Panic and Growth in Uncertain Times

It’s amazing the effect that COVID-19 has had on our minds and attitudes. Things are constantly changing, and America is a curious mix of full panic and hoarding to almost a cavalier disregard.

We humans can easily get panicked, it’s something we do all too easily. And once panic sets in, it’s hard to slow or reverse it. We are very social animals and take our cues from the people around us. If people start digging holes to hide in, we immediately ask ourselves, “what the heck am I doing standing out here in the open?” So, it’s quite natural to be affected.

One huge factor which has amplified our fears has been our media’s unrelenting focus on the “worst-case” scenario. In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, the author refers to a report by Neil Ferguson who is an epidemiologist with the Imperial College in London who issued a report on Covid-19 in early March. His worst case was that 510,000 Brits and 2.2 million Americans could die from COVID-19. Apparently fewer paid attention to his caveat that it was “unlikely” and it was based on the assumption that nothing would be done.   Fast forward to the end of March when he had submitted to the British Parliament that deaths in the UK “would likely not exceed 20,000”.

But in America seemingly and with the help of our media we are expecting to lose 2.2 million people. This is a big number which scares the heck out of us. But we shouldn’t let fear lead us to panic. We have to resist a constant barrage of negativity and not panic.

Panic brings a new set of problems. Panic causes a scared crowd bent on fleeing to trample people to death. Panic can cause the life boats to be swamped or over turned and everyone drowns — or in the case of the Titanic — freeze to death in frigid waters. Fear and panic have led some of us to hoard toilet paper. I may need to find a college course on the whys of that. Panic in military units in battle has happened all thru the history of human conflicts. It takes very well-trained and cohesive fighters not to panic in the chaos of battle.  But except for 1 or 2 percent of our population few us have the training that leads to group cohesion like the Armed Services.

So, a panicking we will go (sometimes). But we don’t have to.

The US economy was very strong prior to the shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. To quote “The Kiplinger Letter” of March 13th: “unlike the last recession, the financial system is sound. So, any recession, while potentially severe, should be fairly short”. I happen to think once we have a handle on the COVID-19 problem and we can get back to work, the US economy will roar back. Our national economy had had a record setting long expansion of strong growth and record low unemployment. I must admit, I like others I wondered out loud, “how long will the good times last?” And like many asked what would spark a slow down? Never would have guessed a virus that originated in China would be the trigger.

Maybe too many of us expected something to cause a slowdown, an adjustment, a down turn? So, when the virus arrived, we reacted quickly. And maybe in the future with the benefit of hindsight we might see we jumped too fast. Only time will tell. Yet is it too soon to start thinking about what we do when it’s over? There are so many unknowns starting with how much longer we will be staying home. What will our economy look like after this all subsides? Several things are for sure — we aren’t a super crowded country like China and we certainly do not have the economic problems of Italy. Whatever we experience won’t be the exact same as them.

With as many bad things with COVID-19 there are still potentially good things that will come of it. Americans are increasingly pulling together and trying to take care of each other. A recent Wall Street Journal article talked about how more of us are picking up the phone and talking to each other. Imagine the benefits of conversing. Imagine the possible resurgence of soft skills like talking and listening to each other. Wow and strangest of all, people are taking pen and paper in hand and writing notes. Yes, I really did read that.

When we are on the other side of this there will be a new normal that no one can accurately predict. We may find ways to work and interact with our fellow Americans better and maybe sharing the experience will pull us back together. And maybe by actually talking on the phone again we will see that if we have different opinions, we don’t have to call each other names.

I sure hope we can improve ourselves. Let’s look for the silver lining and consider turning off our TVs and other “bad” news feeds.

There is a saying sometimes attributed to Winston Churchill…“ Never waste a good crisis.”

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