic. The medical profession as retail is probably the second worst retail in America behind gas stations. Imagine going to a store for a sunblock and someone sides a plexi-glass gives you a form and says to you ‘Here fill out this paperwork and we’ll see you in 30 minutes! It’s a fairly uninspiring experience. The exciting thing is that 99% of the people who have contracted, endured, and developed anti-bodies for the coronavirus did it without entering a doctor’s office let alone a hospital.”

 

Professor Galloway said  he got his Covid-19 test in his kitchen. Things are changing rapidly and sometimes for the better.

“Just as e-commerce took the store to your living room, just as the movie theater moved into your living room, the doctor’s office, hospitals, and diagnostics moved to your house.”

These things are a sea change. I had a doctor’s examination from my cottage at the lake while the doctor was in his office. I had a blemish or spot on my head that worried me. My wife took a photo and emailed it to the doctor who looked at it and said, “I think it’s benign.”  While I wished he could have said that with a little more confidence it was a shockingly good experience with my physician.

As Galloway said,

“This might give us not just an opportunity to reduce costs but to take us off our heels as a nation being reactive and defensive about our health and get on our toes and talk more about primary care. It made people more comfortable with their relationship with their health care provider. Amazon just announced that they would have 24/7 pharmacists available and 2-hour delivery. So, we could see an explosion of innovation in health care. You could arguably say it is the most exciting place to be in our economy post-covid. Regulations have come crashing down. Consumers are now comfortable receiving health care over their hand held in their home.”

I admit that describes me. I want to see my doctor from time to time, but often I don’t need to go his or her office. By phone or ipad often is good enough and saves me a lot of time. My time is valuable too.

Galloway had some less complementary things to say about capitalism. I will explore those next.